I don't agree with your long-running contention that modern liberals actually want maximum individual liberty and "autonomy" in the sense that classical liberals meant it (classical liberals being more akin to modern libertarians on that score). Modern liberals favor massive state intervention into every aspect of social, economic, and political life, which far from removing impediments to autonomy and self-determination, is necessarily the very death of autonomy and self-determination. Modern liberals want to crush the individual, and they are knowingly the enemies of liberty in the sense that classical liberals meant it.In other words, the commenter is asking how modern liberals can combine the idea of maximising individual liberty (understood to mean autonomy) with a more intrusive state.
Let's look at an example, namly that of Nick Clegg, the Deputy PM in the UK and a leader of the Liberal Democrats in that country. In a speech entitled "Why I am a liberal" he argues that liberals don't like concentrations of power as that limits autonomy:
A liberal abhors excessive concentrations of power in politics and economics alike. I believe monopoly in the market place is as destructive of creativity and autonomy as is monopoly in politics.He contrasts this liberal view with that of socialists, who he believes are more statist:
Socialism believes that society can only be improved through relentless state activism, a belief driven by far greater pessimism about the ability of people to improve their own lives.So you might think that this is a case of a belief in individual autonomy pushing someone to be anti-statist.
But as soon as Clegg begins to discuss policy, out comes the state. Here is a classic example:
My party has new plans to provide free childcare for all toddlers from the age of eighteen months. Childcare costs are a punitive burden for so many parents today, inhibiting the freedoms and choices which parents in other countries take for granted.The problem is that the logic of individual autonomy pushes toward these sorts of policies. If you really believe that there should be no impediments to choice, then why should a woman's sex stop her from choosing to self-create through a career? But how can you give her this "freedom" (from motherhood) unless it is heavily subsidised by the state (via childcare) and unless the state acts to overthrow the connection between motherhood and womanhood (by promoting unisex parenting).
And currently there is no help with childcare costs at all until a child is three years old. If people want to work, let them. We would offer 19 months of parental leave… shared between mothers and fathers… So that - if they want to - men can stay at home with their children.
And - if they want to - women have more opportunities to get back into work.
And here's another example. Liberals don't like the idea that the things we don't choose might have an effect on the life path we determine for ourselves:
And I believe a liberal society is impossible if children are condemned for life – their education, their health, their economic well being – by the circumstances in which they were born.But that implies that children have to have the same start regardless of what their parents do to support them. And if parents can't be relied upon to give all children the same start, then what force in society is going to? The answer is the state:
We are also developing new policies which would target extra resources at the most deprived children, especially in those crucial early years of education, and introduce significantly lower infant class sizes.Finally, Clegg is someone who dislikes the idea of a national state. And why wouldn't you if you follow a universalist philosophy? If you're a universalist, then there is no basis for discriminating in favour of the people of your own nation. You'll want to apply liberal principles globally instead. And so Clegg, despite all his talk of dispersing power, happily discusses the need for international government:
...Our plans would revolutionise the care and schooling provided to young children, so giving both parents and children peace of mind and opportunities that have been denied them.
In exactly the same way we need international regulation to mitigate the worst excesses of our financial institutions, we need international regulation to protect our environment from selfinterested elites.Finally, consider Clegg's pitiful account of solidarity:
Global problems require global solutions. But only liberals truly believe in international governance. In pooling sovereignty at supranational level.
The only way we will make it through the hard times ahead, the only way we’ll build a fairer, more cohesive society, is if we come together.That's the kind of thing a classical liberal like J.S. Mill was at pains to emphasise. It's the idea people will not intrude on the freedom of others because that then undermines the guarantee to their own freedom.
Not if we drive people apart.
Liberalism seeks to bring people together by recognising our own freedoms are dependent on the freedom of others.
I uphold your freedoms because you uphold mine.
But it's a paper thin version of social solidarity. In effect, Clegg envisions a society made up of interchangeable autonomous individuals who express solidarity by being willing to recognise each other's freedoms.
But there is no recognition of the fellow feeling or loyalty that comes about through a shared history, culture, religion, language or kinship - no sense that people might form an ethny or a people.
But to summarise: Clegg does take "freedom as autonomy" seriously. It leads him on the one hand to wish to disperse power to individuals rather than to rely on a paternalistic state. But, at the same time, there is a logic by which the state is relied on to remove impediments to choice and to equalise conditions of life so that the things that aren't chosen don't determine life outcomes.
I understand that libertarians would disagree with the way that Clegg has developed a liberal politics, but what they need to understand is that there is a logic by which Clegg (and so many others) have taken liberalism in that direction.