by Andy Joppa
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
― C. S. Lewis
We Americans always define ourselves as a “free people.” It is the source of our greatest pride. It is what hundreds of thousands of our warriors died to protect. This, then, becomes an essay that I never thought I’d ever write.
A question that is never asked, or even considered is, “What does it mean to be free?” I suppose the answer seems so self-evident that the question appears to be totally irrelevant; what with, the “Land of The Free” and all that. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. An in-depth analysis of this question, and its significance, is critical in creating a potential quality future for our citizens…or, if ignored… losing it. We currently are like that fabled frog being boiled alive starting from cold water…that water for our loss of freedom is beginning to boil. Like the frog…no one seems to notice.
Most believe that American freedom was achieved at the moment we separated ourselves from England…it was then, goes the mythology, that we became free. This view believes that freedom is a circumstance that exists when your nation is not under the control of a foreign power. This, certainly, is a meaningful component in creating an environment of freedom. It is also the easiest of the freedoms to achieve but offers little understanding of the nation in which it occurs.
In fact, a totally tyrannical nation would probably find this the easiest outcome to attain. If this is where our conversation on freedom would end, then the citizens of the now defunct Soviet Union and those within the Communist dictatorship of China, would be as free as Americans. Both nations maintained absolute autonomy over their own countries. Obviously, our conversation on freedom must reach beyond this characteristic; a characteristic that is shared by the Chinese, the Russians, we Americans and, almost everyone else.
The more meaningful understanding of freedom must consider two other elements; either of which, if not present in the positive, would suggest that any nation being measured is not truly free.
The primary characteristic of a free people is the freedom from their own government. No matter how you slice it…that is what freedom is about. This does not suggest that a national government should not maintain order and provide guidelines for acceptable actions. However, a government of a free people can only function within tightly constrained areas of action. Its right to act must be prescribed by law and it can gain no influence outside of those limited areas that have been created by deeply debated legislative action.
The primary focus of a government concerned with freedom…is protecting the rights of the individual. There can be no doubt, however, that at this point, our federal government has no self-imposed restrictions on their actions and, no real concern for the individual. It can, in effect, do whatever it wants…including ending anything that might be defined as an essential characteristic of freedom. In other words, we are only free, because at this moment, the government allows it. This statement, in itself, presents what is the antithesis of a free nation. You are not free because of government…you must be free in spite of it. Our government was not designed to be the arbiter of our freedom…it has, however, become exactly that. If they were that arbiter, it would be the equivalent of having the fox guard the hen house.
In America, it was our Constitution that laid out the very few areas where our federal government could operate. The Constitution was the law that governed the government. Its primary function was to protect us from any and all indiscriminate actions of our own government. Our founders recognized that it was our own government that was the most significant threat to the freedom of this nation’s citizens. I might add at this point, that this provides one of the many significant reasons I am against socialism, communism or fascism (all, indistinguishable in practice…. they’re all collectivist systems.) In each of these governmental forms their central governments must maintain complete control over its citizens with all actions being created by the demands of the moment.
Force is always implicit in the centralized actions of these governments.
Hence, in the twentieth century they killed 100 million of their own citizens.No one in a country of these types of economic/political systems can ever consider themselves “free.” America, if it continues in its current direction, will not be an exception. Our ranking of twelfth on the Index for Economic Freedom should give us pause. Trump is doing his best to reverse the trends he inherited, but the inertia was, and is, all in the wrong direction.
Assessing where we are in current America, as it pertains to the question of, “Are we a free people?”, the answer must be offered with a high degree of hesitancy and only by delving into the circumstance in which we find ourselves. By any meaningful assessment, using this parameter, we are not a free people. Our federal government consistently acts outside of its legal constraints… the Constitution…and does so in a capricious and politically focused manner. The belief that Americans are a free people is easily put to lie within this most basic and obvious measurement.
To believe we are “free” is but an illusion of the moment. That moment could totally alter in a short period of time and bring every citizen within the complete and absolute control of government. That could happen as soon as 2020 if Donald Trump is not reelected. With their general disregard of the Constitution, and Trump no longer a barrier, there would be no resistance to their making that choice. Freedom is a but burden to be eliminated for the political operatives on the Left. Your “feeling” that it could never happen “here” is a hope rather than a reasonable projection.
