Two major parties increasingly alike Democrats, Republicans are becoming more hostile to freedom, writer argues

November 08, 1998|By Andrew Bernstein

AS ANALYSTS debate whether the elections resulted in a net benefit for the Republicans or the Democrats, there is a better question to ask: Does it really matter? The debate over the elections assumes there is still some substantive distinction between the two parties. But is there?

A recent New York Times article on the Senate race in that state observed that the two candidates - Republican Alfonse D'Amato and Democrat Charles Schumer - are not nearly so opposed on political ideology as is generally thought. On such questions as immigration and gay rights, issues on which liberals and conservatives have traditionally disagreed, the two are in surprising accord. Both support strict limits on immigration, and both voted for legislation that would ban discrimination against homosexuals.

The burgeoning similarity between Republicans and Democrats extends much further. It goes beyond the fact of George Pataki, Republican governor of New York, endorsing environmentalist policies, or of "blue-collar" Democrats agreeing with Pat Buchanan on protectionism and on the need to "Buy American." The full nature and spirit of this new coalition is best demonstrated in its joint assault on the First Amendment.

Consider, for example, that such feminist writers as Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin regard the publication of erotic material as an act of violence against women, which ought to be banned by law (a goal they achieved, briefly, in Indianapolis).

Consider the oppressive speech codes and "thought police" pervading our university campuses. Consider the growing support by liberals for punishing "hate crimes" - i.e., for punishing someone not simply for criminal action but for the "criminal" ideas behind that action.

Similarly, Robert Bork - judge, legal philosopher, respected intellectual spokesman for the conservative movement - favors censorship of material that Christians consider obscene. Replying to a hypothetical question about whether he endorsed censorship, Bork said that the questioner would probably argue, "'You are inhibiting my liberty and my right to express myself.' And the answer to that is, yes, that is precisely what we are after."

Just as the Republicans have abandoned their one-time commitment to economic freedom - to privatizing Social Security, to eliminating government from the field of medicine, to abolishing the International Monetary Fund - the Democrats have given up on intellectual freedom. The basic viewpoint shared by hTC Republicans and Democrats is a hostility toward the value of freedom. Neither party even pays lip service to an individual's "inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Both are becoming increasingly enamored of statism - of the desire to use the coercive power of government to deny individual rights.

The bipartisan support for "volunteerism" is an ominous illustration of how this erosion of freedom takes place. The fact that such figures as Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Jimmy Carter and George Bush promote state programs that make community service mandatory for high-school students is only the tip of the iceberg. The basic idea being promulgated by the volunteerism campaign is anti-individualism - the view that the individual is morally obligated to sacrifice his own interests in selfless service to society. It is a small, and logically inevitable, step to translate this premise into political terms: Individual rights must be sacrificed to the collective needs of society. On this premise, your right to choose what to read, or your right to repudiate "politically correct" viewpoints, might be abrogated whenever "society" finds it in its "interests" to do so.

Is it any surprise that neither party champions individual rights anymore?

The issues on which D'Amato and Schumer agree make clear their consistent anti-freedom position. For example, restrictions on immigration mean that industrious foreigners no longer have the right to come to America and earn a living (a right enjoyed by the ancestors of D'Amato and Schumer). Legislation banning discrimination against homosexuals means that the individual does not have the right to choose with whom to voluntarily associate. It means that the individual - whether motivated by ignorant bigotry or not - is being denied his right to decide whom he wishes to accept as a renter, a teacher or a worker.

The Republicans and the Democrats used to defend individual freedom in some sphere; now they support government control in all spheres. It is becoming increasingly irrelevant which of the two parties happens to win an election. They are, sadly, coming to adopt a common position as enemies of freedom in America.

Dr. Andrew Bernstein, a professor of philosophy at Pace University, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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