the conservative idea of personal responsibility

All BS aside, is this idea just a way to justify not spending any time or effort on people in need? by saying ‘personal responsibility’ aren’t they just saying ‘not my problem’ or ‘you did it to yourself’ so people won’t feel pressured to help?

I don’t agree with that, but it is a moderately free country so people can belive what they want.

What bothers me is how do conservatives carry out the double talk of saying ‘take responsibility for yourself’ out of one side of their mouths and turn around and blame liberals for every problem on earth out of the other? I talk to my conservative friends about Ann Coulter’s book and i think i am the only one who sees the glaring hypocracy of what see says (only dirty liberals use personal attacks; take responsibility for yourself, blame a liberal, etc). Am i seeing things or are they just ignoring things? It reminds me of what Clinton said (probably not a good source of unbiased info on this topic, but his point was good).

“These people ran on responsibility, but as soon as you scratch them they go straight to blame. Now, you know, I didn’t blame his [President Bush’s] father for Somalia when we had that awful day memorialized in ‘Black Hawk Down.’ I didn’t do that.”

Come to think of it, thats a good bumper sticker. “Take responsibility for yourself, blame a liberal”.

Being more sympathetic to the American Liberal position, I also have on occasion felt similar to the way you describe. However, to be fair to some of the more open-minded conservatives I’ve met, some honestly believe that the world would be a better place if everyone just took their own responsibility and only worked in their own interest, thereby also benefiting the common good (a la Mandeville). Because of that they draw the conclusion that you need only aid the really miserable (handicapped people etc.). I have never discussed with people who go so far as not to want to aid disabled persons; that is not an acceptable political view in the Netherlands. I wouldn’t know what to say to such an extremist view.

The mistake of those well-meaning conservatives, to my mind, consists in an overestimate of the amount of control that people in less fortunate circumstances have over their own fate. I do agree with them that you should encourage people to take responsibility for their own fate. I do not believe that this alone will suffice. It is necessary to complement this with supportive measures. What such measures must be, is open for discussion, of course.

I agree with you that the conservative position may be fortified by a subconscious desire to rationalize their own selfishness. It is however tricky to prove subconscious desires (but great fun to postulate them!).

Are there conservatives out there who will take the bait?

Hey guys, get your wallet out, I found some people in need who need your money.

Let me know how much money you gave them.

Selfishness to me is holding poor people down with terrible schools, atrocious public housing, high crime, fatherlessness and a welfare system that discourages personal advancement.

Of course, this selfishness is justified because, should this cycle of poverty be broken, people might become successful and less likely to vote for liberals.

Have any of you ever seen public housing? Or visited an inner city school? Liberals can rightly be blamed for these abominations.

Mr. Moto, are you saying that poor people had nice homes before public housing or good schools before federal initiatives? I don’t think so.

You may be partially right that liberals do more harm than good for the poor, i honestly don’t know enough about social programs and what actually works. What i don’t understand is how can people be so blatant in saying ‘take responsibility for yourself’ then make a living blaming their enemies for the worlds problems? Rush Limbaugh or (especially) Ann Coulter for example, how do they pull the hypocracy off without stirring up resentment?

If it were all so simple.

Given a superior gene pool, a childhood providing excellent food clothing and shelter, good parenting, every opportunity in the world and really, really hard work the odds of success in the US are pretty good. Can this inidividual really take personal responsibility for all of his success?

Take the opposite and the most likely outcome is most likely not success. Can this individual take personal responsibility for all of his failure?

I think everyone should take personal responsibility for his own actions but oftentimes whether or not those actions result in success or failure are not 100% within our control.

I predict this thread is going to get pretty ugly.

(ducks and runs away)

I never listen to Rush, nor do I know Ann Coulter, but I do know many conservatives. Conservatives tend feel the sole purpose of the government is to protect the rights of individuals. Thus, when they are building something on their property, property rights are sacrosanct. However, if they are building something on your property, then condemnation, eminent domain, whatever, applies, and you have no choice.

Within this world view, the claim would be that wetlands restrictions on building, for example, cost jobs, and thus make it harder for Ameica’s economic engine to generate jobs, which helps the working class. Taxes to support welfare removes capital from private enterprise, which creates jobs. Therefore, welfare can actually hurt the poor. Now the conservatives feel that environmental regulations and the current tax system were/are created by liberals, and are not their fault.

