William Galston wrote a really nice piece in The New Republic on the difference between liberal and conservative conceptions of liberty. The immediate context for his writing is the accusation that Obama’s health care proposals encroach on the liberty of the American citizenry. But he goes on to make a broader case for a progressive understanding of liberty and the governments role in securing it:
This brings me to the second question: If the issue is liberty, what is the nature of liberty, rightly understood? And does the Obama health care plan invade liberty, so understood?…To begin, experience gives us no reason to conclude that government is the only, or always the gravest, threat to freedom; clerical institutions and concentrations of unchecked economic power have often vied for that dubious honor. The unchecked market, moreover, regularly produces social outcomes at odds with the moral conditions of a free society. Capitalism does not reliably produce, or reward, the good character a free society needs: Perceptive observers from Charles Dickens to Tom Wolfe have given us ample evidence to the contrary. And, while it may be that long-term dependence on government saps the spirit of self-reliance that liberty requires, there are other forms of dependence—economic, social, and even familial—that often damage character in much the same way…At the heart of the conservative misunderstanding of liberty is the presumption that government and individual freedom are fundamentally at odds. At the heart of any liberal understanding of freedom is the proposition that public power can advance freedom as well as undermine it.