Many people are trying to figure out where George Bush is coming from. On the one hand, he seems to stand up for conservatives by backing John Ashcroft and trying to subsidize religious charities — but on the other hand, he’s proposing to expand federal control over local schools, push the government further into health care and even expand Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps program.

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post says that these seemingly contradictory policies are actually consistent. According to Milbank, Bush is ignoring the old labels of “left and right” and embracing “the movement known as ‘communitarianism,’ which places the importance of society ahead of the unfettered rights of the individual.” (I’ll bet you didn’t realize how “unfettered” your rights have been lately.)

On Jan. 31, Milbank wrote:

    “Communitarianism,” or “civil society” thinking (the two have similar meanings) has many interpretations, but at its center is a notion that years of celebrating individual freedom have weakened the bonds of community and that the rights of the individual must be balanced against the interests of society as a whole. Inherent in the philosophy is a return to values and morality, which, the school of thought believes, can best be fostered by community organizations. …

    Bush’s inaugural address, said George Washington University professor Amitai Etzioni, a communitarian thinker, “was a communitarian text,” full of words like “civility,” “responsibility” and “community.” … Bush has recruited some of the leading thinkers of the “civil society,” or “communitarian,” movements to his White House. …

Communitarianism seems to look good on the surface; decisions will be made for the good of the community. But, in fact, like any government-based philosophy it is a sham.

Communities don’t make decisions

Communities don’t think, don’t believe, don’t want, don’t have needs, don’t have interests and don’t make decisions. Only individuals have minds that generate desires and needs — and only individuals can make choices and decisions.

Because “society” doesn’t make decisions, the issue isn’t a case of balancing individual rights against the interests of society. The question is: Will you make the decisions that control your life or will someone else impose his way upon you? That someone else won’t be the community or society; it will be whoever seizes the power to run the community.

By subsidizing “faith-based” charities, for example, George Bush isn’t acting on behalf of the community. He’s confiscating your earnings and giving it to the charities that please him and his political associates. He may do it in the name of society, compassion, community, or Snickers Bars. But it is simply raw political power — the same kind exercised by Bill Clinton and all his predecessors, preempting your right to use the money you earn in the way you think best.

The communitarians may say you’ve been enjoying too much individual freedom, and that you must give up some of that for the benefit of the community. But they really mean that they want more power over your life — to force you to subsidize, obey and conform to their choices.

Let’s look at true freedom

And the idea that you have too much freedom is really laughable.

Are you enjoying unfettered individualism when, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 47 percent of the national income is diverted to federal, state, and local taxes? How free are you when the politicians impose their choices on your life in whatever way they want — unrestrained by the limits written in the Constitution?

What would a society that truly honors individual freedom be like — a society in which the government is chained down by the Constitution? Let me paint a picture for you.

In a Libertarian America:

  • You will pay no income tax — because a government limited by the Constitution would be small enough to get by on today’s tariffs and excise taxes. Your annual take-home pay should be thousands of dollars larger than it is now.

  • You no longer will be forced to pay 15 percent of your income to a fraudulent retirement scheme like Social Security. Every dollar you earn will be yours — to spend, to save, or to give away as you see fit. You might arrange to have your employer automatically deposit 5 percent or some other nominal amount of your paycheck into a bank savings account or other retirement plan — and come out many times better off than with Social Security.

  • In the absence of drug laws, drug users will buy their drugs inexpensively and safely from pharmaceutical companies, putting the criminal drug gangs out of business. The nightmare of Prohibition will finally be over.

  • No one will interfere in any way with your right to defend yourself. Whether or not you choose to own a gun, your neighborhood will be much safer because criminals will have no way to know which residents are armed.

  • Health care will be much more accessible and much less expensive. Insurance will be available to virtually everyone, at much lower cost than is the case today. Charity hospitals and free clinics will proliferate. Hospital stays will be far less expensive, and most doctors will make house calls. (How do I know this would be the case? Because that’s the way it was in America before the federal government took over health care in the 1960s.)

  • Your person and property will be safe from intrusive searches and seizures. No longer will government agents paw through your bank records or monitor your e-mail, looking for suspicious activities. Your personal life will belong to you and no one else.

  • There will be those who will use their freedom to act irresponsibly. But you will be free to protect yourself from their actions — far more easily than you can today. And companies will be free to offer all sorts of ways by which you can insulate yourself from the irresponsibility of others. You can choose for yourself who’s best qualified to help you, and you can choose to dismiss anyone who doesn’t live up to his promises.

A Libertarian society of unfettered individualism spreads its benefits to virtually everyone — not just those who have the resources to seize political power.

Time to bring back ‘unfettered rights’

Government control — whether it’s called “communitarianism,” “compassionate conservatism,” “liberalism,” or anything else — means someone else has the power to run your life.

Since no one but you can know what’s best for you, government control can’t make your life better. It confiscates what you’ve earned, reduces your welfare, subjects you to regulations designed for the worst-case person, and gives power and wealth to whoever has the most political influence.

No, we aren’t living in an age of “unfettered individualism.” We’re living in an era of big government.

That’s too bad, because freedom benefits everyone — except for the few people who are hell-bent on running your life for you.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.