Acton Institute Powerblog

A Very Funny Conception of Liberty

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The recent oral arguments presented before the Supreme Court about ObamaCare’s individual mandate have exposed a profound difference in how American’s conceive of liberty. In the the New York Times, Adam Liptak provides a revealing example:

. . . Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who concluded his defense of the law at the court this week with remarks aimed squarely at Justice Kennedy. Mr. Verrilli said there was “a profound connection” between health care and liberty.

“There will be millions of people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” he said, “and as a result of the health care that they will get, they will be unshackled from the disabilities that those diseases put on them and have the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of liberty.”

Paul D. Clement, representing 26 states challenging the law, had a comeback. “I would respectfully suggest,” he said, “that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.”

(Via: Peter Wehner)

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Abigail Nussey

    This is the classic “freedom from” vs. “freedom to” argument. 

  • Phil Steiger

    When an understanding of liberty shifts from negative to positive rights, we are on a track for one thing ‘secured’ by the government after another.  It is an inevitable cascade of federal impositions masquerading as ‘rights’.

  • RogerMcKinney

    The definition of liberty didn’t shift by itself. Changing definitions of words in order to win arguments by default is standard socialist methodology, and very dishonest. 

    • Dave56

       Aptly stated.  Another case in point is the President’s use of the terminology “activist judges.”  An activist judge is one who doesn’t interpret the Constitution according to it’s original intent by reading meanings into its words which were never intended. Obama has shifted the context to label the very judges who are not activist as activists, and by insinuation the ones who are the activists then are not activists. 

  • Franklin Eyre

    As I once famously misquoted Thomas Szasz: “The battle for the world is the battle for definitions.” (I like my misquote better than the original).
      Even Hunter Thomson has a variation of this: “If you get people asking the wrong questions, you don’t have to worry about the answers.”