A quick thought about how the cars we drive are a reflection of who we are as a nation. Once, the United States was a nation of risk-takers. Today, we’re more concerned with personal safety and about as risk-averse as a society can be.
A pretty good example can be found in what we drive. The first car I remember my parents owning was a 1968 Plymouth Fury III, very similar to the one pictured above. (Heck, it’s even the same color). There really wasn’t anything safe about that car. Well, it did have rear disc brakes, but that’s about it. No seat belts, no crumple zones. Not even safety glass. And you know what? My parents weren’t overly worried about safety, either. I have fond memories of my Dad tearing down a highway at 75 mph with my sister and I jumping up and down on the backseat. About the only time my folks would even mention the concept of safety was if we attempted to crawl from the back to the front. Safety meant that you were driving 3 tons of steel with 383 cubic inches of V8 engine, churning out 330 horsepower.
Now, the Fury III wasn’t anything special in it’s day. It was a pretty run-of-the-mill family car, not unlike a modern Camry. But stop to think of all the features in the the typical family sedan today. How many of you would buy a Camry stripped of its seat belts, air bags, bucket seats, headrests, and so forth? I doubt there are many – even if the government allowed it, despite the fact removing them would knock several thousand dollars off the price of the car. And how many of you would allow your kids the freedom to jump around on the backseat in such a car?
The analogy is this: once the idea of government mandating safety, at a personal financial cost, was such an outlier that it didn’t happen. Today, we’ve become so accustomed to the nanny state telling us how to act – expecting it to protect us from ourselves – that we’ve lost that risk-taking, freewheeling attitude. And we’re not better off for it.
“In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” -Mark Twain
This is going to be a long post, so I’ll beg forgiveness now. But what needs to be said is far too important to attempt to keep this brief, or under 750 words – for if it were that simple, then it wouldn’t need to be said.
Our nation is at a crossroads of our history. Down one path lay the glory and honor bestowed on us by the men whose names we learn to cherish as children: Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln. Down the other lay one paved in darkness and guarded by men we’ve learned to revile: Stalin, Hitler, Napolean, Caesar. We haven’t arrived at this juncture by accident, but it wasn’t pre-ordained, either. We came to this point willingly and of our own accord.
How did we arrive here? Because when times call for the greatest fortitude, people clamor for illusory safety and willingly allow government to abscond with what we once described as inalienable liberties. While our nation followed this course during the 18th and 19th centuries, we never forgot – or allowed our elected representatives – to forget the meaning of the word “inalienable.” Even the most egregious violations of the Bill of Rights and examples of executive overreach were quickly repealed. Or failing that, the third leg of our government – the courts – would invalidate the law in question. During the Civil War, the government violated the Third Amendment (prohibiting quartering soldiers in private homes), the Eighth Amendment (prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment), and Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution (the nation’s first military draft was enacted by executive order, not an act of Congress). By the war’s end, troops were no longer quartered in private homes, the Army commanders who had inflicted the most horrible deprivations the mind can create were themselves jailed and the Supreme Court invalidated the draft.
By the time the Great Depression had plunged the world into chaos, the citizenry was panicked. Governments around the world responded by instituting varying levels of socialism. In nations with a history of repressive governments, the repression reached new levels of inhumanity. Germany, Russia, Italy, Japan and China all gave rise to governments that (as a matter of policy) established mass executions and detentions while squelching all opposition. Spain erupted into a civil war between two equally brutal and repressive regimes.
In the US we instituted the “New Deal,” a series of programs that increased the government’s role in the economic and business life of the nation to unprecedented levels. This intrusion into previously private affairs didn’t infringe on the basic freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence. But it did set an important milestone in the affairs of the nation. It marked the firs time the nation willingly exchanged freedom of action for the illusion of security. (Let’s face facts: the national economy in 1939 was only marginally better than in 1929).
However, with the outbreak of World War II, Americans accepted not only having their inalienable rights curtailed, but in several case outright removed. Japanese-Americans by the tens of thousands were jailed, their citizenship nullified by executive order, in violation of the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments. First Amendment protections were stripped away, as a compliant press and population acquiesced to censorship on a grandiose scale. Defendants were not allowed to exercise their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in “national security” trials. J.Edgar Hoover’s FBI routinely searched homes and businesses for saboteurs – without warrants, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
After the war ended, these Constitutional violations ended. But 44 months of war and deprivation, after 12 years of government intrusion during the Great Depression, had inoculated the American public from the idea that government needed to be guarded against. An entire generation had now grown up knowing only a federal bureaucracy that claimed it could solve the problems of mankind.
