Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rediscovering What Liberty Is All About

By Tim Dunkin

                This election season has so far been one of the most depressing on record, at least from the perspective of liberty lovers.  The political conditions themselves were so positive – an incumbent socialist President whose popularity continues to tank and whose every effort at turning things around seems to blow up in his face; an angry and fired-up electorate that is genuinely tired of being given the run around on taxes, spending, and debt; establishmentarian politicians like Dick Lugar are feeling the heat and being overturned by activist, Tea Party insurgents.  Yet, the Republican Party and the conservative movement in general are in the process of taking this once-in-a-lifetime set of opportunities and squandering them.  In the recent set of primary contests, conservatives simply could not get it together to unite behind one conservative candidate and instead frittered away their strength by flitting from one candidate to the next, in turn condemning each as too impure to be worthy of their support.  As it turned out, the one major Republican candidate who really was too impure to be worthy of our support is going to get the nod.  He, in turn, has little that differentiates him from Obama, despite the frenzied efforts at reinventing him as a “severe conservative.”  Hence, conservatives are entering into the general election with a socialism-lite candidate from their own party who himself supports “progressive” taxation, government-run health care, has raised taxes and fees while in office, as well as being simply pitiful on a wide spectrum of social issues ranging from gun control to abortion to the gay agenda.  At least as far as major candidates are concerned, conservatives have been well and truly rooked this election season.

                The consolation, so we tell ourselves, is that at least we can focus on the congressional and senatorial races, and try to install solid conservative legislators.  So we must.  But that was also supposed to have happened in 2010 when dozens of Tea Party-supported candidates swept into office in Washington.  Unfortunately, as it has turned out, many of these Tea Party freshman ended up going Washington not long after going to Washington

                How did all of this happen?  How did conservatives end up so fracturing themselves into insular one-issue factions that every single conservative Republican in the primary was deemed “not good enough” for our refined sensibilities?  How did we end up with a faux-Republican Republican who has to be coached in how to “talk conservative” so that the yokels in flyover country don't get too rebellious?  How is it that out Tea Party paladins in Congress, in less than two short years, have by and large become Boehner's yes-men?

                Frankly, it's because an increasing number of Americans – and I don't just mean the welfare-addled, government-enslaved denizens of the Democrat Party – have lost sight of what “liberty” actually means.  Liberty is becoming a foreign concept to many so-called conservatives who think that it's perfectly fine to use the police powers of the state to grow government in the direction they would like.  Liberty is scary to those who have convinced themselves that “conservatism” is all about voting for whatever empty suit “Team R” nominated this time around.  Liberty is radical, or even unthinkable, to those who are “conservative” only in the sense that they're political sensibilities have been moving leftward about twenty years behind the average Democrat's. 

                This is why I am becoming increasingly convinced that a distinction needs to be made between “conservatives” and what I call “liberty lovers.”  “Conservatives” want to conserve – but often, the status quo they want to conserve is some area of big government or some piece of the Republican establishment's own particular cronyist structure.  “Liberty lovers” are different.  Liberty lovers, as the name suggests, love liberty, and want to pursue its path, regardless of where it leads, and regardless of how “scary” the average status quo voter or politician might find it to be. 

                Most importantly, liberty lovers understand, in a way that many conservatives do not, the underlying worldview and principles upon which true liberty rests, as it is expressed in our Constitution and other founding documents, and as these, in turn, rest upon the commonwealthian liberty philosophy that inspired our Founders.  Whereas a conservative may support a policy or proposal because it is traditional, which may also mean holding onto some bad policy or proposal since it's become “settled,”  a liberty lover asks the more fundamental question of whether something promotes freedom and protects our inhering natural rights, rather than whether we're comfortable continuing to do something a certain way.

