According to the Columbia professor being interviewed on National Public Radio this weekend, freedom is an amorphous concept that is primarily a state of mind. This would appear to be at significant odds with the principle of unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness envisioned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, as well as the list of specific freedoms delineated in the Bill of Rights.
The right to life has long been under assault, as the culture of death has successfully placed the aged, the helpless and the unborn on the list of those defined as inhuman and therefore legal to kill. The last vestiges of a right to private property have been eliminated, as the recent Kelo decision makes all property officially communal, held only at the seigniorial whim of the local council. The right to bear arms has been limited, too – while it has not yet been destroyed completely, it is obvious that an attack on it will soon be forthcoming.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s statement that Americans “obviously have to respect the decisions of the Supreme Court” are downright Toryish. After all, the founders of this country rejected the notion that they had to respect the decisions of the English Parliament and King George’s ministers, for they had decided that they were going to be a free people. But considering that President Bush, as an owner of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers, was the beneficiary of a pre-Kelo land seizure himself, what other position could his spokesman possibly take? As McClellan said, “the president has made his views clear when it comes to private property rights.”
There is always an inherent conflict between government and freedom. Nearly every act of government, almost every law and regulation that is imposed from above, is intended to limit freedom. What conservatives must understand is that it is not always possible to be a fine, upstanding, law-abiding citizen and be a free man at the same time. In fact, for most of human history, it has been impossible. The American revolutionaries were lawbreakers of the worst kind, for they were directly challenging those who were their rightful masters in the eyes of the law. And yet even today, few would argue that their disobedience was both just and right.
The question of justice turns on the point of whether government – on all levels – has overstepped its lawful bounds. For if the laws of government have passed those limits, they are not law, but mere dictatorial assertions, with no more force than that which the government can muster. And while it is wise to obey under the threat of force, one has no moral obligation to do so, and as the recent history of Eastern Europe shows, once the people become aware that the threat of force is empty, they will begin to ignore both the government and its illegitimate laws with alacrity.
It is impossible to know what the future holds for the United States, but one thing is sure. All governments fall in time. Ironically, governments that rely on force are more fragile than most and tend to fall even faster. The merciless totalitarians of the Soviet Union lasted a mere 72 years, a historical blip when compared with the lifespan of the British monarchy, the Roman Empire or even the neo-democratic oligarchy of the United States of America.
The genius of America was its independence. As that independence has been systematically reduced over the years, so too has its competitive advantage over other, less free, nations declined. The best and brightest have been leaving the country for years, and the American brain drain is accelerating as the Internet has made it possible to run a software company from the Bahamas or an import-export operation from Ireland, where the taxes are lower and there’s no danger of losing your home to a Wal-Mart.
In summary, this is not a day to celebrate American independence. It is, instead, a day to mourn America’s passing and pray for its eventual rebirth.