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Liberty

What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?  Thomas Jefferson

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Essence

The Nature of Liberty
by SARTRE

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Few concepts have been more misunderstood but more essential than the idea of Liberty. What exactly is this elusive guardian of humanity that ensures purpose for existence? Answering this question rest in the wisdom of sages, that extols its virtue.

Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual           - Thomas Jefferson

So Jefferson states actions, that is conduct or behavior, must be a result of willful consent. Then he recognizes that there are limits upon unrestrained freedom that must respect the same rights of others. Sound much like the Golden Rule! But who is the arbitrator of this balance? Significantly the discretion know as equity within the law is excluded, since it derives its claim from a juridical authority, that so often can act as a tyrant. While Jefferson acknowledges equal rights, is human conduct all equal? We look to F.A. Hayek for the answer:

Equality of the general rules of law and conduct, however, is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty and the only equality which we can secure without destroying liberty. Not only has liberty nothing to do with any other sort of equality, but it is even bound to produce inequality in many respects. This is the necessary result and part of the justification of individual liberty: if the result of individual liberty did not demonstrate that some manners of living are more successful than others, much of the case for it would vanish.                  - F.A. Hayek

From this account we clearly see that each person is different, unique and posses varying degrees of talent and ability. The essence of the validity in the concept of being free, lies within the individual. Liberty is a personal achievement. Inequality of accomplishments is natural. The stated character of choice is that all decisions are not equal. This translates into an acknowledgment that some value systems are superior, while others are inferior. What a unique idea, right and wrong!

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.  - George Bernard Shaw

Now consider the price of Liberty. As Shaw says - one must recognize, respect and honor the rights of all your neighbors. Since our nature is flawed, it is not a surprised that escape from accountability comes so easy for most. The fear or discomfort from making a painful choice of doing what is right, just might limit our desires and passions. But in order to truly be free we must control our own excess. Our common nature and the relationship between each individual and the community must be respected. Look to Paine for the insight:

My language has always been that of liberty and humanity, and I know by experience that nothing so exalts a nation as the union of these two principles, under all circumstances.     - Thomas Paine

The greater good, employs the common sense of accepting our nature as a constant, and living within beneficial self restraints, that will promote harmony among society. But what happens to Liberty when authority over others is instituted? When officials and administrators widen their power is their a conflict?  Jefferson is quite clear:

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. - Thomas Jefferson

Add the comments from von Mises, about the danger of coercion and its use of excessive power that always follows from the State’s desire to enforce compulsion:

The aim of all struggles for liberty is to keep in bounds the armed defenders of peace, the governors and their constables. The political concept of the individual's freedom means: freedom from arbitrary action on the part of the police power. - Ludwig von Mises

As we see the bias is against Liberty. But we must make a distinction between the free association of individuals and the compelled restriction of some, for the benefit of others. Influence in government approved venues has a frightening damper on individual voluntary associations. Hayek speaks to this point:

...the argument for liberty is not an argument against organization, which is one of the most powerful tools human reason can employ, but an argument against all exclusive, privileged, monopolistic organization, against the use of coercion to prevent others from doing better. - F.A. Hayek

The eternal conflict between the preeminence of the individual, over the systemic interests against the effective ability to his pursuit of happiness, is ongoing and involves numerous factions. Greed and avarice - part of man’s failed nature, seeks to lessen the independent wealth prospects of the individual. Opportunists that run for office, only to limit the freedom of their constituents. Those who administer public policy are rewarded with each reduction in individual Liberty. The interventionist promotes the increase in State power, that inevitably requires individuals to surrender their Liberty. The selfish emotionalism of the majority longs to equalize their neighbors by dragging down the achiever, while the swindler wants to rob them of their bounty. The insight of Lippmann is obvious:

The war for liberty never ends. One day liberty has to be defended against the power of wealth, on another day against the intrigues of politicians, on another against the dead hand of bureaucrats, on another against the patrioter and the militarist, on another against the profiteer, and then against the hysteria and the passions of the mobs, against obscurantism and stupidity, against the criminal and against the overrighteous. In this campaign every civilized man is enlisted till he dies, and he only has known the full joy of living who somewhere and at some time has struck a decisive blow for the freedom of the human spirit. - Walter Lippmann

As correct as Lippman is on those who are foes of Liberty, he is even more correct on the purpose of what it means for our fulfillment and human beings. Too bad that those who lack the will, also often lack any love for Liberty, then settle for diminished capacities in their lives. Halifax provides as essential truth in this regard:

If none were to have Liberty but those who understand what it is, there would not be many freed Men in the world.                - Lord Halifax

Finally, who can deny the wisdom of Wilson when he recognizes the intrinsic hostility embedded within government, towards their own citizens. And how necessary it is to remain vigilant and committed to rebel against tyranny. How sad it is that he could not abide but those principles, when in control of his reign and stewardship.

Liberty has never come from government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is the history of resistance. - Woodrow Wilson

Liberty is rare and fleeting. It is the highest feat of civilization. Few reach its heights, while all need its sustenance. The glory of mankind is measured upon the widest access to its realization. It rests within each person, and has more value than life itself. The infinite permanency of its reverence, surpasses all other motives. Love grants meaning, Justice establishes decency, and Liberty completes purpose. Let no man know life without awareness and possession of the lady of our land, called Liberty.

Quote Source:

Mortimer J. Adler

Freedom's Nest

Complement

Tax Revolts and Liberty
by George F. Smith

Congress to citizens: Only two things are certain, death and taxes.

Citizens to Congress: Agreed -- death to the state that imposes high taxes.