You are not free if your government is allowing you, at its discretion, to be free. You are not free if, at any point, your government can deprive you of everything you feel are your rights as a free person. NO…we are not now a free people, and it looks like it could get worse. NO…it will get a lot worse. There is every reason to believe that the national intelligence agencies maintain awareness of every citizen. They will ensure that “freedom” does not intrude on their ability to function as they desire. For the first time in our long an glorious history we are immersed in a conspiratorial collusion amongst the political Left, the unelected federal bureaucracy, the intelligence agencies and the quasi-private media…all focused on insuring that your actions as a free person do not interfere with their ultimate destination …complete control over all Americans. Yes…the water is boiling, and no one notices.
Another critical component defining a free people, is freedom from their own neighbors. This is the second most critical area for freedom and one that our founders were deeply concerned with…mob rule; the imposition of the will of the majority on the freedoms of the individual. In a truly free nation, every action of any individual is allowed unless, as the founders defined it, “It stole their neighbor’s purse or broke their bones.” Freedom was never defined as the actions allowed with your neighbor’s concurrence. If you stood in opposition to every other American it shouldn’t change the outcome. You were not supposed to be a factor of your neighbor’s favor. There is no legal relationship or obligation in a free nation for one citizen to another. I have no legal obligation to another family or their personal well-being. I can hate or love who I want and express these views publicly without fear of legal action. The government can insert itself to provide aid for the less fortunate (if legally prescribed) but they can’t weave me, as a free person into their nefarious schemes. I might freely choose actions that are defined as charitable and react to my neighbors in a benevolent fashion. But that is my choice and not within the province of an imposition of government.
Are we currently free of our neighbors? Hardly. We are constantly buffeted by the demands created by our neighbor’s needs. The simplest example is the income tax. The government insists on excessive levels of progressive taxation for the upper 10%, while the 50% at the bottom pay no income tax at all. The upper 10% are “punished” for the failures or deficiencies of the bottom half. Whether their problems are of their own making is irrelevant in this discussion. We’ve seen a person’s gender identity issue imposed on another person’s freedom of religion. We’ve seen speech restricted when its defined as hate speech and offends one or many neighbors.
This problem of our neighbors inflicting themselves on our freedom has been deepened with the enormous numbers of illegal entrants that consume resources that have been created by “free” individuals; government doing little to nothing to prevent this from happening.
No… we are not a free people if measured by our freedom from our own neighbors. Keep in mind that the history of America is replete with citizens choosing freely to help others. We are a charitable people. Once imposed by government it becomes an unacceptable intrusion on our freedom. Our private charity isn’t the issue…the issue is whether our neighbors have been imposed on us by actions of government.
I’ll say only a few words about the final freedom. That is, freedom from ourselves. Can we escape…are we allowed to escape… from our own parochialism imposed on us by our cultures or group identity? This does appear to be a growing issue where all too many are born, live and die within a fixed identity and view of life. This barrier to freedom has become more complicated and predictable as the government has given legal status to group identity, thus, not only imposing our neighbors on each of us, but also preventing these people from ever escaping from themselves…from their own historic limitations. We discuss culture as if it’s a compelling genetic determinant; one that defines the entirety of an individual.
Are we a “free” people? My judgement, other than the freedom from outside control is, we are not free from our government…we are not free from our neighbors…we are not free from ourselves…. WE ARE NOT A FREE PEOPLE. I believe there are very few in our government who give the concept of freedom any role in their decision-making process. I believe there are very few who would not sacrifice freedom for security or yield freedom to protect the sensitivities of the fragile or abandon freedom to achieve power.
I am not satisfied with the statement that we are freer than most…if not all…other countries. We are Americans …our negative trends will become rules of life for lesser nations and lesser peoples. If our freedom was totally lost there are millions of Americans who would not accept this placidly. The government would have, “Crossed one bridge too far.” Freedom is often not appreciated when you have it. When it is absent, however, it has always been an emotional and provocative call to action. But, first, we have to notice.
“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty