The Audacity of Liberals

In his book, Moral Politics, George Lakoff of the University of California-Berkeley draws a comparison between a parent-child relationship and the relationship the government has with its citizens. Lakoff points out that a child needs a nurturing parent for caring and protection, and that a nation is like a family. Therefore, the liberal worldview of a nurturing government is superior to other forms of government (specifically a conservative strict father worldview).

While I would agree that a child needs a nurturing parent, I would strongly disagree that there can be any valid comparison made between between the way a parent cares for a child and the way a government cares for its citizens.

For starters, let’s examine why it makes sense for a parent to take a nurturing approach to parenting. Each child is an individual, and has specific needs that would require a caretaker to know the child personally. How well a caretaker knows a child’s needs can make a huge difference in the child’s development. It would make sense that in the vast majority of cases a child’s immediate family (i.e. parents) would know what is in the child’s best interest. Parents also have a vested interest in helping their children develop for various reasons (love, passing on genes, reciprocal care in old age, etc). While mistakes can be made by parents, it would be extremely difficult to find someone who could take better care of children.

Next, let’s look at the relationship the government has with its citizens. I’ll start by saying that many individuals in the government are good people with good intentions. I’m not here to argue that the government is fundamentally bad – after all, I’m no anarchist and the government certainly has its role. However, citizens are rational adults who should have a good idea of what is and isn’t in their own best interests.

No matter how well intentioned a bureaucrat is, he or she can’t have a better idea of what is in citizen Betsy’s best interest than Betsy would have. This insight is why many libertarians argue for a government that simply protects citizens from the harm of others, rather than one that protects citizens from themselves. It’s not that the typical bureaucrat doesn’t care – he or she just doesn’t know any better. If Betsy wants to smoke pot, engage in gay marriage, join a Satanist cult, and drive a vehicle without a seatbelt, then by all means let her do so as long as she doesn’t harm others. I may not agree with her actions, but I also know better than to have the audacity to control her life.

George Lakoff’s belief that the liberal worldview of politics is superior to other beliefs is both arrogant in that it overemphasizes the role government plays in nurturing individuals and careless in that it ignores the fact that efforts by the government to nurture individuals can and often do backfire by restricting liberties are harming the very same individuals the government intends to help.

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