You can waste a lot of breath—and generate a lot of frustration—debating the ins and outs of political philosophy. Marxism vs. socialism, fascism vs. communism, laissez-faire capitalism vs. social Darwinism—heck, even the basics of liberalism vs. conservatism as defined in American parlance can be confusing as all get-out, especially when you consider that a conservative these days would have been considered a classical liberal less than a century ago.
But then human beings have always tended to overcomplicate things, especially when it comes to the realm of ideas. Some academics even spend their entire careers trying to render their subjects of study so arcane that the papers they publish make the tax code seem like a breezy read by comparison. Why should political science be any different? When you get right down to it, however, the basic questions of Left vs. Right—in this country at least—remain quite simple, even if the issues that arise can get a bit more complex.
Dan Crenshaw illustrated this quite neatly while delivering some pointed remarks before Congress. The freshman representative from Texas was talking about tax policy, and a fundamental divide that exists between liberals and conservatives in the way they view government revenues.
If you’re conservative, you probably think this is Economics 101–but that obscures a profound philosophical argument at the heart of what Crenshaw is saying. To those of us on the Right, the money that people earn belongs to them, and taxes represent what they surrender to the government as a cost of running the country. To those on the Left, however, all money belongs to the government—and what’s left over after taxes is just what they allow you to keep.
That’s the reason you constantly hear leftists complain about how much tax cuts “cost” the government. In the literal sense, tax cuts cost nothing—it only means that less of your money is being taken away from you. If you’re a leftist, though, those tax cuts are nothing more than handouts. The only way this view makes any sense at all is if you believe that the money from which taxes are drawn never belonged to the taxpayers in the first place.
And that is the line that separates liberals from conservatives.
It’s not just about money, though. Taxes are merely a proxy for an even more basic philosophical difference—and that’s whether or not you believe, as the Constution says, that the liberty of the individual takes precedence over the collective. After all, that’s the reason we have a Bill of Rights guaranteeing that the federal government can make no law restricting our freedom of speech, or to worship as we see fit, or to bear arms for our protection, or to be secure in the knowledge that we cannot be deprived of life or property without due process—no matter how inconvenient that may be for the government. It’s also the reason we have equal protection under the law—that no matter how rich or poor you are, how powerful or powerless, we are all subject to the same rules and no one stands above them. Moreover, all of those rights are given to us by God, so they can never be taken away by any human institution.
Where does any of that fit in a system in which the collective good is elevated above the individual, as so many liberals seem to want? Nowhere than I can see.
So that’s pretty much it: Either you hold individual liberty above all things, or you think that the common good is best decided by those who know better than us what’s best for us. That’s Right vs. Left in a nutshell.