In one regard at least, conservatives’ mortally dubious presumptions about their synchronicity with the nation’s founders actually may be justified. When the colonists proclaimed human equality and the right to resist tyranny in the Declaration, they listed among the abuses suffered at the hands of the King that “He has excited domestic insurrections against us,” meaning Britain had promised freedom to slaves who abandoned their owners and declared loyalty to Britain. The temerity of the British Crown interfering with their right of ownership over their slaves was an infraction against liberty far too unspeakable to stomach. Remind you of anyone?
So perhaps it is something of the Spirit of ’76 that motivates the Koch Brothers to lament the gall of regulators and environmentalists to challenge their liberty to befoul the air their neighbors and fellow citizens breathe. The frequent and self-righteous citations of liberty in defense of a more powerful entity’s liberty to exert its will over a weaker one is the right-wing inculcation and abuse of liberty in a nutshell. Indeed in situations that pit the safety or well being of employees against the insistence of employers, liberty invariably is on the side of employers, intervention to mitigate employees’ treatment a trespass against liberty, if not a literal trespass, according to this radical and perverse interpretation of liberty.
Many would find the assertion that attempting to interfere through regulation with the manufacture of a product that causes bodily harm or dangerously malfunctions an infringement upon the liberty of the manufacturer, an assertion fit for mirthfully acidic ridicule. Yet, such is today’s conservative construing of liberty. In this universe your liberty to continue respiration is trumped by the manufacturers’ liberty to manufacture as he sees fit. While the condition of being deceased may impede your future exercise of market choices at least those who witnessed you keeling over may exercise their own freedom of choice in the marketplace not to buy the product that killed you. Feel better? How’s that for some liberty.
The American colonists were very promiscuous in their use of the word liberty while retaining the right to own slaves and reserving the choice to be indignant toward the British Crown for a colonial relationship that made colonists feel as subordinate as slaves, of all abominable things. And of course our Republican and Libertarian friends, while championing the bigfoooting of American consumers, neighbors and ordinary folks are equally promiscuous with use of liberty, virtually every right-wing or Republican or Libertarian organization, group, klatch, pac or gathering appropriating the word liberty for its name.
Goldman Sachs may induce you into an investment that it knows is doomed at the same time it bets against it, and while you may feel swindled when you lose your shirt, any legislative effort, say, Dodd-Frank for instance to prevent such theft prior to it taking place is according to this version of liberty an unacceptable infringement upon Goldman Sachs’ precious liberty to conduct its business practices free of interference. One may feel secure in the freedom or liberty not to abide by the tyranny of the religious doctrine that insists life begins at the instant of conception, and that early stage fetal life is indistinguishable from born human beings or even viable fetuses at a later stage. In this situation the right is much less impressed with your assertion of liberty.
Samuel Johnson wrote during the period of revolutionary foment, “Why is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?” Tell me about it, Sam.