Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pre-Election Reflection

The Warm-up

Before I get to the main point, it is necessary to explain something. Please trudge through this, because it helps make the next part clear.

Elections have become a time of sorrow recently for those who love liberty. The problem can be seen in the very word ‘liberty’ itself. At one time the word referred to the absence of government constraint on human actions.

The advocates of anti-liberty have been cleverly at work, and now ‘liberty’ has been infused with a new meaning: the ability to do things because government supplies resources.

So now we have liberty A and liberty B. Confusing, isn’t it? Liberty A is what government doesn’t do, while liberty B is what government does. Some like to call these ‘liberty from’ and ‘liberty to’ - but it is still confusing.

What is also confusing is the fact that, in order for government to increase ‘liberty to’ it must decrease ‘liberty from.’ Why? Because ‘liberty to’ requires that the government hand out checks, subsidies, and so forth. But to get the money to do this, governments take things from people, and that taking reduces ‘liberty from.’

When governments take things from people, their ‘liberty from’ government shrinks - there is simply no way around this.

This second version of liberty - liberty to - is really a bit of double-talk. It was invented to make the lack of liberty sound like more liberty. That, of course, is exactly what double-talk is meant to do.

‘Liberty to’ is really a reduction of liberty, a bit of propaganda from those who really don’t like the idea of liberty. But that’s another story.

A Small Interlude

This helps us understand something important. Everything governments do or don’t do fits into one of those two categories, with perhaps one small exception.

While some would disagree, I contend that when government punishes things like murder, theft, and fraud, it is doing something that helps make liberty possible. Some might ask, “Doesn’t interfering with theft limit liberty?” But trying to protect people from coercion from other people does not limit liberty - it helps make liberty possible.

Beyond this area, whenever government attempts to ‘do’ something for someone, it must reduce true liberty, that is, ‘liberty from.’

Some Payoff

Understanding all this makes elections of late a very sad time for those who love liberty (meaning, remember, ‘liberty from’). It is very difficult to find candidates from either major party who want to increase ‘liberty from.’

It is not just the fault of politicians. Many Americans want things from government. When government tries to give them these things, government must take things from people. Remember, governments produce nothing, so everything they ‘give’ must be taken from someone.

If you think about some of the candidates this election season, you can see all this at work. As is typical of late, the Democrats want government to take a lot from people so as to be able to give a lot to people. The Republicans want to do the same sort of thing, though sometimes on a smaller scale. So both parties are willing to squelch liberty - it is just a question of how much.

This means that those who love true liberty have no one for whom they can enthusiastically vote. We can choose the lesser of two evils, or we can vote for small parties that have little chance to win a national elections, even though some of them are much better supporters of true liberty than either of the major parties.

That means there is little chance to see real gains in true liberty anytime soon. Depressing, isn’t it?

Which Brings Us to . . .

Barry Goldwater apparently became a quirky, eccentric fellow in his old age. When he ran for president in the 1960's he was much-maligned and dismissed by many because of his overwhelming loss in his election bid against Lyndon Johnson.

But before he ran for president he wrote a book titled The Conscience of a Conservative. While I would question a few things in this book, there is a section (see pp. 15-23) which concludes with one of the most eloquent and insightful statements on liberty that has been made in recent history:

Who will proclaim in a campaign speech: “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”

This election, I will vote for someone or other, but to little effect for the advancement of true liberty. But I will ask, “Who will proclaim?” and I will watch and wait. Liberty, like all valuable things, is rare.

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