The Meaning of Freedom

What Does Freedom Mean To You?

If you really think about it, can you define what it means? It's kind of hard. It's kind of like defining love. It has a lot of different meanings. I think there's a lot more talk about love than there is freedom but, isn't freedom the essence of love at the societal level? Like the popular saying, "If you love someone, set them free". Most psychologists interpret the practical meaning of that saying to mean a healthy attachment style. Shouldn't that same logic apply to society and government? The question, what is freedom, is really foundational to everything we talk about related to government and politics. And, yet we don't really talk about it all that much. You never hear freedom discussed in politics these days. Is that an indication of our unhealthy attachment to government?

Freedom is defined as having the ability to act or change without constraint. A person is free when they have the freedom to do things that are not controlled or prevented by government. Of course, there are degrees of freedom. Government in any form creates some loss of freedom. Even in a complete democracy we surrender a little bit of freedom for a vote. In exchange for our vote we agree to surrender to the decisions of the group.

These are the freedoms protected by the constitution:

  1. Freedom of expression and religion, 1st Amendment.

  2. Right to bear arms, 2nd Amendment.

  3. Protection from government occupying private property, 3rd Amendment

  4. Protection of property against search and seizure, 4th Amendment.

  5. Rights to due process when someone is accused of a crime, 5th Amendment.

  6. Right to a fair trial, 6th Amendment.

  7. Right to a jury trial, 7th Amendment.

  8. Protection against excessive bail, fines and cruel punishment, 8th Amendment.

  9. Protection of all other rights, 9th Amendment.

  10. All powers not delegated by the Constitution are the rights of the states or the people, 10th Amendment.

  11. Protection of lawsuits by other states against citizens of a different state, 11th Amendment.

  12. Establishment of the Electoral College, 12th Amendment.

  13. Protection against slavery, 13th Amendment.

  14. Guaranteed citizenship, 14th Amendment.

  15. Right to vote, 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments.

But, that doesn’t encompass everything that defines freedom. It's as impossible to define freedom as it is to define love because, it means something a little different to every individual. So maybe it would be better to look at a few things that freedom is not. Imprisonment, enslavement, dependence, restricted, obligated are all the opposite of freedom.

To the extent everyone will have a different idea of exactly what freedom is, not everyone will agree with what I'm about to say. Maybe that's also because for so long freedom has been eroded in this country that people have come to accept a warped view of it. It's ironic that the some of the same people that ignore the principles of freedom are some of the same one's that question the validity of our constitution and our form of government.

The question of freedom is as important to the United States as it is for people everywhere in the world. The natural rights of people and the desire for freedom should be a concern for every single person, whether they are rich or poor, whether they are democrat or republican and regardless of their race or religion.

One problem is the way we blend the needs of society with the demands we expect from government. The two aren't compatible. Society addresses our needs and wants through mutual cooperation. Our government isn't designed to address social needs and for good reason. Because, when government provides for social needs it's forced cooperation. The result is a loss and freedom and always disappointment. Crafty politicians will label these social programs benefits, free, security and even entitlements. The reality is they are none of those things. It's gullible, naïve people that have never learned the principles of freedom that accept the very slippery slope these ideas represent. And, it's from this same group of people that another group of people comes from. The people that argue our government and our constitution are no longer relevant.

Well let me ask you this. As far as relevancy is concerned and the changing times, how is freedom any different than it ever has been? It's not and it ever will be. The founding fathers knew this and that's why they believed society is a protector and government is a punisher. These too are timeless principles.

Society is gift but government is a necessary evil. Some people would argue, what about when society fails? Well if the society has failed to produce whatever desired outcome, how is it that a government of those same people will produce anything but even worse results? If everyone always did what was right and fair there wouldn't be any need for laws or government. But since that's not the case people find it necessary to surrender part of their freedom to provide a means for protection whether it's protection from violence or from economic change. It's a matter of choosing between two evils. For that reason, security of one kind or another is the sole purpose of government. And so government will unquestionably grow from providing basic security to whatever form it needs to ensure total control over with the promise of providing better benefits. Out of necessity people pull together to take advantage of each other's talents and abilities and to share their resources for mutual benefit. This is the tangible benefit of society. If people could rely on each other there'd be no need for laws and government. But over time selfishness and laziness settle in. People grow complacent and entitled. Some people say well it would work if we could all just get along and not be so selfish. The problem with this argument is that it fails to account for basic human nature that's remain unchanged for thousands of years. This is the origin and rise of government. In other words a system required by the inability of people to individually cooperate for the fairness of everyone. This is the basic design and downfall of government, that is freedom and security. And no matter how idealist it might all seem basic human nature will eventually prove it true.

Besides selfishness and the desire of every person to seek out protection there's another confused idea that affects people's perception of freedom. The idea of equality or that every person deserves the same things. This idea is rooted in selfishness and jealousy. True freedom makes only one guarantee, the freedom of opportunity. This is known as the American dream because it's never existed anywhere the way it has in America. It's a set of ideals, democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and justice. There cannot be freedom without justice. The American dream was a promise of the opportunity of upward social mobility through hard work in a society with few barriers. In 1931 James Truslow Adams wrote, "Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. The Declaration of Independence defines the American dream "all men are created equal" with the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Nowhere in any historic writing or teaching did the words, benefits or entitlements appear. Whenever we talk about taking from on for the sake of giving to another under the idea of equality we take away freedom. This is why it is so evil to refer to social government programs as benefits or free. And, it's equally as evil for a government to promise security because it's ability to provide security to one person is wholly dependent on the sacrifice of another person. It's only ever as secure as the people who give it.

There's a saying, "Freedom isn't free". It's usually used to describe the fact that people paid dearly, some with their lives in order to secure our freedom. As true as that is, I look at it another way. Freedom comes with responsibility. You can't have freedom without responsibility. Every time we give in to some new program or benefit we give up a little responsibility in exchange for a little bit of freedom.

This is why it's so important to talk about what freedom means. To remind each other and to teach our children so that it will be protected. It's so tempting to look at our wants and needs and to be easily convinced that somehow government will provide them better than we can ourselves. No matter what form of government that belief always leads to a loss of freedom. Sometimes it's quickly, sometimes it's a slow process of gradually giving up rights under the guise of security and benefits that look so attractive at the time. But, it always leads to the same thing. Slavery, pain and suffering.

By Christopher Scott, Copyright 2018

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