I’m not going to argue the correctness of this world view, nor the degree to which it is correct, and not even the degree to which it is self-serving, because that is a job for another forum. (I don’t consider myself liberal or conservative, and think it is kind of silly to apply one label any one person on a myriad of topics. I think I am liberal on enviromental issues, conservative on fiscal issues, etc.) However, I don’t see where there is any hypocrisy or logical contradiction in the conservative position.

I’m taking personal responsibility by moving this thread to Great Debates.

I don’t think that the “Conservative” (I hate that label, I get stuck with it when I feel the classical sense of the word liberal is much more accurate) idea of personal responsibility is a means to justify a lack of concern for those who fail to reach a level of success. In fact, I think you will find a great desire to aid those people who try and fail among conservatives. The lack of concern you cite is more likely a lack of support for governmental money.

If you look beyond the talking heads and focus on the “real people” in the conservative camp I think you’ll see a desire to help the needy on an individual level - somewhere we can see that those receiving end are truly “deserving” and not bilking a well-meaning but terribly flawed system.


I really can’t speak for anybody else Calculus, but I would hope that personal responsibility is not a strictly Conservative ethic. If we’re wrong, I think we’re all in a lot of trouble.

Personal responsibility simply means that you accept the repercussions of your own actions. It shouldn’t be an excuse or a justification for anything. Quite the opposite really.

In terms of how this applies to people in need, I think it is pretty straightforward. A succesful person in society has a responsibility to the others in that society who may not have been as gifted, fortunate, or what have you. So, no. It’s not an excuse.

Personal responsibility means that as a minimum you pull your own weight.

I don’t think all conservatives do it, and I don’t think it’s all doubletalk necessarily. I think both groups recognize that there are problems. They differ on how they should be solved. If I may generalize I would say that liberals tend to be more prone to wanting to treat the symptoms of the problems, and provide the quick and easy fix. Let’s look at poverty for example. I don’t think that you solve poverty by giving people money. I think that simply giving people perpetuates poverty as it takes away the incentive to be self-sufficient. I think that the way you solve poverty is that you enable and empower people to earn a decent living. This is the old “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him forever” philosophy.

I hope that you will concede that there is some merit to it.

A liberal on the other hand will say that a starving person’s primary need is not a job, it’s food. There’s no point in teaching a man to fish if he starves to death before he becomes proficient.

I will certainly concede that there is merit in that.

Where I see a problem and where I blame liberal programs and entitlements is when they perpetuate a problem rather than help to alleviate it. I also beleive that some entitlement programs have gone beyond providing aid to those in dire need and become a way of buying votes. It creates the illusion that government can give us something. In reality though it cannot give us anything that we don’t already have.

Ann Coulter is not a promoter of conservatism. She’s a detractor of liberalism.

I don’t think that’s a fair statement. There are certainly plenty of liberals who are more than willing to blame anything and everything on our current President, just as there were plenty of conservatives who wanted to blame everything and anything on Clinton.

The fact that Bill Clinton can point to a single particular instance where he did not blame his conservative predecessor is hardly a startling revelation.

Come to think of it, thats a good bumper sticker. “Take responsibility for yourself, blame a liberal”. **

I started this under the impression that you were interested in serious discourse and inquiry. As I read further and reply to you I’m getting the feeling that you are more interested in taking generalized potshots at conservatives rather than understanding their positions. I hope I’m mistaken.

Ann Coulter. I actually was thinking of starting a thread on whether she does more harm than good for her fellow Republicans. Scylla is exactly right. She never proposes anything, just takes jabs at Liberals. I can’t imagine why the “Conservatives” haven’t taken a contract out on her.

Having said that, I think the issue of “Personal Respnonsibility” is being somewhat misundersatood here. Firstly, I see it more of a libertarain issue than a “conservative” one. Secondly it’s not a matter of whether you blame liberals or conservatives for the ills of society, but whether you own up to your own actions. For example, “liberals” will often look at criminals and say “Oh, he had a bad childhood… he was abused… no one mentored him correctly… he has a self esteem issue”. The personal responsibility camp will say “hey, we all have tough things to deal with in life, but you can’t use that as an excuse for criminal or negligent behavior”. That’s just one example of how I see the issue.

