But this attempt to maximise individual autonomy means that the individual must not be limited by what he hasn't chosen for himself - such as his gender and ethnicity. So liberals then set out to make gender and ethnicity not matter in an individual's life choices.
But this then means that liberals cannot accept what individuals choose for themselves. They cannot, for instance, accept men and women choosing different career paths or choosing to socialise at times in single-sex clubs. If they did it would mean admitting that gender does matter.
So liberals end up restricting individual choice or working to overcome it. There was a strikingly clear case of this back in November. A young woman, Erin Maitland, noticed that her female friends did not want to go on overseas tours because of the "boozy, bed-hopping" culture of these mixed-sex tours. So she set up a travel company to organise tours for groups of women.
This seems reasonable enough. And, anyway, if a group of women want to travel together rather than with men then that's their right, isn't it?
Not any more. Erin's tour company was disallowed by Judge Marilyn Harbison under the Equal Opportunities Act as a violation of human rights (I kid you not):
Her application was opposed by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, which said it could conflict with Victoria's Charter of Human Rights.
Judge Harbison said that her application stereotyped men's behaviour.
"The exemption ... cannot be justified on human rights principles".
I can't help but think of this as an intrusive, unnecessary limitation on what we are allowed to choose to do. And yet I'm supposed to accept it as a defence of my human rights, equal opportunities and as an anti-discrimination measure.
Here's another recent example of liberal principles at work. There are more men than women who choose to join the Australian Defence Force (ADF). This would not come as a great shock to most people. Men and women are not the same in their natures; men are generally more inclined (from early boyhood onwards) to an interest in soldiering.
But the fact that men and women choose differently when it comes to military service is now thought of as a problem that must be overcome. Gender must be made not to matter:
The Defence Force has completed 18 months of intensive research to find out why women are reluctant to join the military...
Minister for Defence Personnel Greg Combet said that while women made up 35.4 per cent of the Australian workforce, they comprised only 13.4 per cent of the 50,000 defence personnel and that had to change.
So how is it to be done? In part by reorganising the armed forces so that it's an attractive occupation for mothers with children:
Childcare and generous maternity leave will be offered, along with job sharing and part-time work when women return after having a baby ... Under the plan, policies will be overhauled to ensure that pregnant women are not discriminated against. (Herald Sun, 20/11/09)
Those in charge are willing to make "systemic" changes to the ADF to get the results they want:
Defence Personnel Minister Greg Combet said cultural change was at the heart of the new action plan. "We need to overcome some of the systemic, cultural, attitudinal and behavioural obstacles with the ADF," Mr Combet said.
Whether all this is actually good for the armed forces is not even considered. Again, the emphasis is on working to overcome a discrepancy in choice made by men and women. Liberals can't accept the choices that people actually do make and so work hard to "overcome" the "obstacles" of culture, attitude and behaviour that lead to the "wrong outcomes" in the way people choose to live.
So liberalism ends up restricting individual choice - the very opposite of what it claimed it would achieve. This isn't because liberals have strayed from the true liberal path, but because they have tried to push their way further along it. The more they insist on individual autonomy and self-determination as a sole, overriding good, the more they have to repress and overcome choices which reflect our given natures as men and women, as members of distinct communities and so on.