Why is political freedom so unpopular? Throughout human history, freedom has been the exception and not the norm. The ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, free by the standards of their time, ultimately collapsed because of the unwillingness of people to accept the full responsibility of freedom. Barbarians and invaders exploited this lapse, but there would have been nothing to exploit had enough people wanted to remain free. The greatest example of principled human freedom in history,
the United States Constitution, has degenerated into a bankrupt and broken government where people still want the benefits of freedom, but most are no longer willing to work for it. Instead, they look to government “to do something for me,” never recognizing that by demanding this, they’re in effect demanding that “others do things for me.”
What’s so bad about freedom that people let it go, despite all the benefits it brings them? Is it laziness, or something deeper than that?
Think about what freedom requires. Freedom requires the responsibility to think. It requires of a person the responsibility to make choices. This is frankly what so many dread. Many people do want choices, but they don’t necessarily want the responsibility that goes along with making a choice.
“I want X. If I opt for X instead of Y, this is what I think will happen. I’m going to operate on this assumption, and make my decision. I choose X.” This is the mentality of a freedom-loving person. Such a person requires freedom in order to exercise the reasoning of his mind. He accepts the responsibility gladly.
“I want X. But Y might be better. I’m not sure which to choose. Which should I choose? Somebody tell me? Or better yet, I’ll choose the one that I feel is best. But if turns out not to be good, then I want a do-over.” Do-overs take the form of lawsuits, government subsidies, regulations and what have you. This is the mindset of someone who will never accept freedom, at least not consistently. In a superficial sense, such a mindset wants freedom. “I want the freedom to be happy.” But happiness must be brought about by the cognitive efforts of one’s own thinking, and one’s own actions. Nobody can provide happiness for you. Another person can — if forced, or if he wants to — give you a free car, a free house, or even a billion dollars for that matter. But he cannot guarantee you happiness.
It’s ironic. The socialists and liberal welfare statists of the world are the first to preach and moralize against the “evils of materialism,” and are among the loudest to agree that money cannot buy you happiness. But the most prominent of these socialists — most Hollywood celebrities, billionaire George Soros, Oprah — are among the richest people the world has ever seen. Their desire to encourage others not to value wealth surely didn’t stop THEM from pursuing it. And the policies of wealth redistribution they advocate are based on the assumption that people will be happier if they are given large sums of other people’s money. That is to say, if they’re protected from the responsibility of thinking, planning and exerting effort to get that money on their own.
Money, as Ayn Rand illustrated in “Atlas Shrugged,” is a frozen form of value, a concrete manifestation of individual achievement. Any attempt to transfer money to others — as an entitlement — is an attempt to transfer value to others. Oprah, socialist that she is, no doubt worked hard to earn that money and become the major celebrity she became. And she probably thinks that by creating a State in which everyone can have money transferred to them will be valuable, just as her own efforts were valuable to her. But there is no value divorced from effort. Frankly, this is even true with private charity. If you give somebody something just because they’re in need, or claim they’re in need, then you’re telling them, in effect: “You can’t obtain anything valuable through effort. You can’t use your mind to create a living.” This is why even voluntary charity is dangerous when provided in a context of, “You’re entitled to it,” rather than a context of, “You didn’t bring this problem on yourself, and your problem is temporary. You’re a valuable person in other ways, and I have already been personally paid by that. I offer you this gift in that context.” It’s hard enough to operate on the latter assumption with private charity, and it’s completely impossible in the case of socialism, where all value is removed from the equation. (This applies, by the way, whether the wealth transfers we’re talking about are conventional welfare or billions of dollars handed over to corporations who are politically correct.)
Freedom requires thought. It requires valuing, the rational sort of valuing that originates in thought. Throughout history, this has been too much for most people, including most average people. This probably explains why freedom has always been the exception, has always been abandoned in the end, and — at present, in America — is floundering and waning.
The election of a despicable incompetent like Barack Obama in a land whose Constitution was written by gigantic champions of individual rights is a particular low point in the course of human history. This could never have happened in a nation that had not already lost its way. It simply wouldn’t have been possible to elect someone so blatantly against the principles of America unless a majority of citizens, on some level, had simply given up on the full responsibility required for freedom.
“Freedom” does not exist in a vacuum. The very concept and term implies “freedom to do something.” Freedom to do what? Not to have your way without the effort of thought. That’s not what freedom is. Freedom is the right to pursue happiness, which means: to create your happiness. It’s up to the individual to do the thinking, and acting, to make that happiness come into existence. That’s what America was all about, at one time. And that’s what pockets and segments of America are still about. But it’s floundering, and we’re losing it.
Freedom and the rationality which sustains it are starting to go underground, in the USA, of all places. Until and unless people choose again to think — and want government out of the way, as a consequence — or at least let those most capable of thinking have government out of their way — we’re going to keep seeing the problems we currently witness daily. Think about that the next time you hear the unemployment, inflation and national debt figures.
America has been in a “malaise” like this before. The last time was under Jimmy Carter, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In subsequent years, the nation went on to renewed prosperity and innovation, most notably the technological advances epitomized by the Internet economy. There’s no more reason for us to be finished now than we were back then. But things have got to change. And more dramatically than last time.