Why do we have liberty? freedom?

January 3, 2023   |   Tags: ,

Liberty, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, is “the quality or state of being free: a the power to do as one pleases, b freedom from physical restraint, c freedom from arbitrary or despotic control, d the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges, and e the power of choice.” Although there are a lot of definitions out there, this isn’t a bad one from the point of view of us here at TPOL. We can quibble: are we free from only “arbitary or despotic” control if we are free? Or all control to which we do not voluntarily and individually agree? And is our enjoyment of rights a matter of “or” or is it “and” – all rights, not just some? But regardless of potential disagreements, the concept of liberty is pretty simple and fairly clear.

In drafting a number of commentaries, including some discussion of the origins of the state and government, it is clear that the origins of liberty is also important. Although many think otherwise, liberty did not come from Jefferson and others writing the Declaration of Independence, nor from the Bill of Rights. It didn’t even come from John Locke or Adam Smith.

There are at least two answers to this question: why do we human beings have – or why should we have – liberty and freedom?

Those who are theists, I believe, have one answer. Particularly those who believe in YHWH – the God of the Bible. Those who are atheists, particularly those who believe in macro evolution, have an answer also. But in reality, these answers may be the same. “Because that is the way humans are.” The believer in YHWH believes humans are that way because God made us that way. He created us with free will and both the desire and ability to make decisions for ourselves. The evolutionist believes that human beings evolved with free will and the desire and ability to make our own decisions because that was an essential trait for the survival of the fittest. That living in liberty – and not just in primitive circumstances – created the highest potential for continuing to live and procreate. To continue the species.

(Yes, we realize that not every human can be pushed into one of these two holes. There are always the two ends of the bell curve. But in general, we take this approach.

What does that mean? Whether our liberty is a “God-given” right or a “natural” right, whether we believe in God or not, whether we think evolution or special creation brought us to where we are. Lovers of liberty believe that living in liberty is an essential part of humans and human life.

We believe that history bears witness to that fact. Societies, made up in large part of people who believe in and try to live in freedom, are societies which grow, expand, invent and create and build things that we value.

When societies stop believe in and living in liberty, when they worship the almighty state, when they support slavery and accept tyranny, they stagnate and decay. And ultimately collapse.

Sometimes the collapse is worse than other times, as people forget about liberty. Other times, people remember liberty and seek to free themselves from tyranny and slavery, devoting “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” to again establish a climate of liberty in which humans can flourish.

Is it possible to breed some race of humans which do not desire liberty? Possibly. Certain it is possible to select for those who have less desire for liberty. And people who are not properly taught about freedom, and so submit to chains and slavery. But even the descendants of those poor people seem in the long term – hundreds of years in some cases – to produce descendants to again seek the natural rights, the God-given rights, to which they are entitled, merely because they are humans.

No leader, no institution, no document can give us, much less force us to accept, liberty. But these things can and have taken away our liberty.


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