We are all authoritarians now. Well, maybe not quite all of us, but far more of us now than ever before. Or at least it seems so. Left and Right, liberal and conservative, we as a people seem to have made a deal with the Devil: intrusive government is acceptable as long as our 'side' is doing the intruding.
The Great Divide of our time, politically speaking, has actually become just a series of squabbles over who will be running our lives. As far as the two main political parties are concerned, the idea that men should be, and by right ought to be, left to their own devices to the greatest extent possible is in depressingly short supply. An understanding of, and more importantly an attempted explanation of, what it means to be free has been supplanted by mere Constitutional carcass picking at the national level, save for a few brave souls like Justin Amash and Ben Sasse. Obviously there are other small "c" conservative and libertarian voices arguing for truly extricating the government from private life and private commerce, but their message is diffuse and they are not in the ranks of elected officials. Not really.
Why should this be the case? Why, in a country founded on the idea that at the very least the national government in Washington should be small and distant do the ideas of true individual liberty maintain such a precarious footing in the national psyche? Why do so many, regardless of party affiliation and professed political views, fall prey to the Siren song of ever larger, ever more intrusive government?
First of all, it's easier. That Siren is one honey-voiced vixen, and her tunes are difficult to keep out of your head now that you have to deal with six different government agencies to get the right wax for your ears. It's not very feasible for an ordinary individual citizen to have much influence over national politics, but ultimately our state and local governments are just as intrusive and theoretically easier to influence. The Right calls for "local control" of education, but local control doesn't do much good when the locals in control have all been on the school board for a decade incrementally allowing all that stuff we call for local control in the hopes of preventing. Changing things, even at the county or state level, takes effort. We're all busy people, so the prospect of just voting for the guy with an 'R' after his name and assuming he thinks just like you do is very enticing.
Liberty also entails a bit more risk than relying on the government. There will always be and always has been a certain amount of danger involved in freedom. The left, for their part, is perfectly happy to solve that problem by restricting access to dangerous things, i.e. guns. This doesn't actually solve anything, of course, and the Right rightly howls indignantly about the Second Amendment, even though many on the Right often take a stance best summed up as "ok, we'll go along with these restrictions if you pinky swear this is the last set of restrictions.” But the Right can be just as authoritarian in the name of "public safety.” The War on Drugs is no less authoritarian than the one on guns. Both issues are ultimately just about a choice: a choice made by the voters of what it is they're comfortable with the government banning or restricting. You won't find many elected Republicans who take the position that heroin should be legal, just like you won't find many Democrats who will say they think you should be allowed to own fully automatic weapons.
Some of the retreat into government solutions by the Right is surely reactionary. North Carolina got along just fine for a not insignificant period of time without a law about the bathrooms in private businesses. But not all of it on the Right, and very little to none of it on the Left, is reaction to specific pressures. Take the platforms of the Presidential candidates. They're mainly laundry lists of what the candidate's administration will do for you, the voter. Even Ted Cruz, the Constitutionalist, really only hits the high notes; the IRS, the EPA, etc. That's because, for the most part, really trying to cut the size and scope of Washington isn't all that popular. Even the politicians who say the states should decide don't often follow that up with "and the g-- damn state governments are too big, too."
Our problem may be that too many Americans have come to define "freedom" as when the government happens to side with them on a specific issue, instead of recognizing that being free means that your neighbors are, as well. So we vote for the politicians who ensure us that they'll fight for our liberties at the expense of theirs, because we aren't offered politicians who recognize that the impulse to tell other people how to live is never very far from the surface in any of us. Our system was designed to limit that impulse to a great extent, at least where the Federal government was concerned. But the impulse is just as strong in the state legislature, and on the city council. What is required is a crop of people willing to enter public life, at all levels, whose first instinct is always to ask "why the hell are we even talking about this?"
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.