“There can be no question that the actions of Russia under Vladimir Putin put the country on the side of autocracy and repression. But the West should be clear-eyed about the ways that Ukraine is, and isn’t, living up to its end of the democracy-and-liberty formulation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been hailed as a classical liberal hero, the inspirational leader who captured the world’s attention with a series of video messages immediately following the Russian invasion in which he celebrated those who had taken up arms to repel the attack and pleaded with foreign governments to lend a hand. But Zelenskyy has not merely urged his fellow countrymen to follow his lead. With the declaration of martial law in February came a prohibition on male citizens aged 18–60 leaving the country. Then in March, the government combined the country’s national TV stations into a single state-approved broadcast and suspended 11 opposition political parties it described as “pro-Russian.”
With Ukraine scrambling to defend itself against Putin’s lawlessness, the impulse to shut down anyone with Russian sympathies is understandable. But to act on that impulse is to inflict punishment on Ukrainian citizens, including those who voted for the Opposition Platform for Life, which held about 10 percent of seats in Ukraine’s parliament and was the main party challenging Zelenskyy before he disbanded its activities. Ukraine has a large Russian-speaking population, and those who have generally favored maintaining close ties with Russia rather than pursuing greater integration with the European Union have a right to their views, and to representation in government, even at a time of war.
Meanwhile, all Ukrainians have a right to share and access information. There was a disconcerting irony in Biden identifying the country as a combatant on the side of free speech and freedom of the press at the same time its president was clamping down on television stations’ ability to present the news to their viewers as they think appropriate. At least one outlet with ties to a Zelenskyy rival has been excluded from broadcasting on the new national channel, reported NPR this month. Zelenskyy’s office defended the consolidation, reported Reuters at the time, by “citing the importance of a ‘unified information policy,'” a phrase that should be chilling to anyone who values free expression.”
“The year was 1952, and Sen. Clyde R. Hoey (D–N.C.) was investigating how many gay people worked for the federal government and whether these workers were a security threat. In what would eventually be called the Lavender Scare, the government launched a purge of gay and lesbian employees, aided by a 1953 executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower. The witch hunts soon spilled over into the private sector, as workers lost jobs that required security clearances.”
“The year was 2004, and one state—Massachusetts—had started legally recognizing same-sex marriages. President George W. Bush, facing re-election, called for Congress to pass a constitutional amendment “defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife.” The Republican Party added the idea to its platform. While the national amendment was never adopted, 11 states passed their own constitutional bans against recognition that fall.”
“DeSantis and allied lawmakers have barred Florida educators from any instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity with young students at all, and they have restricted how teachers can approach those subjects in the higher grades. Parents are authorized to seek financial damages from school districts if they believe teachers or staff are discussing LGBT topics inappropriately—and what’s inappropriate is defined so vaguely that all sorts of unobjectionable conversations could prompt a suit. Some Florida schools have even started removing children’s books like I Am Jazz from their libraries because they featured trans characters. It’s not clear that the law actually requires such removals, but the possibility of lawsuits encourages districts to interpret the restrictions broadly.
Meanwhile, politicians in several states have introduced aggressive laws that attempt to stop minors from getting any sort of trans-affirmative medical treatment for gender dysphoria, even when parents and doctors support it. In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton has declared that giving minors any such treatment counts as “child abuse” and Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered officials to start investigating families. One of the first targets investigated was a parent who worked for the state’s own Department of Family and Protective Services. (Following a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, a Texas court has put Abbott’s order on temporary hold.)
Contrary to their supporters’ rhetoric, these laws aren’t about preserving parents’ right to shape their children’s educations or protecting vulnerable young people from threats. After all, if you think families should make decisions about children’s education and care, that means accepting that families will make different decisions. Rules like these don’t establish a neutral position. They let one group of Americans tell another group of Americans that they don’t get a say in what their kids are taught or what treatments they can pursue.”
“The existence of detransitioners does not discredit trans-affirming treatments. The dramatically increased acceptance of gay and trans people in the U.S. has undoubtedly made young people more comfortable with questioning their gender identities. And the science of identifying gender dysphoria is complex and still being heavily researched, so it is inevitable that a certain number of people who believe they are trans might eventually decide otherwise and have regrets. (A survey from 2015 of more than 27,000 transgender Americans found that 8 percent had at least temporarily detransitioned at some point. Just 0.4 percent of all those surveyed had done so because they had concluded that they were not transgender after all, as opposed to stopping because of pressure from others, because they found the process to be too hard, or because of harassment.)
None of that justifies political intervention, even when we’re talking about minors. If you doubt that, consider the other optional surgeries that young people pursue. According to 2020 data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, doctors performed more than 87,000 cosmetic surgical procedures on teenagers.
It’s considered controversial in some quarters to let teens get surgery to change their appearance. Certainly some adults would love for legislators to pass laws stopping minors from getting many of these procedures. But neither federal nor state governments have done so. As a culture, we accept that decisions about these surgeries are properly made by the teens, consenting parents, and medical professionals. You may think these are reckless decisions that the teens may someday regret, and probably some of them do. Some of them might go wrong, might not be as beautiful or as affirming as the teens hoped. But that isn’t our decision to make, and embracing liberty means accepting that people will make decisions that we might not choose for ourselves. (And if the doctor commits actual malpractice, there are civil courts to resolve that.)