“If tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy” -James Madison
Thanks to the relentless indoctrination our nation has endured for almost 80 years, both from popular culture and the way we teach (or more accurately, fail to teach) history and civics, the United States of America is no longer the home of the brave. This is not to say that there are not courageous individuals among us. Obviously there are, or else things like this wouldn’t happen. But our society no longer expects bravery as the norm, which is why we celebrate those willing to run into collapsing towers.
This transformation of the American from rugged individual to fearful member of the collective gave rise to egregious abuses of power over the last six decades. Some we still remember: McCarthyism, Watergate, Iran-Contra. Others have slipped the collective conscience and disappeared in to mists of time. The common thread between all, though, is an underlying belief that government should have more power than the people it serves – all in the name of safety. It’s how we’ve wound up with massive programs. It’s how lawmakers and executives of both major parties can say with a straight face programs like PRISM are necessary to keep Americans safe.
This brings us to the 21st century, a century that began with the downing of the World Trade Center. The American populace screamed for vengeance, yelled for justice – but more importantly, demanded the government make them safe. And the government responded to those demands; not with a measured voice reassuring the populace that the terrorists would be caught and punished. Instead, two major wars were launched by executive fiat. Yes, the Congress technically voted to invade those foreign countries, but the vote was actually to cede the power vested in them by the Constitution to the Executive branch. Seemingly overnight, we were a nation at war.
“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” -Edward R. Murrow
In the same way the United States has ceased being collectively valorous, we have sullied the definition of patriotism. Being a patriot requires more than waving a flag on Independence Day, singing “God Bless America” during a baseball game; it is more than putting a lapel pin on your suit jacket or cheering returning soldiers. These are nothing more than outward displays of nationalism. Regardless of a nation’s ideals, such actions are performed by supposed patriots of every nation. Britons stand when a band strikes up “God Save the Queen,” Saudi’s bow when the King’s limo passes by.
On the other hand, the patriot understands and defends the ideals which separate his nation from all others. The original American patriots pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Many gave their lives, more sacrificed their fortunes. None, however, were forced to give up their honor. Rather, their honor was restored by fighting for the ideals in the document they signed in 1776. In our modern era, the rights they enshrined as being inalienable, rights that laid the foundation for our nation, are being eroded by the misnamed Patriot Act, by secret courts and warrants, by an executive branch that sees little value in life or liberty. Where are the modern patriots?
The reality is patriotism is a vanishing character from our nation. More than half of our citizens are perfectly happy to be spied on by their government, not caring this can only occur as an abrogation of the Fourth Amendment. Over the past week, I continuously hear statements like “If the government wants to watch me watch porn, I don’t care.” Nobody much cares if the Nazi’s can’t march in Washington, so long as they can watch Honey Boo-Boo. After all, freedom of speech isn’t for people who might have offensive views but only those with whom we can commiserate. Abridging the Second Amendment, redefining it if necessary, is fine. The public doesn’t care, so long as it can be made to feel safer. Seventh and Eighth Amendment protections for suspected terrorists need not apply – especially if the hapless citizen accused of terrorism is overseas. Why bother with a trial, when a missile tipped robot can eliminate the problem? If a bunch of kids in Brooklyn get stopped and frisked by the NYPD for the awful crime of walking around, who cares about their rights to due process? The cops might find a gun on one of them.
All of this is now acceptable to an American people conditioned towards cowardice. Our forefathers abandoned personal safety and financial security in the pursuit of liberty. They did this at the founding of the nation and as they expanded the national boundaries westward. They did this as they boarded creaky ships to cross the Atlantic in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries. These people were patriots. They did not fear their government, they stood for their rights and took it to task when government dared infringe upon them.
“When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.”― Thomas Jefferson
Despite the platitudes from the elected, our modern government is no longer “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The modern American constantly lives in fear of what the government may do to them, rather than holding government to account for its actions. They often don’t even realize how afraid of government they’ve become. They live in fear of being audited by the IRS, of having their driving privileges revoked, of having their property seized by “eminent domain.” They live in fear that their employer will lose a government contract, of being denied a government loan, of being denied admission to college.
