OPINION – It’s strange that throughout recorded human history, freedom has proven so elusive to a majority of mankind. It’s not like the idea hasn’t been marketed far and wide. But are we really dedicated to being free?
Most people will agree that freedom is preferable to being unfree. Even the most outspoken control freaks give grudging lip service to it, even if it’s just to remind their subordinates that they are “free” to do as they’re told.
Dr. Harold Pease brilliantly illustrated how fragile liberty can be.
Freedom can be likened to a butterfly landing for a time here and there for a season as it passes through the centuries, and it has only been the most cautious and perceptive peoples who permitted it to remain with them long – hence their greatness.
As desirable as it may be, history shows that authentic freedom has been the exception rather than the rule. Even those who have enjoyed it tend to squander its blessings and eventually lose it.
What’s the difference between those who are fit to be free and those who are not?
It comes down to understanding and applying the principles and practices that make individual liberty possible.
This requires a willingness to actively seek out and embrace wisdom that has been the product of thousands of years of man’s successes and failures in regards to freedom. These are not mystical secrets that are only available to the initiated.
After all, great minds have discussed and debated and written about freedom throughout the centuries.
These works are readily available but are often overlooked because people don’t know where to find them. However, once shown the light of liberty, few people can return to their former unenlightened state.
One of the most influential works I’ve encountered is Frederic Bastiat’s timeless essay “The Law,” published in 1850.
Bastiat offers one of the clearest, most concise explanations for why man creates government and laws and the purposes they are supposed to serve. He spelled out how to tell when a law is unjust or when a lawmaker is becoming a source of lawbreaking.
Among his most timeless observations was the recognition that an immoral or unjust individual behavior does not magically become moral or just when done by the state. This is especially applicable in our day where the state regularly grants itself power to do things for which we would be prosecuted and punished.
According to Bastiat, the law was never meant to micromanage every aspect of our lives, including our ideas and our conscience, our exchanges, our enjoyments or our will. He explained:
Its mission is to prevent the rights of one from interfering with those of another, in any of these things. Law, because it has force for its necessary sanction, can only have the domain of force, which is justice.
One need only look at our current headlines regarding issues like asset forfeiture and excessive regulation of private property to see that Bastiat’s reasoning wasn’t limited exclusively to his own time.
Another equally transformational work on the essence of liberty is an essay titled “The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State” by Auberon Herbert.
Where Bastiat took a more utilitarian approach to explaining the proper role of government, Herbert approached the question of freedom from a clear moral perspective.
Herbert begins with the question, “By what right do men exercise power over each other?”
How can an act done under compulsion have any moral element in it, seeing that what is moral is the free act of an intelligent being?
These questions cut to the heart of where the upper limits of legitimate government power may be found. Herbert logically and accurately makes the moral case that the wrongness or rightness of a particular action cannot be based upon whether a majority agrees with it.
He correctly questioned whether mere numbers conferred unlimited rights to take from others the right to act for themselves. He also noted that every tax or fee taken from an unwilling person was immoral and oppressive.
Statements of morality like these tend to send collectivists in our time right over the edge. Any person of conscience will find it hard to justify continued support of such coercive philosophies.
Herbert’s description of politicians also fits perfectly with what we see today.
The ruling idea of the politician – stated rather bluntly – is that those who are opposed to him exist for the purpose of being made to serve his ends, if he can get power enough in his hands to force these ends upon them.
Herbert understood that physical force is in direct opposition to morality and that it discourages and limits the moral forces by which we should govern our own lives.
Lovers of freedom who read these essays will have a solid foundation of principle from which to recognize and reject the schemes and power seekers which seek to make us unfree.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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