As I logged out of a remote session between my home and my office this morning, having initiated some much-needed maintenance on some critical equipment, I pondered the meaning of the holiday most will be enjoying today. As I take a short break before heading into work to complete the maintenance on-site, it strikes me as tragic that we could let such a wonderful country slip from our grasp. Two-hundred-thirty-seven years ago, our founders endeavored to create something that had never been: An independent nation of independent people, each free to pursue their own ends in responsible respect for the rights of every other. The most pressing task of their day was not really in fighting the British, but in convincing their fellow colonials to join them in the fight. As we look forward to a country rapidly crumbling under a weight of government our founders could not have imagined, we must again make the case to our countrymen that freedom is worth the fight.
In the sixties, it became fashionable in some circles to claim as a popular song of the time that “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” That sentiment has become the undercurrent and the back-drop for a cultural decline that now pervades our national spirit, as the concept was injected into the realm of the politics. Too frequently, men and women born to freedom surrender some facet of that liberty in the name of Janis Joplin’s lament, the implication being that freedom is merely the result of having nothing. The pragmatist’s sing-song, claiming that freedom is a pointless exercise without material or spiritual values is a detestable lie that has gained something akin to a majority’s acceptance in modern America. True freedom, they would claim, is the state of having nothing, or of being nothing, such that to have anything, one must yield one’s liberty, or that to be truly free, one must surrender life itself. As Ayn Rand observed, the collectivists extol the virtues of freedom – but only as obtained in one’s grave. As our founders had done, I stand opposed to their anthem, and its corrupt concept of freedom.
Freedom is not the absence of material or spiritual values. Indeed, real freedom is possessed of the ability to obtain material and spiritual values without interference from others, the capacity to establish one’s own course without infringements, and the presumption of sovereignty over one’s life and property. By setting values against freedom, the statists’ lament is intended to trick you into surrendering both. Neither do you wish for the “full freedom” of the grave, wherein lies its ultimate expression by their estimates, nor do you wish to be in perpetual servitude as a kept being, left on a causeless, pointless system of life-support in exchange for your lack of self-direction. Instead, they preach, you should seek to achieve a “balance” between the perfect freedom of the grave and the tyranny of perfect servitude. This false dichotomy is the first argument they must convince you to accept, and it was the false thesis our founders were compelled to destroy.
As most of my readers know too well, freedom is not the human escape from life, as statists would contend, but the extension and enhancement of life by the ability to self-govern. Whether on a national scale, or on an individual basis, self-determination is the real object of the statists’ attack. You must suborn your wishes to those of your community, that must in turn submit to the will of the state, that must finally concede any nationalistic impulse in the interests of all humanity, according to their prescriptions. Their ugly secret lies in the fact that all along the way, they have rigged what will come to be considered the interests of the community, the country, and the entire planet. In short, their interests are simultaneously pro-humanity and anti-human, which means a generally benevolent sentiment toward the whole of humankind through a focused malevolence of policies against all individuals.
The simple truth is that they offer the classic carrot and stick. On the one hand, the easy enticements of the welfare state and managed compliance, but in the other, the brandished club of the mindless collective. To accept the former, it is true that one must yield one’s ability to choose one’s course, but the latter requires no acceptance, usually delivering or threatening some form of their view of “perfect freedom.” In stark contrast, what the founders offered a people was the ability to set one’s own course; to live or die by one’s efforts or their lack; to succeed or fail at one’s own expense; to thrive or languish according to one’s ambitions. In short, there would be no guarantees, neither of comfort nor of poverty, but merely the freedom to act and choose to pursue one’s own ends without interference. By the standards of Joplin’s lament, this is not so enticing a choice for those who have grown accustomed to a standard of living they no longer have the willingness to earn.
In this sense, the founders of the United States of America may have had an easier task. Looking at the sprawling wilderness before them, colonial Americans could envision unparalleled opportunity, whereas in our time, opportunity has been suppressed by governmental decree while the ability to perceive opportunities has been blindfolded in favor of the known, and the reliable. The children of this age know a world of material plenty, but they have not been taught how it was obtained, and most have not even the knowledge or the desire to maintain it. Ambition has been replaced by a hopeless wishing, by which too many of our youth spend their time daydreaming of the perfectly unobtainable while bypassing the opportunity to plan for and work toward the imperfectly approachable. Risk-taking was key to the building of America, and to the freedom it has enjoyed, but now we are dominated by a culture of risk-averse automatons who stare with jovial indifference at flashing pixels that describe their foremost entertainment. It’s all fiction.
If we are to succeed as a country, we must first succeed as individuals, but to do that will require stepping away from the left’s adaptation of Joplin’s view of freedom. What a few more Americans have been realizing lately, as we careen toward implementation of Obama-care and the institution of a National Security State is that there is more than “nothing left to lose” contained in freedom. Our founders understood this, evidenced by the fact that they were willing to risk their lives and their sacred honor, and all their worldly possessions, in the name of self-determination for a people and for individual persons. What have we been willing to risk? Public denunciations? Scorn and ridicule? Political engagement? A few dollars to a favored cause, in the hope that some other might act in our stead?
Even given this, I still have some reason to hope, for while fleeting, a text came in that made my day. A friend attending a 4th of July parade in a nearby town with his family saw fit to share with me something that had just happened. In that town, a group of Texans favoring Open-Carry legislation assembled at a location along the parade’s course, and upon seeing his daughter looking across the street at them, he asked her if all of the guns she could see caused her concerns. She replied simply to her father, and he reported to me her epic response:
“No, people scare me – guns don’t.”
In that sentence lies a naked but essential truth about freedom that our founders had understood too well, so that if it is alive in a teen-aged girl on a blistering sunny day in central Texas, there may yet be some hope for us all. There is much more to freedom than “nothing left to lose,” and it’s time we begin to make that case again. “Freedom” conceptually implies a “for whom” and a “from whom,” because freedom is neither exercised by inanimate objects nor is it stripped from us by amoral conditions of nature. There is always a “who.” It has been the tireless trick of collectivists to substitute a laundry list of “what” for the “who.” Just as the leftists have conveniently forgotten that Bobby McGee had been the real object of Joplin’s lament, they always manage to forget the “who” in their discussions of freedom. Their litany includes “freedom from poverty,” “freedom from want,” “freedom from unemployment,” and “freedom from oppression” as if those conditions could arise without a “who” on either end.
As most Americans continue to clamor for more goodies from the hands of their would-be masters, it is important to remember what independence means, because a nation of dependents will not maintain it on a national scale, having surrendered it as individuals. Freedom from the conditions of life are not liberty at all, but instead a form of bondage to whomever is maintaining that illusory and undeserved condition. Franklin’s warning rings in my ears, because while the founders fought for freedom, and the framers of our constitution had indeed given us a form of government amenable to a great liberty, it is we who will decide if we shall keep it, or trade it in on a vision of freedom popularized by a drug-addicted woman who finally obtained her freedom in precisely the form she had described it. Of all the concepts we might address, I believe Franklin’s conditional declaration must remain the most pressing question of our time.
Asked by a lady what form of government the constitutional convention had conceived, Benjamin Franklin purportedly responded:
“A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”
Will we? As we celebrate our national independence, we ought to consider individual liberty’s uncertain future, and which concept of freedom we will adopt as our own. Our founders knew that the most pressing purpose of their declaration was not to inform the British or the whole world of their treasonous intent, but to lay down an unimpeachable argument for independence among their own. What will we risk for our vision of freedom? We must be willing at least to make an argument on its behalf, or surrender to the alternative view of freedom as the exclusive province of death.