Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Conservative Contempt for Freedom and Democracy

I swiped this from Left2Right:

Conservatives used to be stunningly forthright in their contempt for equality and dignity. Here's Edmund Burke in 1791 -- once again, kudos to the good folks at the Liberty Fund for getting this stuff online -- sputtering over democratic citizenship and officeholding: "I can never be convinced, that the scheme of placing the highest powers of the state in churchwardens and constables, and other such officers, guided by the prudence of litigious attorneys and Jew brokers, and set in action by shameless women of the lowest condition, by keepers of hotels, taverns, and brothels, by pert apprentices, by clerks, shop-boys, hair-dressers, fiddlers, and dancers on the stage ... can never be put into any shape, that must not be both disgraceful and destructive."

Liberals and democrats won the battle on voting rights, and the sky didn't fall. (A conservative friend once confided in me that no, the universal franchise "wasn't a great idea," but he sighed and agreed it was ludicrous to contest it now. A minor but delicious historical irony is how conservatives of a traditionalist stripe embrace the victories of yesteryear's liberals, the ones their own ancestors so bitterly contested.) Against frantic opposition and predictions of doom, liberals and democrats also won the battle against restricting marriage to same-race couples. (In the trial that launched those legal proceedings, the judge declared, "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.") The ongoing battle over gay marriage is just farther down the same road, which is not to say that gay marriage stands or falls with voting rights or interracial marriage.

Yeah, it's a shame America's not the same country it was in 1789, huh? Remember this vision of the conservative "ideal" the next time you hear about the need for "strict constructionalist" judges and other attempts to turn back the clock on individual liberty.

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