                It has been said that freedom is something that has to be relearned by Americans about once a generation.  Rush Limbaugh and the Republican revolution of 1994 reawakened a lot of our people to the wisdom of mature liberty ideology by working to educate Americans, going back to the basics of why we should believe, support, and oppose certain things, rather than just telling us that we should.  The present state of affairs in our nation, politically speaking, seems to indicate that we're back to the place where liberty needs to be relearned, where even “conservatives” need to rediscover fundamental truths about liberty ideology, rather than just rolling along on philosophical autopilot. 

                For instance, what do we make of the famous statements in our Declaration of Independence, that document that laid down the very foundation of what our nation was supposed to be about?  What does it mean to say that we are all, each one, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights?  What can it mean, except to indicate exactly what it says – that each and every human being has certain inhering natural rights that exist because of their bestowal by God Almighty?

                But think about the implications of this for a minute.  If our liberties are natural and inhering, if they are as much a part of our natural inheritance as the human spirit itself, then they necessarily do not originate from human governments.  They are above human governments.  Human governments are inferior in authority and moral worth to our natural liberties.  Hence, wherever and whenever the two come into conflict, whenever human government oversteps its boundaries and intrudes upon the natural God-given rights of the people, then that government acts illegitimately.  It does not have the authority to do what it is doing, even if it may temporarily possess the raw power of brute force to enforce its dictates.  In short, if rights come from God, then government cannot justly trample them.

                Following from this necessarily comes the conclusion that any law or government action that does trample these rights – many of which are spelled out in the first eight amendments to the Constitution, and many more of which must be understood as implied in the ninth of the same – is illegitimate and must be rolled back, eliminated, and prevented from ever happening again. 

                But how many “conservatives” are willing to take this to its logical end?  How many are really willing to, for instance, end the “War on (Some) Drugs” that has thoroughly eroded our 4th, 5th, and 6th amendment rights?  Ending the Drug War?  That'd be crazy!  Only potheads and drug dealers would support that!  Balderdash.  Anybody who really and truly cares about their own liberty would.

                The examples of laws that need to be repealed simply because they infringe on our natural liberties are legion, far too many to even begin to list here.  But it should be said that if we really care about liberty, then we should get serious about electing legislators who will be zealous to remove laws from the books, rather than adding to the already cumulus legal codes of this nation.  We need fewer laws, and less intrusive, rather than more laws seeking to “solve” some contrived “problem” that supposedly “needs” government attention. 

                What about where the Declaration refers to these rights as “unalienable”?  What does that term mean, do we even know anymore?  What it means, in the Lockean sense (from which the Founders drew it) is that our rights are so sanctioned by being the special gift of our Creator that they cannot be given up, or alienated, even by our own choice to do so.  No man can legitimately put himself into slavery, Locke held.  It is completely contrary to nature and the order of the universe for someone to voluntarily abscond their freedom and take upon themselves the yoke of slavery.

                Yet, Americans do this all the time.  Our people submit to everything from TSA strip searches to onerous taxation to the minutest regulations of what we can and cannot do on our own property.  This must end.  Our people must learn that they do not, and morally cannot, continue to submit to these things, but must throw them off and remove from power the people who force these things onto us.  Let the tyrants feel the wrath of an aroused electorate – if we had a true sense of the unalienability and sanctity of our liberty, we would do so the next chance we got.  And we would only support candidates who respect these liberties and who will truly refrain from government intrusions (which, by the way, rules out the presidential candidates from both major parties, if we are really serious about liberty).

                Then, of course, are the general classes of rights that the Declaration lists, beginning with the right to life.  Without this, nothing else really matters.  You can't own a firearm or speak your mind if you are dead.  There's nothing more fundamental than to defend the right of the innocent to their own lives.  This is why abortion is, in essence, a liberty issue, whether or not the more radical, Objectivist-style libertarians like it or not.  Every person, including the unborn, bear the image of God, and enjoy the unalienable right to life. 