As a country, the people have expressed this sentiment only once, when they declared that government had become destructive of their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

After winning independence, our founders tried to translate the doctrine of man's rights into legal form.  The Constitution they created included some compromises, one of which gives Congress the power to provide for the "general Welfare of the United States."

The compromise postponed settling an ongoing debate: How exactly does Congress provide for the general welfare?   Two lines formed: one behind Jefferson, who wanted government to serve as "a guardian of fair play," the other behind Hamilton, who wanted government to direct our play.

Up until 1860, Jefferson's philosophy largely prevailed.  Then the Republican Party got Abraham Lincoln elected president.

Throughout his political career, Lincoln had supported the Hamiltonian philosophy of Henry Clay and the Whigs called the "American System," which included a national bank, internal improvements, and especially protective tariffs.  In naming it as he did, Clay wrapped the flag around the much-discredited mercantilism of previous centuries -- the very system of abuses our founders revolted against.

The fact that mercantilism was bad economics made no difference to Lincoln.  He was determined to push his plans for expansion of the country, with government playing a significant role and the South footing most of the bill.

The centerpiece of the Republican Party platform in 1860 was a high protective tariff.  In some cases it raised the existing tariff rate 250 percent.  In his first inaugural, Lincoln said, using political jargon, he would wage war against any state that didn't collect all the money imposed by the tariff. [1]

He was speaking, of course, to the South.  Because of their dependency on foreign manufactured goods, southerners had been paying 87% of all federal taxes collected, mostly in the form of import duties, even though their population was only half that of the North.  When Lincoln's election looked inevitable, the South prepared to defend itself.  Once again, Americans were willing to secede in resistance to an abusive authority.

We've heard that Lincoln saved the Union and freed the slaves.  What we don't usually hear is that the Union he saved was a repudiation of our founding principle of consensual government.  Nor do we hear much about his offer to the South, in his first inaugural, of passing an amendment that would legalize slavery in southern states forever. [2]  Furthermore, though abolitionist sympathies in the North spread after the publication of "Uncle Tomıs Cabin" in 1852, most northern newspapers and citizens were in favor of letting the South leave the Union in peace.

Then on March 11, 1861 -- seven days into Lincoln's presidency -- delegates in Montgomery, Alabama adopted a new Confederate Constitution, which "affirmed that the states were 'sovereign and independent' and omitted a general welfare clause.  The Confederate government could not impose protective tariffs, grant subsidies, or finance internal improvements." [3]

Almost overnight, many northern editorial writers did an about-face.  The South was actually supporting free trade.  It would open its ports to the world and ruin the uncompetitive northern manufacturing interests.  The New York Times economic editor, who had favored peaceful secession, now demanded that the federal government ". . . shut up every Southern port, destroy its commerce, and bring utter ruin on the Confederate states."

Though his top military commander, Winfield Scott, and most of his cabinet advised against it, Lincoln sent an unarmed vessel to provision Fort Sumter, knowing the South would likely fire upon it.  One northern newspaper reported that for "three weeks the administration newspapers have been assuring us that Fort Sumter would be abandoned, [but] Mr. Lincoln saw an opportunity to inaugurate civil war without appearing in the character of aggressor." [4]

Lincoln ordered his troops to arrest anyone critical of his war and to shut down newspapers editorializing against it.  He even imprisoned most of the 10 newly-elected delegates in Maryland because he suspected them of harboring secessionist sympathies.  "[Secretary of State] Seward famously boasted . . . that he could 'ring a bell' and have a man arrested in Ohio, New York, or any other state." [5]

We're told that the South suffered under their philosophy of states' rights, that the centrally-organized North proved superior during the war.  But as soon as war broke out, the South abandoned its constitutional principles and turned to forced industrialization -- socialism.  The Confederate government set up its own arsenals, foundries, powder mills, textile mills and many other operations.  When it did deal with private firms, it dictated prices and profits.  [6]

Victory went to the North for several reasons, including the fact that it retained a higher degree of private initiative than the South.  The central planners of the Confederacy squandered resources and brought their people to the brink of extinction.

We live today with Lincoln's legacy.  We were the only country in the west that needed a war to end slavery.  States rights, and their check against an encroaching central power, died at Appomattox.  The idea of keeping government completely out of our business all but vanished.  With the Constitution brushed aside, economic life has become politics or perish, as most major organizations have set up lobbying headquarters in D.C., diverting still more resources into unproductive activity. Lincoln created an absolute central government that has spread like cancer, with an insatiable appetite for our money.

But we have reason to hope.  When it comes to taxes, people are far from apathetic, as we saw in the Tennessee Tea Party of November, 1999.  [7] Carla Howell's campaign for governor of Massachusetts this year is riding on her pledge to repeal the state's income tax.  She rounded up over 75,000 signatures to get the initiative to kill the tax placed on the November ballot.  At some point taxes will reach critical mass for enough people, and talk of secession or repeal might once again begin.

References

1.  Hummel, Jeffrey, 1996, "Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War," Chicago: Open Court, p. 237.

2.  Abraham Lincoln: First Inaugural Address,  "I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution -- which amendment, however, I have not seen -- has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. . . . I have no objection to [this amendment] being made express and irrevocable."

3.  Hummel, p. 134.

4.  DiLorenzo, Thomas J., 2002, "The Real Lincoln," Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing, p. 120.

5.  DiLorenzo, pp. 138-139

6.  Hummel, pp. 235-238

7.  "Tackling Taxes in Tennessee," Glenn Reynolds,  "Thousands of cars circled Capitol Hill, bearing down on their horns and tying up traffic throughout downtown. Hundreds of protesters occupied the Legislative Plaza, with many barging into the capitol building itself carrying signs and -- in one case -- a can of tar and a feather pillow."

 
The truth is always the strongest argument
Sophocles

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