Even in our politically divisive times, there is one concept on which left and right agree: the individual person should be able to live a life free from coercion and constraint.
But the devil is in the details. Conservatives want freedom from the government telling them what to do with what belongs to them, while progressives often advocate for freedom from state legislation of morality in the spheres of family, sexuality, and culture. On both ends of the spectrum, personal autonomy is paramount—and ensuring that autonomy is the political endgame.
Yuval Levin, an American constitutional scholar, thinks this is an impoverished idea of liberty: "To liberate us purely to pursue our wants and wishes is to liberate our appetites and passions. But a person in the grip of appetite or passion can’t be our model of the free human being."
Are we a free society? is a good question to ask, but the more important question digs deeper and strikes at the heart: What will we do with our freedom?
Read "Taking the Long Way," Levin's exploration of these questions in essay form (First Things). Or, for a more detailed diagnosis of the deep problems on America's political left and right, check out Yuval Levin's book The Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.