How free are we really?
By Selwyn Duke
We Americans take great pride in our freedom. We call ourselves "the land of the free, home of the brave," have Lady Liberty in New York Harbor and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. America is synonymous with freedom in the minds of most. Much of the rest of the world, however, is thought a land of darkness which doesn't benefit from our unencumbered bliss. Thus do we speak of the free and unfree worlds.
In reality, it's not that simple. There is neither such thing as a people with complete freedom nor one completely bereft of it; it's a matter of degree.
While many realize this, few understand that there is a barometer with which liberty can be measured: The number of laws in existence.
By definition, a law is the removal of a freedom, as it dictates that there is something you cannot or must do. If the former, you're not free to do it; if the latter, you're not free to do otherwise.
Many rightly point out that some laws free us from the tyranny of our fellow man. Prohibitions against murder, rape and theft, for instance, provide us the freedom to walk down the street unmolested. Yet for two reasons this barometer of liberty is still valid. First, when we speak of how free a nation is, we refer to freedom from government intrusion. Second, while such laws are necessary and just, they do nevertheless deny us certain freedoms. Only, we're not going to worry about freedoms whose removal only bothers Tony Soprano.
Yet we long ago transitioned from making just laws to just making laws, which is why I look forward with a sense of foreboding. Every year our nation enacts more and more laws but hardly ever rescinds any, which means every year we become progressively less free. I call this "creeping totalitarianism."
While this is the big picture, we usually just focus on the little picture. Currently it's fashionable to bemoan the PATRIOT Act and wax apoplectic about how the sky is falling, as if it's 1789 and we're confronted with our very first extra-constitutional measure. Oh, I'm not saying good people shouldn't debate these matters; no one stresses strict adherence to the Constitution more than I do. But the danger is that when we stare intently at and stand too close to one piece of the puzzle, it appears bigger and seems like the whole world. And if we fail to take a step back and gain perspective, we won't see that there is a big picture, one formed by countless prohibitionary pieces.
The truth is that unconstitutional and excessive laws have increasingly become a staple of government for many decades. They are a product of a statist mentality which, while endemic to the left, infects both major parties and most minor thinkers. America now has more than 250,000 laws . . . and counting. That is the big picture. And it looks an awful lot like Big Brother.
This is one reason I'm big, too – on small government. When people lament the PATRIOT Act or some other boogeyman du jour, they often warn that we're losing our "democracy." What should concern them is that we have lost our limited constitutional republic. What is democracy? In point of fact, it's entirely possible for a people to tyrannize themselves. Democracy is sometimes just millions of people slowly and inefficiently making the bad decisions that a dictator could make with the stroke of a pen.
This is why one of the worst decisions is saying "There oughta' be a law." While we do need protection from the tyranny of our fellow man, we also need protection from the tyranny of our fellow man in government. Making just laws accomplishes the former; resisting excessive laws accomplishes the latter. This is a law of liberty.
It's our failure to understand and obey this law – not a particular politician, party or policy (although statism thoroughly imbues the Democrats) – that has allowed for the trampling of the Constitution.
So how free are we really? The most relevant answer is that we're not as free as we were 20 years ago, not nearly as free as we were 50 years ago, and we'll be even less free 20 years hence. That is, unless we free ourselves from our legislate-society-to-perfection mentality.
No one knows why the symbol of freedom I mentioned earlier, the Liberty Bell, cracked in 1846. But it hasn't rung since. The cracks in our liberty are more easily understood, if not so easily repaired. Let's hope it, with the right combination of tones, still rings for our children.