Monday, July 03, 2006

The 4th Of July: On Liberty And Freedom

Frequent readers will know that I am a big fan of LtCol Jeff Cooper. Among the many subjects he addresses is the difference between liberty and freedom. He points out that the terms are not interchangeable; they are two different conditions. Liberty is a political condition, freedom is a physical condition.

As with so many other issues, I stand with Cooper.

One of the greatest things we can say about Liberty is that it isn’t an –ism. Liberty requires no creed, has no silly little red book, professes no tenets, encourages no class warfare, and issues no manifestos. Liberty is the condition where a free citizen goes about his business as he sees fit, under his own abilities and in pursuit of his own goals. Liberty is just normal life. In yesterday’s edition of my quaint and amusing local paper, there was a very good article on Canadians living here in the U.S. One of them wrestles with self-doubt: has he betrayed “his country’s socialism” by coming here for higher pay and lower taxes? No sir, you haven’t betrayed it, you gave it the middle finger. You chose normal life over a contrived system that limited your opportunities. Stop worrying about it. You chose Liberty over an –ism. Welcome to America, sir. (And btw, get out of Maryland; it's pretty socialist too.)

Liberty as a political condition has an equally attractive economic twin: free enterprise. Let’s not call it capitalism, let’s just keep it simple. It is “free” in that it is unfettered except by the basic rule of law, but it's not a free-for-all. And “enterprise”—what a great word! A venture by an individual seeking to make his fortune, be it across a continent or just down the street. Think of the innumerable daily economic liberties we enjoy. They go hand in hand with political liberty.

Freedom is just the absence of restraint. The man who just broke out of prison—or the man who was just released from prison—is free, but he cannot enjoy liberty. He is in a very limited position to pursue his life. Look at it another way: when the Saddam statue was pulled down in Baghdad in April 2003 (by a U.S. Marine reservist, I’d like to point out), the inhabitants of that city were free, but they had no Liberty. Their freedom descended into chaos, violence and lawlessness, but not only because there was no civil power to enforce the law. Rather, it was because they could not govern their own passions and actions. The basis of Liberty is truly self-government. A true state of Liberty requires few laws and a relative handful of men to enforce them, because the population is not inclined to break the law in the first place.

I believe that when the founders talked about Liberty, they meant exactly what they said. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” is a wonderfully straightforward call. The Founders meant to appeal to an educated, engaged, self-governing people. I believe that that is what America still stands for.

So I’ll stand with Cooper, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson. Liberty is what I want, and it is what I’ll fight for.


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7:50 PM  

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