Sunday, August 02, 2009

Of Government and Men: The Nature of Freedom

Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.

--John Adams

I would go one step further than the second President of the United States and say that all people should be educated on the principles of freedom. The Webster dictionary that sits on my desk has 13 definitions of "freedom". The first three define freedom as (1) being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint, (2) exemption from external control, and (3) the power to determine action without restraint. I define freedom as the ability to live your life, and to determine your own life, free of the restraints of others.

In the United States, we have the greatest collection of freedoms found anywhere. Here we are allowed to worship, speak, and basically proceed with our life as we see fit. So long as you don't harm others, you are free to decide what to make of your own life. We are blessed with many political and economic freedoms. Some nations have some freedom in politics or some freedom in economics, but I am not aware of any nation has the same degree of political and economic freedom as the United States.

Where do these freedoms come from? The Declaration of Independence says, "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. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." There are two very important points here, and they answer our question. Rights are given to us by our Creator, not by man, and not by government. Anything the government or a man can give you, he can also take away. However, there are certain rights that are unalienable. These rights cannot be denied to anyone, except by their own actions. Secondly, in order to have a government, individuals allow that government to restrain their rights to some degree. That authority is given to the government by the permission of those who decide to live under that government.

All rights have limits. You can't run into a crowded theater and yell, "Fire!" without there actually being a fire. You can't walk into your neighbor's house and take whatever your neighbor has as your own. These limits exist because your rights and freedoms begin to infringe on the rights or freedoms of others. You also don't have the freedom not to be offended. In today's society, there are some who believe they should never be offended. That isn't a right.

Nor do you have a right to equal results from your efforts. Equality, as Mark Levin defines it in Liberty and Tyranny, "…is the natural right of every individual to live freely under self-government, to acquire and retain the property he creates through his own labor, and to be treated impartially before a just law." This does not guarantee equal results. Alexander Hamilton is quoted as saying that inequality will exist as long as liberty exists and that inequality will result from the very freedom we live in. You and your friend are both free to create your own businesses. However, both of you will not succeed or fail to the same degree. One of you will make more money. In America, you are your own limit. If you have a goal, so long as you are willing to work hard, you can reach it. If you're not willing to work hard, someone willing to work harder than you will reach that goal. That is the nature of freedom in America.

One of the lessons of the Spider-Man comics is: With great power comes great responsibility. The freedoms we enjoy in our government are no exception. I think those who lived before us have many lessons to teach us. Ronald Reagan once said:

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

Freedom must be protected by soldiers, and it sometimes requires blood to pay for it. But it also requires an educated citizen voter. I don't mean educated in the since of a high school or college degree. I do mean that you as a voter have a duty to understand your government, understand your freedoms and rights, and to understand who the people you are voting for (or against) are. This does require some work and effort on your part. But as President Regan pointed out, it is the requirement of a free people to protect that freedom.

Are there other limits or responsibilities you feel are important that I missed? Share them in the comments below. As I update this post in the future, I may include your comments. This is the first of a series on our government. The introduction is posted here, and the next chapter in the series will be available next Sunday.


BunGirl said...


I think it's also important to define the term "rights". Many people seem to think that the things we have a right to are things that should be provided to us. Just as the right to bear arms does not mean that the government should start handing out rifles, our other rights are also our own responsibility.

Andy D said...

Thank you. A great term. I really meant to cover that. The Declaration of Independence says that the "pursuit of happiness" is a right. However, no one can give you happiness. You have to get it for yourself. When I do an updated version of this post, I will make sure I cover that. Thanks.

Patrick said...

Great post Andy. It's one that will get people thinking, at least me anyway.

I think it's worth noting that although frustrating, we have duty to protect even the freedoms of those who don't apppreciate their own. You can live in this country and not vote, not contribute to society, and still be protected by the government and law enforcement.

It's one of the realities of having a free nation that sometimes may be hard to live with.

Andy D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy D said...

That's a very valid point. I believe you have responsibilities that come with the freedoms you enjoy. However, those responsibilities are only enforced by you, there are no laws to hold you accountable for them.

(Sorry, I had a spelling error in the last comment)

Rebecca said...

Great post and I'm looking forward to this series. I've been learning a lot lately about the Founding Fathers and how they set up the government, so this goes right along with that.

Maybe the Founding Fathers had a better idea of what freedom is and how important it is to have, since they knew what oppression was. Maybe we don't know what it is because we haven't experienced the opposite and so often take it for granted. Just a thought!

Andy D said...

A very excellent point Rebecca. Not only did they know what it was like not to have freedom, they knew what it was like to truly sacrifice for freedom.

I hope you enjoy the series, and please comment often.

Halston said...

Is freedom more important than happiness and its pursuit? Who determines that balance? There are laws and policies in place which by protecting freedom can make pursuing happiness more difficult. The freedom off corporations to flood America with cheap Chinese goods, or flood Washington with lobbyists and campaign donations is not the kind of freedom that I seek to protect. Freedom should be reserved for individuals not special interests, unions, gangs, or corporations. If it is wrong to rob your neighbors house...why is it right to send his job overseas? When will we redefine morality for the modern age?