So, my question to you is: what are you willing to give up for liberty, those of you who call yourselves patriots? Are you willing to sacrifice your life? Your house? Your bank account? Your Social Security check? How about the big screen television or cell phone? Because our reality is that very few are willing to sacrifice anything. It’s why we’ve become a nation of nationalists, not patriots. We cower when we should fight. If you want to know why you are no longer safe in your cities, America, look no further than the rot that infects your citizenry’s soul. Your complacency as the nation’s values were stolen is the reason our foreign enemies are emboldened.
“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and perceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and last some crisis shows what we have become. ” ― Brooke Foss Westcott
America is now the nation of cowards. As such, we’ve become the patriotism optional society.
May God help us all.
When I announce my political affiliation, the usual responses range from subdued chuckle to loud guffaw. “Oh no,” people say. “You’re not one of those crazies, are you? An anarchist, ready to abolish the government?”
Well, I am a Libertarian and have been for a quite a long time. And the reason is pretty simple: if I’m crazy, then so were men like Thomas Jefferson, Samuel and John Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. All, excepting Madison, signed the Declaration of Independence. You might have noticed that these men, the original Libertarians, while unafraid to fight for liberty – to give their lives in the cause of liberty, if needed – were hardly anarchists. In fact, when their first attempt at organized government yielded something much closer to anarchy than we even want to dream of today, they organized the first Constitutional Convention.
So, if that’s crazy, feel free to count me in.
To put it simply, Libertarians believe that government exists solely to protect individual freedom. But our views on where those freedoms derive are much different than that of the typical Republican or Democrat; in fact, they are diametrically opposed. Ask yourself this question: is government the final arbiter of what constitutes essential liberty? If you answered yes, then you hold the same world view as the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats.
Before you answer that the idea of a government not being responsible for deciding what freedoms we should enjoy is the definition of anarchy, consider the very document that founded our great country, the Declaration of Independence. It is more than a 236 year old piece of parchment that hangs in the National Archives. It is the very embodiment of what makes America, and Americans, unique among other nations and nationalities.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Now consider the Preamble to the document that created the federal government, the Constitution for the United States of America. It is 11 years the junior to the Declaration, yet in it the nation’s founding principles are given their equal due – prior to prescribing the methods used to preserve Liberty.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, to establish justice, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
When you actually read the words, two things immediately become clear:
- The essence of Liberty, of Freedom, is not something that comes from any government. It comes from a Higher Authority.
- Government exists to protect those rights, not corrupt them.
Understanding the first point is essential to truly understanding the American concept of Liberty and freedom. The only way individual freedoms are absolute is if they come from an authority higher than that of either men or their institutions. Otherwise, individual freedoms are a caprice, something to be given or withheld as determined by the fancy of others. Governments, rather than working to protect those freedoms, become dishonest arbiters of disputes. Eventually, governments (and the people governing) no longer see themselves as members of the general society, bound by contract and convention to uphold liberty. They become oligarchs; a separate class that believes itself superior to the rest of society.
Does that last paragraph give you pause? It should, because we are witnesses to that very transformation. It is not a sudden transformation that occurred in the past two or three years, either – it’s been underway for most of my lifetime. Is it beginning to snowball, accelerating in pace and breadth? Certainly, and the quickening pace over the past few years makes anyone concerned about preserving liberty queasy.
Now, as to why I identify as a Libertarian and not a Democrat or Republican: the proponents of the two major parties are our modern oligarchs, who see themselves as more fit to determine which liberties are essential and which can be abridged by the government. There truly isn’t much of a difference between them, in that both see distinctions in liberties; the difference is only in which liberties they deem more essential. The things they spend their time arguing over are actually further limitations on those essential liberties and freedoms, disguised as concern for safety of the overall society. The reason they feel secure in their deliberations is that the Nation, once enamored of Liberty, is today concerned less with freedom than safety – or at least, the illusion of safety. The people fear deprivation of material desires than the loss of freedoms. They are convinced the loss of freedom for one party will not result in a curtailing of freedom for themselves – when the reality is that any loss of freedom for any American necessitates that all Americans lose some aspect of their Liberty.
Terrific examples come from exchanges I had this week with unabashedly partisan Democrats and Republicans. I fed the same quote to both, and their reactions were remarkably similar. The quote, from Ben Franklin, is “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither.” The Democrat’s response was that Franklin has been dead 200 years, and his ideals with him. The Republican’s response was that changing times require changing mores.
