Liberals and Personal Responsibility

I got asked this question recently, how do I know that liberals reject the idea of personal responsibility, since I make that claim so often.  And my answer is simple.  Look at the social programs that liberals support, programs that simply cannot exist if personal responsibility does.

So what do I mean by personal responsibility?  Wikiquote seems to sum it up pretty well.  It states: “Personal responsibility or Individual responsibility is the idea that human beings choose, instigate, or otherwise cause their own actions. A corollary idea is that because we cause our actions, we can be held morally accountable or legally liable.”  When I talk about personal responsibility, largely that’s what I mean.

Now tell me how you get from liberal social programs to personal responsibility.  Go ahead, tell me.  Because we all know you can’t.

I wouldn’t say if most liberal social programs had an element requiring users to improve their lives.  You can qualify for welfare if, and only if, you do something to better your life and get off the public dole.  But none of these programs actually do that.  They don’t require that the people with their hands out actually do anything but sit on the couch, watching Oprah, waiting for a check.  In fact, a lot of these programs actively penalize people who try to better themselves.  That’s not taking personal responsibility for your life!

The fact is, you just can’t get from personal responsibility to liberal social programs without turning off your brain and just going on feelings.  By definition, anyone who supports said programs cannot support personal responsibility because the two are diametrically opposed.  You cannot say “I support people being held accountable for their own actions” and “here, have some free money from the government, no strings attached”.  It just doesn’t work that way.

And that’s really why I think there are a significant number of people who claim to be liberal, but actually are not.  Way back in my podcast days, I noted that a lot of self-identified liberals actually are conservative, they just refuse to adopt the label because they don’t want to be lumped in with the religious extremists.  I can understand that, but that doesn’t actually change what you are, only the label that you choose to wear.  Whatever characteristics you actually have, that’s what you actually are, no matter how that might make you feel.  There are a lot of people I’d consider conservatives living on the liberal side.

I’d be happy to see self-identified liberals, people who actually support liberal social causes and programs, demonstrate how they are actually for personal responsibility as well.  How do you get from there to here?  I just don’t think you can do it.  Maybe they ought to be reconsidering the label they wear if they actually are in favor of responsibility and thing these programs are off in the wrong direction. Wouldn’t that be nice?

3 thoughts on “Liberals and Personal Responsibility”

  1. I prefer a more Centrist Political philosophy Like the old saying go's" If you go to far to the right, or to far to the left; you have gone to FAR!! More people need to meet here in the middle plenty of room. We can all sit down drink a beer, and talk it out. Nobody gets everything they want, but everyone shares in the bounty.

  2. I see no real inconsistency in thinking that personal responsibility is a positive thing and supporting social safety net programs. I can think that personal responsibility is a good idea without wanting to see those who can't pull it off suffer. I can certainly imagine extreme cases of the sort conservative media loves to push in which someone abandons all pretense of personal responsibility to take advantage of the system; however, I am not convinced that this is a common outcome.

    Most of those I've known who have utilized safety net programs have done so temporarily, getting off the programs as quickly as they could. I realize that some conservatives want to obsess about "welfare queens," but I don't see many people getting rich on government aid.

    Another consideration is that many of the safety net programs are aimed at families. If I screw up my life, I'm not sure what my children suffering has to do with my personal responsibility. If I become too sick or disabled to support my family, I'm not sure how government assistance undermines my personal responsibility (unless we assume that it is my fault I got sick).

    My recent post The Bernie Sanders Revolution Must Continue

    1. I don't believe for a second that there is anyone out there who can't be personally responsible. Won't be? Yes. Can't? No. Because if you are completely incapable of taking responsibility for yourself, you probably shouldn't be living on your own. Now as I've said, I don't mind a rudimentary social safety net where, if you're working really hard and you fail and fall, it will catch you and put you back on your feet so you can work hard again. But that's not what we have and not what most liberals seem to want. People need to better themselves so that they are not on any kind of public assistance. It is a fact that in 35 out of 50 states, you can make more on welfare than you can as a college graduate looking for your first job, according to a study done by the Cato Institute. It is a fact that people go from one form of public assistance to another, just to keep the money coming in. And since your children are your responsibility, failing to provide for them is your failure. It usually isn't illness that causes people not to be able to provide, it's a lack of education, a lack of effort and having children that you can't afford to care for in the first place that is most often to blame.

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