To Live in Liberty
What does it mean to live in liberty?
This question, though it may seem odd, goes to the soul of the American Revolution. It asks each of us how our actions contribute to or detract from the freedoms won in that epic struggle for the dignity of the individual that began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence 235 years ago.
“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,” wrote the founders as they declared the supremacy of the individual over the rule of the State. By so doing, they overturned the political world as it was known — one where the individual served the State, whether that be the King or the local duke or baron.
Our society is comfortable with the “pursuit of happiness,” and we take the right to “life” for granted. But, when is the last time you thought about or discussed the importance of liberty, the second of the three unalienable rights the authors of the Declaration of Independence included in that oft-quoted sentence.
In light of yesterday’s Fourth of July celebrations, I’m thinking a lot about this question. It seems to me that for the past 100 years, we as a people have drifted away from this founding principle. Today, more that 40% of Americans receive money taken through taxation and other exactions from their fellow citizens. Nearly half pay no income taxes. Federal revenues cover only 56% of federal expenditures, with the gap filled by the government borrowing a record $30 billion a week.
Government bailouts and subsidies favor the politically connected and powerful at the expense of the rest of us.
Under the management of the Federal Reserve, the value of our paper dollar has fallen 80% in the past 40 years and fluctuates daily providing little trust in what it will be worth a year from now. Moreover, the Fed aims to devalue the dollar by about 2% a year, increasing prices 50% over the next 20 years.
Unelected bureaucrats in many cases have been empowered to rule by decree while the Supreme Court has held that government may take property from individuals and give it to private, commercial interests with economic and political power. Under the Dodd-Frank Bill and ObamaCare, tens of thousands of pages of new regulations will further empower the State to dictate the terms of commercial activity and the quality of our health care.
The Institute for Justice reports nearly 1 in 3 workers needs a government permit to go to work, including licenses for shampooing, floral arrangements and interior decorating.
For good reason, more than half of Americans polled by Rasmussen Reports now believe that the government is a greater threat to individual rights than a protector of those rights.
Although our Creator endowed each of us with the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as is all too evident, he did not guarantee us the exercise of those rights. Each of us, in our own way, generates the society in which we live, and thereby produces the liberty that we and our fellow citizens enjoy. In this respect, the vast increase in the power of government over our day-to-day lives reflects a general willingness to again and again sacrifice a little liberty in exchange for the promise of greater security or some “greater good”. The cumulative result is that a majority of us now fear that government has become a direct threat to our individual rights.
As I was discussing these ideas with my good friend, Attorney Arnold Slavet, we decided to write down a list of principles that we believe are fundamental to living in liberty.
We offer them for your consideration and comment:
- I respect the dignity of the individual. I support the liberty of all human beings and their right to lead their lives as they choose, as long as they do not interfere with the liberty of others.
- I respect the sanctity and preciousness of life.
- I hold that all humans are created equal and should be treated equally under the law.
- I accept responsibility for the choices I make in my life.
- I commit to being trustworthy in all of my actions and deeds – my word is my bond.
- I hold that the freedom to engage in economic activity through voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges is the primary means by which we, as individuals living in a community, contribute to others even as we take care of ourselves and our families. The freedom to engage in economic activity is constitutive of a civil society and fundamental to our liberty.
- I hold the right to own property is fundamental to liberty and that first and foremost, each human being owns himself and the product of his or her work. The institution of slavery was, is, and will always be an abomination of the most sacred property right of all.
- I condemn acts of greed in all of their forms including theft, fraud, embezzlement, deceit and the use of the coercive power of government to gain undue advantage.
- I recognize that the judicious use of the government’s coercive power is essential to liberty. However, this power also gives government and those that control it the ability to impose their will, and thereby deny the very liberty our government was created to secure. The will of the majority does not legitimize tyranny nor can it justify the loss of liberty.
- I recognize that liberty is a choice. I acknowledge that to live in liberty requires that I accept that no one, no group, and no government can guarantee my well-being. I encourage and embrace voluntary organizations that help us cope with the vicissitudes of life.
- I commit to producing a more compassionate society — with freedom and justice for all — through the actions of individuals and voluntary organizations. Further, I commit to create new institutions and to strengthen existing institutions that expand the sphere of private activities and thereby reduce the purview and power of government in our day-to-day lives.
- I commit to conduct my life in a manner that supports, strengthens and expands our liberty and the liberty of the community in which we live.
I believe living in liberty goes beyond whom we elect, as important as that is. Living in liberty begins and ends with the manner in which we live our lives. Liberty lives in the habits and virtues we teach our children and others by the actions we take and the choices we make. Though it is a gift from our Creator, how liberty manifests itself in our lives, in our communities, and in our nation is up to each of us.
Charles Kadlec, Economic Advisory Board Member of the American Principles Project
©2011 Author retains ownership. All rights reserved.