For my write-up today on Clear and Present Dangers: A Conservative View of America’s Government (copyright 1975), I’ll comment on something that M. Stanton Evans says on pages 362-363:
“…the liberal urge to absorb and deploy power will continue to its logical conclusion—-which is the authoritarian state…In the chapter immediately preceding, we have observed the most alarming symptom of this development—-a growing indifference toward the value of human life. As liberalism has drifted further and further away from our traditional conceptions of human worth and individuality, we find a growing hostility not only to personal freedom but to the very concept of life itself.”
Evans has in mind here abortion and euthanasia.
I don’t think that holding certain liberal positions is inconsistent with believing in the value of individual human beings. Why do liberals support anti-poverty programs and efforts to eliminate hunger and malnutrition among poor children? Why are they for a health care policy that they believe ensures that more Americans will receive adequate health care? Why are they against the death penalty? Why do they oppose pollutants that they think are damaging to people’s health and life? Why are there extreme leftists who criticize capitalism for dehumanizing people and treating them as means to an end? I realize that Evans would argue that liberal policies don’t work, but, in my opinion, a number of liberals hold their positions out of respect for the value of life and of the human individual.
Evans looks at the history of American liberalism and notes the influence of John Stuart Mill and utilitarianism—-the belief that we should pursue the greatest good for the greatest number, a notion that, according to many conservatives, compromises the rights and dignity of the individual. But I doubt that a number of people who hold liberal positions would see themselves as part of the stream of utilitarian thought, assuming that they even know much about John Stuart Mill. My hunch is that they’d say that they support liberal policies out of compassion.
That’s not to say that I think Evans is completely wrong. There have been authoritarian states that championed compassion for the poor and the working people, but they were despotic and killed people they thought stood in the way of the revolution. I think of a number of communist governments. But not every government that pursues compassionate policies is like that: consider European social democracies that don’t even have a death penalty. What keeps them from becoming despotic regimes that take life with cavalier indifference? Could their commitment to compassion be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem?