Liberty is a beautiful thing. But it’s a tool. It’s not an end in itself that can be imposed on a people unworthy of it, or who do not want it.
Advocates of liberty must be careful not to confuse cause and effect. Liberty is, in fact, the effect — the RESULT — of a state of mind. A person, or a people, pursue liberty because they long to use their minds, to be self-responsible and autonomous people. Liberty is the secular religion of the individualist. A non-individualist has no more use for liberty than an atheist does with fundamentalist faith.
When you mistakenly assume liberty is a cause you get — well, you get what’s going on in the United States today. There is a growing
minority movement for liberty. You see it in the Tea Party, and you see it in the wealth of pro-liberty articles, essays, blogs and books to be found on the Internet and elsewhere. Thank goodness we still enjoy freedom of speech. When and if that ever changes, the people will be at war with their government; but that time has not come, at least not yet. In the United States today, however, you have many people trying to impose liberty on people who don’t want it. Of course in an abstract sense, all people want “freedom” or liberty. But how the person defines freedom is not necessarily how liberty is properly defined.
Liberty is properly defined as the absence of force. If you are free, and enjoy liberty, you answer to nobody unless you choose to make such a person your associate. If you voluntarily sign a legally binding contract, you are legally bound to honor it. But nobody has a right to force you to sign that contract in the first place. The minute somebody does, your liberty is gone. That’s why it’s fair to say that while the United States today is not a totalitarian country, it’s no longer a land of liberty, either. From the moment of birth, you are both bound by, and entitled to, the social contracts signed by people long before you were born. These social contracts are illustrated by such things as Social Security and Medicare, but they also include income taxes, capital gains taxes, and hosts of regulations on everything from the cars you drive to the showers you use in your home. You didn’t ask to take part in these contracts, but they are imposed upon you from birth. You don’t get to decide if they are in your self-interest, and you’re discouraged from even questioning them. How much you are entitled to the benefits of these contracts, and how much you are obliged to honor them, depends on you ability and your work ethic. The more capable and hard-working you are, the more you are obliged to uphold those social contracts; the less hard-working and more incapable you are, the more you are entitled to just about anything you want.
The very notion of “social contract” is a fallacy. There’s no such thing as a contract between “society” — meaning, millions of people — and the government. The minute you talk about such a thing, you’re talking about the initiation of force by government. The minute government is allowed to initiate force — not because you’re a violent or fraudulent criminal, but simply because you’re alive — is the minute liberty goes out the window.
There are two types of people. One is willing to have liberty and wants his liberty above all else. His liberty is the means of using his reason; he values his liberty because he values the exercise of rationality in his life. The other type is someone who wants the liberty to do what he wants, but doesn’t necessarily want others to have that same freedom. He won’t admit it. He won’t put it this way: “I’m entitled to liberty, but others are not. ” But he will say, “Give me my Medicare!” What if someone else has to pay for it? Tough. “Give it to me!” He wants his liberty to have his social contract honored, even if the others are unwilling participants in that government-imposed contract.
The world, including America, is full of people in this second category. These are the people who want to have their liberty, but to eat it too — to eat the liberty of others, that is.
These are the people that elected officials respond to and honor whenever they pass laws, enforce them, and then, through the court system, interpret them in ways to undermine liberty even more.
Liberty requires a sincere belief that self-responsibly is a good thing. People who sincerely crave liberty sincerely want the self-responsibility that goes along with it. For liberty to triumph in any society, that society has to be dominated by people who think and feel this way. Otherwise, you might have strong voices for liberty, at least in certain quarters, but no widespread depth of spirit required for change. It was said that the American Revolution was a response to the “hearts and minds of the people.”
What are the hearts and minds of the American people today?
Are most Americans today the type of people who truly want liberty? If so, then a restoration of liberty will be forthcoming. If not, I’m sorry to say there are some real problems ahead for this country, and for the world.