That’s the final point that our founding document makes, that most Americans either forgot or were never taught.
“—And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor.”
The nation’s founding principle is that the Liberty and the ideals of freedom supersede anything else. Liberty takes precedence over personal comfort, over wealth, over safety and even life itself, if necessary. The very ideal is worth fighting and dying for, as in the case of the American Revolution and the Civil War. What is more, if this principle is derived from an act of Divine Providence, then it does not disappear with the death of individuals nor the passage of time. It is an everlasting, eternal truth.
Because I am a free man and believe my freedom is not negotiable: That is why I am a Libertarian. Because I believe that the government is my servant, not my master: That is why I am a Libertarian. Because I believe that no man has the right to subject another to his will: That is why I am a Libertarian.
And if you believe these things, so are you.
One thing that never fails to amaze me is the reaction I receive from people when I describe my politics as Libertarian. I think it shows how remarkably uninformed the American people are regarding their history, their civics and their individual roles in government. I find myself wondering what Abraham Lincoln (16th President, saved the Union, etc) would think about modern politics and the modern citizen. Lincoln’s primary goal during his term was not to end slavery. While slavery was an underpinning issue of the Civil War, the real reason it was fought was eloquently expressed during the Gettysburg Address:
“…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Stop to consider those words for a moment. Let them roll around in your mind and ponder their significance. Lincoln considered the preservation of the Union to be paramount; of greater importance than ending the great immoral stain left behind the Founding Fathers. This is the essence of Libertarianism and is counter to the views of most of my fellow citizens, who see Libertarians as being one step from being anarchists. But Libertarianism is actually more aligned with what the media refers to as the “center,” some amorphous grouping of Americans that believe that while government has a role in our lives, that role should be minimalized to the greatest extent possible. We believe in Liberty – not just the ideal of liberty, but the pursuit and practice of Liberty. What’s more, we believe that a government that is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people cannot fulfill that role if it becomes bigger than the people. The people then become subsumed by the demands of government –the delicate balance envisioned in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers is upset. Rather than the a representative republic, the governmental form is turned into something else – a government oppressing the people, by the government and for the government.
Libertarians look at the proper role of government as being like a three-legged stool.
First, government acts as the final arbiter of disputes among people by imposing guidelines based on common morality, while not restricting anyone’s individual liberty. Wait, you say – morality implies religion, so are you implying that government applies a religious principle? No, not hardly. Morality can come from religious faith and certain moral codes are common to most religions (such as provisions against murder or theft). But a common morality is determined by a given society in general. So, while my particular religion considers certain actions to be immoral, general society does not. It is government’s role to say this is the general consensus. And in a well-informed society, impertinent changes to a society’s moral code as represented by the government’s actions are remediated by selecting new representatives. In this way, government does not establish rules of conduct for society and does not impose the will of any group or individual on any other.
Second, government is charged with ensuring the defense of society from those that would harm the society. Most people understand this to mean the defense of the society in cases of armed conflict. But more than that, it also refers to defending a society from internal destruction. Because this is such an awesome power the people cede to their government – the ability to force or coerce a course of action – the Founders took great care to ensure that the application of such force had multiple checks and balances, as represented by our three-headed government. I suspect they would be greatly troubled by the amount of power the Legislative branch has yielded to the Executive over the past 70 years.
Finally, government is responsible for ensuring that it remains the servant of the people and that the people are not the servants of the government. This is a difficult proposition, since it essentially means governments are required to be answerable to society in all cases. As enshrined in our Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
And so, we accept that in cases where government no longer abides by the first two principles, the third allows the society to overthrow the existing government and replace it with a new one.
For Libertarians, the problem with modern government is simple and two-fold: first, society has ceded too much power to government and allowed it to infringe on individual liberty, on any one person’s ability to be who and what they desire to be. Second, the Legislature has ceded too much of its power to the Executive. The result of this is that government is no longer responsive to society, but rather to powerful elements in society. And on those rare occasions when society demands a change in course by exercising its power on the Legislature, they find themselves stymied by a too-powerful Executive.
Tomorrow, we’ll delve into the practical implications that rose from America’s abandonment of Libertarian government –and how we’re still living with those implications today.