In his brilliant book The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis describes what he sees as the different visions God and the Devil have for the human race. God, says Lewis, wants us to be servants who can eventually become His sons, while Satan wants us to become mindless cattle who will eventually become his food.
Lewis was not talking about politics, but he could have been. Today in America the conservative vision is more or less what Lewis saw as God’s vision: each American functioning as an individual, taking responsibility for his own life and actions. The liberal vision treats “The People” as a herd of cattle, who need to be led and cared for by a supposedly elite group of politicians and bureaucrats.
The disagreements that liberals and conservatives have over various political issues are easy to explain from this perspective.
Liberals establish speech codes on the college campuses they control, to “protect” their students from hearing heretical ideas. Liberals want to bring back the so-called Fairness Doctrine, under which the government dictates what people can say on the radio, for much the same reason. Only those who agree with politically correct doctrines are to be allowed to speak, so the whole herd can learn the same attitudes from the same sources.
Liberals support laws like the McCain Feingold law, regulating political advertising, on the idea that the government should limit the number of ideas the people have to think about.
Conservatives, on the other hand, advocate free speech. We fight for a wide-open “marketplace of ideas,” in which each American can be exposed to all kinds of conflicting claims and theories. The individual, we believe, can be trusted to do the hard work of weighing contradictory ideas and claims on their merits.
When conservatives are accused of advocating censorship, the censorship usually has something to do with hardcore pornography, or military secrets. Conservatives almost never try to censor political speech. Liberals, while admittedly more open-minded about porn and national security secrets, are always the ones trying to silence political speech they disagree with.
Free speech questions are not the only area where we see liberals trying to make us more cowlike. Gun control is another issue where conservatives want to treat people as individuals, and liberals don’t. Liberals respond to the problem of violent crime by trying to disarm the whole herd, on the idea that the weapons, rather than any individual person, should be held responsible for any crimes committed. Conservatives want to hold each individual responsible for his actions, and blame each crime on the criminal who committed it.
Disagreements about the Welfare State come from the same difference in visions. Liberals believe that the people should look to an all-powerful and perfectly benevolent government for their welfare. Conservatives believe that each able-bodied individual should take responsibility for his own welfare, and that those of us who are truly too disadvantaged to achieve anything on their own should be the beneficiaries of voluntary acts of charity from good-hearted individuals.
As a conservative, I would suggest that there is more human dignity in a lifestyle of individual responsibility. Liberals, of course, claim to offer greater security. It’s a debate worth having.