By Jacob G. Hornberger
Here’s a great New Year’s resolution for the American people: To redouble our efforts to achieve a free, prosperous, peaceful, and harmonious society, one that can serve as a model for the world.
Sounds good, right?
But not that easy. This resolution actually requires some deep and critical thinking, specifically relating to two important questions.
The first question is: What does it really mean to be free?
Unless one comes up with the correct answer to that question, there is a good chance that he isn’t going to redouble his efforts in a positive direction.
For example, some people think that the more that government gives out money, the freer people are. Their concept of freedom is the choices that come with money. Thus, more money, more choices, more freedom.
You see this mindset on both the left and the right. Leftists say, “Give us more food stamps so that we will have more choices in food selection.” Conservatives say, “Give us more school vouchers, so that we will have more choices in education.”
What they both miss, of course, is that in order for them to have that sort of “freedom,” they have to destroy the freedom of others. The reason for that is that in order to get the money to dole out in the form of food stamps and school vouchers, the government must first forcibly take it away from people. Thus, to the extent that government money provides “choices” for the recipients of welfare money, to that same extent government destroys the choices of people from whom the money is forcibly taken.
Freedom, at a minimum, encompasses the right to keep your own money and to decide for yourself what to do with it. When people are forced to do the “right” or “responsible” thing with their own money, there is no way that they can genuinely be considered free.
The big problem with most Americans is that the government has inculcated into them the false notion that that the welfare (and warfare) state way of life under which Americans have lived for almost 100 years constitutes freedom. That’s why America is a totally dysfunctional society, with massive alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, and ever-growing suicide rates, especially among young people. That’s because of the psychosis that inevitably comes with living a life of the lie — a life that is encapsulated in the immortal words of Johann von Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
The second question is: What is the role of government in a free society? Unless one comes up with the correct answer to that question, redoubling one’s effort to achieve freedom causes one to meander all over the place, sort of like trying to move forward in a rudderless boat. In the process, people end up being convinced that they’re free because they have reformed or reduced, but not dismantled, infringements on freedom.
Consider, for example, an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times entitled, “The Drug War Has Failed,” co-authored by former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former Mexican Secretary of Finance Pedro Aspe. The authors rightly point out that the federal government’s 45-year old drug war not only has failed to achieve its purported goal, it is also responsible for massive violence, increased corruption, and the destruction of many people’s lives.
But then they go astray. They say that the solution is the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. The government, they say, should continue prosecuting large dealers of drugs (including, apparently, marijuana!) and, by implication, people who possess large or small amounts of other illicit drugs (e.g., cocaine and heroin).
Shultz and Aspe fail to address that central question: What should be the role of government in a free society? Or if they did think about the question, they came up with the wrong answer.
It’s simply none of the government’s business what people are choosing to consume or produce. No one in a free society should ever have to answer to any government bureaucrat — federal, state, or local — on what he chooses to ingest in the privacy of his own home or what he chooses to produce and sell to consumers. Punishing people for engaging in purely peaceful and consensual activities is no legitimate role of government in a free society, no matter how harmful, dangerous, or destructive such activities might be.
Does freedom entail the right to use the coercive apparatus of government to take money from people in order to provide “choices” to others? Does it entail the right to force people to engage in mandatory charity, such as with food stamps, school vouchers, Social Security, Medicare, or foreign aid to dictators? Does it entail the right to search, arrest, fine, or incarcerate people for ingesting substances?
Can freedom exist in a society where the government wields the authority to intervene in the affairs of other nations with invasions, coups, sanctions, embargoes, bribery, foreign aid, kidnappings, or assassinations? Can genuine freedom be reconciled with a national-security state apparatus that includes the massive U.S. military-industrial complex, the CIA, and the NSA?
Those are the types of questions the American people need to address if they wish to lead the world out of the morass in which it finds itself.
Let’s resolve to redouble our efforts to achieve freedom. Let’s begin why addressing those two essential questions: What does it mean to be free? What is the role of government in a free society?