I don’t like to get political on this website. I generally shy away from these discussions because I just want to have fun talking about movies. But the recent presidential election stirred powerful feelings in my heart, and they soon cemented into challenging ideas about the nature of freedom. I have come to the conclusion that the reason why things never seem to change for the better in Washington, D.C., no matter which political party is in power, is because both have inherently flawed views of the nature of government and its role in preserving freedom.
I’ll try to explain what I mean below. Please join me on this probing look into why true freedom can’t be found in America today and how it can be discovered again.
The Nature of Freedom
Freedom boils down to two things: Trust and responsibility. Neither major political party in the United States demonstrates both of these qualities in their philosophies of governance. Right now, Democrats trust people with all sorts of social rights, from assisted suicide and abortion to gay marriage and marijuana legalization, but they wish to restrict economic rights through high taxation, estate taxes, and business regulation, to name just a few. Republicans, on the other hand, trust people with economic rights, but they wish to restrict social rights as a way of preserving societal order. The problem is that under both of these systems, freedom is restricted because people are not trusted to do the right thing without legal compulsion in at least some area. If a political party were to trust individuals with both economic and social rights, they would have to rely on those individuals’ personal responsibility to keep society from falling into chaos.
Such a prospect must seem terrifying to many. It certainly was to the Founding Fathers. That is why they put so many safeguards into the Constitution, such as having Presidents chosen by an Electoral College, Senators selected from State Legislatures, and Supreme Court Justices nominated and confirmed by the other two branches of government. The only officials people directly elected were in the House of Representatives. This setup allowed the government to be somewhat protected from spur-of-the-moment ideas in the populous that could lead to tyranny while still keeping the government honest with internal checks on its power, as well as external checks from the people and the states. Unfortunately, the Seventeenth Amendment ended states’ check on the Senate, and this has led to a serious imbalance in the federalist system the Founders delicately set up. If Senators are accountable directly to the people, not the states they represent, they act more like Representatives than like liaisons to protect states’ rights. This, in conjunction with other factors, has led the federal government to grow ever bigger year after year. And, ironically, it’s led to more distrust of individual freedom than ever before.
It’s like we’ve given up on trusting individuals with total personal liberty to act in their own best interest, and we instead rely on the state to enforce morality at the point of a gun. If you do not act in a way we deem to be proper, we will take your property, your rights, even your life, if necessary. Such compulsion should be reserved only for behavior that directly takes away the rights of others, such as murder, theft, libel, and other damage. But there are so many laws to govern aspects of everyday life that it can be difficult to even know if you’re a law-abiding citizen anymore. Things have gotten out of hand.
The Price of Freedom
Liberty requires personal integrity. It depends on strong families and parents to raise their children well. It also demands less government intrusion into personal affairs. In other words, liberty requires more protection from others and less protection from self. The only way to become a less litigious and freer society is to focus on using laws as safeguards, not as weapons.
Have we become so dogmatic that we believe that the only way to preserve freedom is by denying it? Yes, there are many behaviors that are intolerable in a civil society, but if people are taught to live by a high standard in their personal conduct, then no complex series of laws would be necessary to govern them. Simple laws found in the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, and other foundational documents would be sufficient in most circumstances. There should be no need to create airtight legislation that covers a host of situations and sets up a ridiculous amount of bureaucracy for people to have to go through just to do business and live their lives. If we use common sense and use resources other than the law to enforce moral behavior, we can relieve most of the government’s expensive tasks, and restore a great deal of power to people.
Freedom Without Responsibility?
Progressives are winning the argument on a host of social issues because they recognize the latent desire in most Americans for personal liberty. However, these same Progressives often disregard the need for responsibility and restraint as necessary tools for individuals to wisely use their liberty. For example, there is no law that prevents me from engaging in personally destructive behaviors, such as drinking myself into oblivion, smoking until I die a horrible death, or seeking out pornography. I refuse to do any of these things, though, because I have been taught by my parents and my religion that they are wrong, and I have learned through experience that it is better to choose a higher code of conduct. If that weren’t enough, I also have a beautiful wife and several children who look to me as an example, and it would break my heart to let them down in such flagrant ways. The law has no hold on me, and yet I choose to be good based on something besides the avoidance of legal punishment. My reasons rely heavily upon my faith in God.
