Liberty Embraced

“Man is born free, yet is in chains everywhere”, was the bold proclamation of the Age of Enlightenment, an age in which the idea of a Free America saw its foundational genesis. The idea of life, liberty and property had been proclaimed almost a century before the French Revolution generated its own version with these words: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. But it took the American Founders to provide the human touch to this notion by adding the notion of Life itself and the Pursuit of Happiness to the gift that is Liberty. Slogans about Liberty abound, but reality has clouded Liberty’s past as well as future. Many are those who shout Liberty from the revolutionary mountain tops, from the professorial lecterns, from community organizations and from global enterprise summits, yet many of us feel not free but contained, constrained by the rules crafted by well-meaning but often misguided leaders. And all too often leaders see individual liberty as a threat to their power to govern.  Oh yes, Liberty is the gift that all freedom loving nations bestow upon their citizens, but is soon abridged by an oppressive  ‘rule of law’, by concerns for fairness, for group sensitivities, and above all by attempts to legislate it, i.e. legislate protection of the weak who will or cannot exercise their Liberty, from those who maximize theirs. Liberty, alas, is an awesome power, life-giving when it is in hands that understand its purpose and consequences in the long term, or a tool for autocrats taking some of that Liberty from the strong and pretend to give it to the weak who have been made afraid of too much Liberty. “Extremism in defense of Liberty is no vice”, said one of our politicians, for often extreme measures need to be taken in its defense, lest oppression by military or political means turn us all into robots or slaves to the state.

 

August 2014

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