Although the modern political system in the US is divided into two broad groups, liberal and conservative, the US political system as a whole is based on the notion of liberalism. In other words, both liberals and conservatives in the US embrace, more or less, the principle that a person should be free to do as he likes with minimal constraint. The difference in the two groups is essentially where they like to draw the line. This is in contrast to systems that exist in places such as Saudi Arabia and certain areas in Afghanistan. In these types of very conservative societies there is little or no embrace of the principle that a person is free to do as he likes. Rather the principle is that the activities of individuals should be highly constrained.
When we examine the principle that the individual should be free to do as he chooses, we are immediately confronted with a paradox. What if the individual chooses to construct an environment that imposes restrictions on the behavior of others? Of course we say that the person has violated the principle that you can do as you like as long as you do not infringe upon the right to do the same. But isn't such an imposition itself a violation of the right of an individual to do as he chooses?
Consider for a minute how this is problematic. For the sake of discussion let's call the type of liberalism and conservatism that are practiced in the US as localized liberalism and localized conservatism respectively. Typically, localized liberalism seeks to impose laws that do things such as legalize abortions, and grant equal rights to gays and racial minorities. However, some practitioners of localized conservatism feel that their right to do as they choose are violated when, for example they are forced to serve racial minorities in their business establishments. Do they not have a point? Are not the localized liberals violating the principles of liberalism itself when they impose laws that force individuals to live in an environment that they find uncomfortable or repulsive? Of course you can say that no one is forcing them to live here, they can go somewhere else. But still why should they have to do this? Should not a true liberalism be broad enough to accommodate all? If not, is liberalism itself illiberal?
How let's step back and look at liberalism in a broader sense. Recently the Bush administration had a goal to try to impose a system of liberal values on the very conservative society that had been implemented by the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, many of the people there viewed this attempt as an effort to restrict them from living as they wanted to do. Do they not have a point? Is not this another instance in which liberal values themselves result in illiberalism?
What do you think? Is liberalism itself illiberal?
To be clear, I'm not trying to make a value judgement here as to what is right and what is wrong. I'm just asking the question. I think its rather interesting.