That doesn’t change when the surgeries involve teen genitals rather than teen noses. Critics of these treatments believe youths are permanently disfiguring their bodies, but supporters retort that denying trans kids the treatments they want (not all of which are surgical) can lead to worsening mental health, even suicide. Either way, the stakes are higher—and that makes it more important that families be able to make these decisions without political interference.”
“The state is an expression of political will, not ethical medicine. The attorney general of Texas has no idea what treatments are best for kids who believe they may be transgender, but he has the power to investigate and jail parents for making decisions the government deems to be “abusive.” And we have a lengthy history of child welfare agencies harassing families for behavior that offends officials but does not cause actual harm to children.”
An Eccentric Tradition: The Paradox of “Western Values” Peter Harrison. 1 17 2018. ABC Religion & Ethics. https://www.abc.net.au/religion/an-eccentric-tradition-the-paradox-of-western-values/10095044 Did Christianity Create Liberalism? Samuel Moyn. 2 9 2015. Boston Review. https://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/samuel-moyn-larry-siedentop-christianity-liberalism-history The Great Subversion: The Scandalous Origins of Human Rights Ronald Osborn. 2015.
“Argentina was one of the richest countries on the planet at the start of the 20th century. In 1913, Argentina “was richer than France or Germany, almost twice as prosperous as Spain, and its per capita GDP” almost equaled Canada’s, according to Edward L. Glaeser, Rafael Di Tella, and Lucas Llach, writing in the Latin American Economic Review in 2018. The source of those unprecedented levels of wealth was Argentina’s 1853 constitution, which made private property inviolable, outlawed expropriation, encouraged immigration, and allowed the free circulation of goods across provinces. It also ended slavery, protected press freedom, and established the right to freely worship.”
“At the end of this era, Peron and his supporters attacked the foundations of Alberdi’s classical liberalism in order to impose their model of corporatist autocracy. As Alejandro Herrero, a professor at Argentina’s Universidad Nacional de Lanús, writes, Peronist theoreticians denounced the 1853 constitution’s “egotist individualism” which they claimed “harmed Argentina’s Christian tradition.” Although the constitution’s second article stated that “the federal government will sustain the Roman Catholic cult,” the Peronists decried its purported atheist element. Even worse, they argued, the constitution was imbued with the materialist economic doctrines of the Manchester school of thought, whose adherents defended free trade policies in 19th century Britain. So in 1949, when the Peronists drafted a new constitution, they restored the country’s Christian legacy by “binding the individual to society,” which meant increasing restrictions on economic and personal liberties.
It was not only in Argentina that classical liberal policies brought considerable economic success, only to be overturned by collectivists under a religious guise. In Colombia, too, mid–19th century governments eliminated the state’s tobacco industry monopoly, abolished slavery, got rid of academic requirements to practice all professions except medicine, allowed full freedom of worship and expression by striking down defamation laws, and radically decentralized the collection of taxes. As historian David Bushnell wrote in his book The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself, the country’s constitutions of 1853, 1858, and 1863 increasingly sought “to diminish the government and other corporations’ control over individuals’ decisions and activities.” As a result, “it seemed that the state itself was about to vanish,” since it was broadly accepted that “the best government is that which governs least.”
Colombia’s 1863 constitution was especially radical since it left the central government only in charge of foreign affairs, national defense, and some amount of taxation (along with a few other duties). The president had weak powers and was elected for two-year terms. In turn, the nine states that comprised the United States of Colombia were sovereign, to the extent that they each gained the right to command an army and some issued their own stamps. This hyper-federalism proved counterproductive since several states raised commercial tariffs against one another and occasionally fought the central government. Some governments took anti-clericalism too far, expelling the Jesuits in 1850 and expropriating church lands and buildings shortly thereafter.
Nonetheless, the emphasis on international trade and the tobacco industry’s liberation from state control produced the first export boom not related to precious metals, which had been extracted since colonial times. A thriving export market of cotton, quinoa, and coffee soon took hold. As economist Salomón Kalmanovitz writes, these new links to global markets led to much greater economic growth than in the previous decades. Between 1850 and 1870, Colombia increased its per capita exports by 247 percent, a growth rate that surpassed Uruguay, Cuba, and Argentina, the region’s exporting powerhouses. This bonanza led to greater development of cities, which became new centers of commerce with improved fluvial transport.
Then, in 1880, Rafael Nuñez—an up-and-comer within the Liberal Party and a critic of the 1863 constitution—won the presidency (and was elected to a second term in 1884). He raised tariffs on foreign goods and got a new constitution ratified in 1886, all part of his program of moral regeneration or an attempt to remake the country in the image of orthodox Catholicism.”
“In the modern era, some of the earliest arguments in favor of individual rights, limited government, and economic freedom arose in 16th and 17th century Spain, among the late scholastic clerics of the School of Salamanca, a group of Jesuit and Dominican scholars who turned to natural law in order to answer pressing questions that arose from the discovery of the New World and the rise of the Spanish Empire.”