The problem is that Progressives dismiss religion, traditional two-parent households, and traditional ideas of morality as outdated and even restrictive toward freedom. But without these essential tools, most people wouldn’t have a complete understanding of right and wrong, which would leave them vulnerable to making poor choices. Not everyone who is taught good principles will follow them, but it is our duty as parents, teachers, and other leaders to teach them anyway. A person becomes responsible for his own actions by acting on the knowledge he has received. No matter how many laws the government puts in place, it cannot replace the essential function of parents and churches in creating moral, civilized citizens.
What Are Progressives’ Intentions?
I believe that there are some people who are fighting to destroy liberty in this country. They prefer that the government take a bigger role in every facet of our lives, both economically and personally. But their methods of accomplishing these goals are subtle and difficult to spot. For example, for several years a number of states have been pushing to legalize substances that are clearly harmful to the body. Why would Progressives, whose goals include more centralized governmental power, make such a big push to legalize things that give people more freedom to choose? I believe it is because they believe they have weakened Americans enough through generations of anti-religion propaganda, a politicized education system, and the mainstream media to denigrate morality that when we get these rights we will use them irresponsibly and the government will then have no choice but to step in regulate our lives even more. The argument would likely be that they tried giving us freedom, and look at the negative results? We failed, so they have to protect us from ourselves for our own good.
The only way to counter these results is to strengthen families and change our thinking about religion so that it continues to be a powerful force for good. We have seen the results that come when marriage is tossed aside as optional and children are increasingly born out of wedlock. Poverty, lack of education, crime, and misery come swiftly. But when children are born to responsible parents (not necessarily well-off ones), they have a much better chance of succeeding. Freedom starts with individuals and families, not with government policy. Most churches encourage strong families, moral behavior, honesty, and other qualities that make well-rounded citizens. This combination of strong families and influential religion can have a much more positive effect on America than anything else.
Breaking the Big-Government Cycle
The government has gotten so large and pervasive that it now gives credence to things that used to have mainly religious or cultural significance: Marriage, child-rearing, and many others. With the government so heavily invested in deeming what is a valid marriage or when it is appropriate to kill an unborn child, of course people think that the only way to counter that power is with more laws. But imagine if the government had no say in who got married, didn’t give any tax benefits for getting married or having children, and didn’t say who should be allowed to be born or not. Would marriage be irreparably damaged as an institution or would the birthrate fall to dangerously low levels? I don’t think so. The reasons for getting married and having children would likely change, at least in part, for many people, but these institutions survived for many years before governments even existed, so there’s no reason to think they would disappear without subsidization or other forms of government control.
What if we allowed businesses that treated customers poorly or engaged in immoral behavior simply to fail because so few people would want to do business with them, rather than passing stricter laws to make it harder for all companies, good or bad, to do business? In today’s information age, rumors or wrongdoing spread like wildfire, and companies have to always be on their best behavior if they want to keep customers. This is the ideal environment for a free economic system to thrive. People can research a company’s performance, talk to fellow customers, compare experiences, and do much more to make sure they only patronize businesses that meet their standards. There is not as much need for the government to police industries that are already under this much scrutiny from customers, shareholders, competitors, and employees.
Freedom requires more than just the absence of governmental control. In order for it to last longer than a generation, people must focus on building strong families, raising good children, and being accountable to someone higher than any government official. Unfortunately, both Democrats and Republicans err by failing to trust people with certain rights supposedly to correct or prevent injustices. This makes Democrats look like they’re anti-capitalist and Republicans look like they’re bigoted. A happy medium that combines the best aspects of Democratic and Republican ideas would yield true freedom, which would put most of the responsibility for this country’s destiny in the hands of ordinary citizens.
If you and I were trusted to do what’s right without fear of legal repercussions on every little aspect of our lives, think of all the good we could do. Of course, there’s plenty of bad we could do, too, which is why we must rely on parents to train children correctly and churches to teach rigorous codes of conduct. It’s frightening to trust and it’s certainly not easy to take responsibility for one’s own actions. But freedom requires we do these two things. Let us seek no more to elect taskmasters who promise lavish rewards, but servants who seek only to allow us to be masters of our own destiny.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.