                But other conclusions flow from affirming the inherent right to life.  What about, then, the right to self-defense, and therefore, the right to keep and bear arms that follows from it?  If a human being cannot defend him or herself, but must be laid bare and open to the depradations of others (including, dare we say, their own government?), up to and including the taking of their life and bodily integrity, then the right to life is being negated.  Hence, gun control laws are not simply an assault on an affirmed right in the Constitution, but upon the most fundamental right of them all, the first one listed before any other. 

                What about the right to liberty – an all-encompassing objective that simply means that whatsoever we want, provided we are not harming another in the process, is within the realm of our rights to do?  This finds a corollary in the 9th amendment of the Bill of Rights, implicitly affirming our liberty to most everything else not specifically mentioned in the previous eight.  Travel where we want?  Purchase what we want and not purchase what we don't want?  Read what we want?  Build what we want?  Grow whatever food we want?  Do whatever work we want?  The possibilities are nearly limitless.

                But so are the infringements, and there are a barrel load of things our government does now that would need to be eliminated if we were to get serious about our “right to liberty.”  Think about the list I gave above.  The TSA would have to be shut down.  ObamaCare would need to be eliminated.  The internet “kill switch” would have to be destroyed.  The EPA, as well as all the local and state regulations regarding property use, would need to be axed.  The misnamed Food Safety Act passed in 2010 should be repealed.  Affirmative action programs, especially of the quota variety, would have to disappear.  And so much, much more.  If we really got serious about liberty, we'd be clamoring for about 95% of what the government currently does to end. 

                And of course, there's our right to the pursuit of happiness – which Jefferson originally drafted as a right to “property,” but which was broadened to a more Madisonian sense of “property” as anything which we possess, even ideas, opinions, and aspirations.  If America is to become a liberty-oriented country once again, we must learn to respect the sanctity of private property (of all sorts) and the liberty to acquire it through hard work, effort, and entrepreneurship.  Our nation must stop demonizing the rich, and start viewing them as role models for what hard work and long hours building a business can do (which, unlike what you hear from the Democrat agitprop machine, is how most people who are rich got that way).  We must eliminate the redistributionary programs like welfare, that encourage laziness, envy, and dependence.  You cannot say that your nation is oriented toward liberty when you use the force of the state to take from some to give to others.  You cannot even say it when you have a “progressive” taxation system that punishes the successful for their enjoyment of their right to the pursuit of happiness.  We must cease being a nation that drives off successful entrepreneurs like Facebook's Eduardo Saverin through confiscatory taxation – and then tries to add insult to injury by removing from him even his right to move himself and his wealth somewhere friendlier (as even our Republican “leadership” is trying to do).

                Yet, looking back on all I've said above, how many self-professing conservatives would really be willing to do all, or even many, of the things I've suggested?  How many would be willing to reject – as a principle in and of itself – the concept of “progressive” income taxation, finding that to be “radical” and preferring instead to just tinker around the edges with some of the rates?  How many would be willing to support eliminating all gun control laws?  Or how about gutting the EPA so that it can't arbitrarily declare somebody's property a “wetland,” destroying its value and usefulness?  How many conservatives are instead willing to go along with some of the more “popular” provisions of ObamaCare?  And how many conservatives will rally around politicians just because they have the “R” after their name, even when those politicians have records as bad as any Democrat out there?

                What I've said in this essay only scratches the surface of what could be said about rediscovering liberty.  Literally every area of our life can be discussed and analysed from the perspective of liberty – religious freedom, freedom of speech, the encroachment of militarized police power into our lives, jury nullification, even things as seemingly minor and simple as building a treehouse for your kids in your backyard.  To do so, however, Americans need to once again grasp not only that the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence say something, but why they do so, and how does this then bear out in application.  Americans need to turn off the TVs and start reading about liberty again.  Americans need to stop coasting on political inertia and start learning about the ideology and philosophy upon which our nation was founded.  When we do this, and when liberty lovers take it upon themselves to start educating their families, friends, and neighbors, then – and only then – may we be able to start reversing our nation's slide into seeming oblivion.