If you really delve into American “conservatism”, you’ll find the personal responsibiity issue to have deep roots in the Protestant ethic. This is not some new invention of GW Bush or even Reagan. It goes back to the philosophy of the first groups of people coming here in the 17th/18th centuries. It is, in fact, the “liberal” position of looking at “society” as the source of people’s problems that has only recently shown up on the scene.

To me, personal responsibility is something as simple as understanding that McDonald’s didn’t make you fat, or you were actually fired because you were late 20 times last month and not because of your skin tone.

Most of these “frivolous” lawsuits are prime examples of the shirking of personal responsibility.


Both views, IMHO, are misguided. They both seek to either place or remove blame, without being clear what their true motives for doing so are. Obviously, we can either look at something from the perspective of the person involved, in which case concepts of responsibility can actually affect decisions, or we can look at it from the perspective of an outside observer, where the person will react and behave in certain ways to various different conditions.

I believe he was saying that public housing and inner-city schools weren’t what they were trumped up to be.

They profess extreme ideas, which keeps their ratings up and sells a lot of books.

[ul]:rolleyes: [sup]Like James Carville is some sort of saint.[/sup][/ul]

Personal responsibility is the same to me as personal accountability. Those who believe the poor are that way because they are lazy is only whistling through a graveyard.

First, I’m with Airman Doors, on the personal responsibility thing. Liberals tend to blame objects or societal problems or whatever when someone’s actions are bad - they’ll blame the gun during a shooting spree or the fact that someone’s mom never breast fed them when they start kidnapping and eating people.

Anyway, as to your argument, you may be right as to your actual particulars in that many/most “high profile” conservatives are hypocritical, but your logic is still flawed.

What you seem to be saying is that if one advocates taking responsibility for their own actions, then they can’t blame anyone for anything, even if it’s that persons fault.

IE: Person A believes in personal responsibility. Person B chops person C’s head off with an axe. Person A blames person B for killing person C. Person A is a hypocrite because he advocates taking personal responsibility and is just throwing blame around.

Anyway, if you believe the problems were genuinely caused by others, then there’s nothing hypocritical about taking responsibility for yourself and blaming other people for specific things.

Some nicely reasoned responses , in particular by Scylla and others. You may be right that the OP was phrased rather generally. You may also be right that among liberal positions there are those who seem to completely ignore personal responsibility. However, I do believe we will not progress if the stereotypical portrayal of the cold-hearted conservative is answered with a knee-jerk reaction of the fuzzy liberal who will indefinitely help the undeserving (I do not mean you, Scylla; your answer is much more nuanced). There may have been times when such extreme liberal positions were in vogue, but I think by now most people agree that you have to draw the line somewhere. I also do not believe you have to go for total saintlihood.

The thing which distinguishes being liberal, in my opinion, is that you start off with the idea that we are all in this together, basically like a team. Even though each member of the team has his personal responsibility for properly functioning, the other members still step in if one member falters. Only if he can properly be blamed for failing, there may be reason to limit your compassion.

It is therefore not a question of knee-jerk blaming society, but more of trying to have compassion with people in trouble, and trying to find a middle position for finding the real causes of social problems. Although personal responsibility must certainly be taken into account, I cannot see how you can off-hand dismiss the simultaneous influence of social factors. As I said before, you may dispute the ratio of the respective influences, but that doesn’t change the fact that not everything is in the individual’s control.

I get the impression (but I may be wrong) that the ‘conservative’ position starts from the opposite assumption, to wit that everyone is on his own and no-one is expected to step in for his neighbour. Still, if I read Scylla’s post, it seems as if we may end up in the same spot, arriving from different starting positions. Seems fair if you’re discussing with reasonable counterparts. :slight_smile:

This is one of the most apalling statements I’ve ever seen. Clinton didn’t blame GWH Bush for the Mogadishu fiasco, because it wasn’t Bush’s fault. Yes, Bush began the operation in Somalia to protect food distribution (for the UN), but it was Clinton who upped the operation to be “get Aidid.” It was his Secy of Defense who denied armor when it was requested, etc.

Gah. Disgusting.

I don’t think that’s the difference. I see conservatives seeing us on the same “team” too. The difference is that liberals feel it’s necessary for government to enforce the team, whereas conservatives feel that’s must be the voluntary choice of each member of the team.