Friday, August 30, 2013

Liberty in America: A Political Theory

I've been meaning to sit down and write this post for a while now. It just so happens that, today, I am sitting here at the office twiddling my thumbs doing nothing since today is "moving day" and we can't do any productive work since everything is boxed up and shut down. Everything but my trusty iPad that is.

Anyway, let's talk about freedom and liberty for a bit. I am going to try to avoid using terms that come too heavily "loaded" with excess baggage, but I want to take a second here to give a couple of definitions to set up a common frame of reference for the rest of the discussion.

First, let's look at the definition of "liberty" from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:


1: the quality or state of being free:
a : the power to do as one pleases
b : freedom from physical restraint
c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control
d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges
e : the power of choice

When I talk about liberty here, I am mainly focusing on the first part of the definition above. Specifically, I believe liberty, true liberty, is the state of being free and having the power to do as one pleases (within certain easily definable boundaries...i.e. your freedom of action ends when it interferes with the freedom of action, health or welfare of another). The other aspects of liberty mentioned in the definition are part and parcel with that in my humble opinion. It's hard to do as one pleases when under physical restraint for instance.

Moving along, let's look at the definition for "freedom" (same source):


1: the quality or state of being free: as
a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence
c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous
d : ease, facility
e : the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken
f : improper familiarity
g : boldness of conception or execution
h : unrestricted use

a : a political right
b : franchise, privilege

As you can see, the definitions of freedom and liberty are very closely related; and, in my opinion, one cannot exist without the other. There are a couple of concepts buried in the definition of freedom that should be emphasized though. Those are: independence and privilege. Freedom IS a privilege. It is one that must be guarded and protected. Freedom also requires independence. Once independence is lost and the majority slide into dependence, freedom is gone as well. Keep your thumb here or highlight it or something. We'll be coming back to this concept in a minute.

Finally, for purposes of this discussion, political terms such as right/left, Republican/Democrat, liberal (or progressive if you prefer)/conservative, etc. will be used in the manner consistent with common usage as of this writing as opposed to any historical or rhetorical connotations that may rightly or wrongly apply.

Moving along, let's get into the back story leading to the formation of my theory. I don't recall exactly where or when I read it; however, there was a blog article a while back making the argument that Americans have been duped into thinking that the government has to take a side on any given issue (gay marriage in the case of this particular article but the author later generalized the point to apply to all issues). The writer went on to argue that, in reality, both sides of any given argument were shooting themselves in the foot by insisting that the government get involved in something that was NONE OF ITS BUSINESS.

Think about that for a moment. Take, for example, the issue identified by that article. Where in the Constitution does it say that gay marriage (or straight marriage for that matter) is any of the government's business? I'll help you with this answer: NOWHERE! And, yet, here we have people on both sides of the issue yielding their independence by depending on the Government to take a stand by denying the liberty and freedom of people on the other side of the issue by enforcing one side the views of one over another. How absurd is that?

Whichever side the government takes regardless of the issue, there is corresponding legislation, regulation and government bureaucracy necessary to enforce that position. Look no further than the news regarding the implementation of Obamacare (I am using the popular term here because I am too lazy to write out the full name of the bill not for any pejorative connotations the term may have) and all the rules and regs and people needed to sort that out.

Even Starbucks is smart enough to stay out of issues that are none of its business. Starbucks is in the business of selling coffee, and they have wisely decided that their views on the Second Amendment, whatever they may be, have nothing to do with the business of selling coffee. They gain absolutely no benefit from taking a stand one way other the other; and, in fact, they risk alienating a significant percentage of their customer base BY taking a stand. 

To be fair, that's an overly simplistic and non-analogous comparison; but, the point remains that there are things defined by the Constitution that ARE the government's business and things, thanks to the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, that ARE NOT the government's business.

Quick refresher for those who have not read the Constitution lately:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Now, let's back up a bit for some history leading up to the Constitution. I'm sourcing heavily from Wikipedia for this next bit (again, because I am lazy as opposed to any endorsement or condemnation of Wikipedia's greatness).

Prior to the War for American Independence or Revolutionary War (depending on which history book you read), there was a shift in political philosophy thanks to the Enlightenment. In particular, the long held belief in the divine right of monarchies to rule over subjects started suffering from some serious setbacks starting with the notable regicide incident in England during that little dispute between Oliver Cromwell and Charles I.

One philosopher in particular, John Locke, had a huge influence in this area of thought. To quote from Wikipedia:

"John Locke's (16321704) ideas on liberty greatly influenced the political thinking behind the revolution, especially through his indirect influence on English writers.[clarification needed] He is often referred to as "the philosopher of the American Revolution," and is credited with leading Americans to the critical concepts of social contract, natural rights, and "born free and equal."[6] Locke's Two Treatises of Government, published in 1689, was especially influential; Locke in turn was influenced by Protestant theology.[7] He argued that, as all humans were created equally free, governments needed the consent of the governed.[8] Both Lockean concepts were central to the United States Declaration of Independence, which deduced human equality, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" from the biblical belief in creation: "All men are created equal, ... they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."

As we continue rolling forward in history to the revolution itself, we find the rhetoric of the time rooted in freedom and liberty. Notably, Patrick Henry did not say "Give me Democracy or give me death." He said, "Give me LIBERTY or give me death." Even The Declaration of Independence, based on the ideas and philosophy of John Locke says, makes a strong argument for liberty with the line "...the pursuit of life, LIBERTY and the pursuit of happiness."

Once the war was one and the leaders of the new nation came together to hammer out a social contract based on Locke's ideas. We see this codified in the Preamble of US Constitution:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, 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." [emphasis mine]

So, why did I go through all of that, and what do I think it means as far as a political theory goes?

Think of the political spectrum as a bell curve. There are relatively few radicals on either side of any given issue while the vast majority reside somewhere in the middle. Call it 10/80/10 or 20/60/20. It is my theory that the vast majority in the middle of the bell curve just want to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit while it is the outliers on either side of the curve that see it as, not only their right, their mission in life to make everyone else live the way they think they should.

By doing so, by insisting that the government pick a side where it has no business being in the first place, these radicals on either side have yielded their independence, their freedom and liberty if you will, in favor of dependence upon the government to define their lives.

If a politician wants to really shake things up, it is my belief that they should not promise to take a stand on this or that side of an issue. Instead, they should promise to leave everyone alone and stick to the things defined by the Constitution as the government's business.

Unfortunately, I don't see that happening anytime soon with the way things are going now.


  1. I think your theory is likely correct, but sadly without the involvement of more people, the liberty we had will be gone forever.
    I am very impressed that you listed your house and are moving already !

    1. Jane, Thanks for the vote of confidence. I didn't get to flesh it out as thoroughly as I wanted, but I think I still got the point across.

      As to moving day, that was for the office at work not the office at the house. Sorry for the confusion.

    2. Best wishes for the move at work, and also for selling your home base. May the Queen, the Princess and yourself find the home of your dreams. I know a fair number of people moving to Texas. Perhaps the sale of your home won't be as tough as you think.

    3. Jane, if you know anyone moving to the Dallas area looking for a 2200 sq. ft. house on one acre with a 100 sw. ft. workshop, send them my way. I'll make them a reasonable deal.


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