April 18, 2014

Elysium: One freedom thumbs up, one down

TAMPA, August 25, 2013 – It is 2154. A small, wealthy elite live on Elysium, a floating paradise orbiting the earth with stately mansions, majestic landscapes, clean air and perpetual sunshine. The rest of humanity lives on overpopulated, diseased and polluted earth. The wealthy enjoy 22nd century medicine that can instantly cure any disease or injury, no matter how severe. The earth dwellers have overcrowded hospitals where care is backwards and rationed.

Read the rest at Communities@ Washington Times…

Obama says Edward Snowden isn’t a patriot

Tampa August 10, 2013 – Yesterday, President Obama spoke to reporters about his plans to address the growing public outcry over domestic spying programs run by the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. During the press conference, Obama said that he didn’t consider Edward Snowden a patriot. Instead, those doing the spying are the patriots, along with those who have “lawfully raised their voices” to defend civil liberties.

Edward Snowden may have broken the law, but “the law is often but the tyrants will,” as Thomas Jefferson famously said.

Never has that been truer than now, when the law protects lawbreakers and forces defenders of our most sacred principles to seek political asylum in other countries. That anyone would seek asylum from the United States government at all, much less in Russia, would have been the stuff of wild fantasy just a few decades ago. Now, the torture of prisoners, arrest and detention without warrant and even execution without a trial are regarded as commonplace.

President Obama is on the wrong side of history.

Edward Snowden will be remembered as a patriot.

President Obama will be remembered as the first U.S. president to kill an American citizen without a trial. History has a word for that, too.

It isn’t patriot.

This has all happened before. Read my op-ed in The Washington Times on the first Edward Snowden in U.S. history…

Free Chapters – A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America

Kindle edition now available here!

Paperback here!

Hello friends,

Americans are waking up to the reality that our once free republic is in serious trouble. They are searching for answers to what seem like unsolvable problems: economic depression, unending war, political corruption, and vanishing liberties. What if there were just one answer – freedom? The American republic was founded upon that principle, yet few suggest it is the solution to any of our problems,  much less all of them. But if freedom is the answer, we first must know what it is. Sadly, most Americans do not. That is why I wrote this book.

I hope you enjoy the Introduction and Chapter One: What is Freedom?, which I am making available for free below. The subsequent chapters discuss how freedom can solve the many challenges we face.

To read the rest of this book, you can get the Kindle Edition here.

I look forward to fighting with you to restore our liberty.  – Tom Mullen

Reviews

“Thomas Mullen is a knowledgeable and passionate libertarian and A Return to Common Sense is a valuable addition to the libertarian literature. Those new to the freedom movement will benefit from Tom’s introduction to both the practical and moral arguments for freedom. Long-time activists will benefit from Tom’s explanation of why strict adherence to principle is vital to the future success of the liberty movement.”

- Representative Ron Paul (TX-14)

Congressman and author of The Revolution: A Manifesto and End the Fed.

“A well written primer on economics, liberty, and government that even avid Austrians will enjoy. If you have been blinded by government and Wall Street propaganda, A Return to Common Sense will help open your eyes. I not only recommend that you add this book to your freedom library, but that you buy a few copies for your friends.”

- Peter Schiff, President of Euro Pacific Capital, Inc and author of Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse.

Tom Mullen has written a thorough and useful book. Those for whom a discussion of liberty is a new experience will discover in A Return to Common Sense a clear, easy to understand guide to the nature of freedom, and why it is essential to our fondest hopes for a civil society of opportunity, peace, and prosperity. For those who already share these values, it’s a welcome resource for perfecting our own knowledge and advancing our cause.

- Charles Goyette, author of THE DOLLAR MELTDOWN: Surviving the Impending Currency Crisis with Gold, Oil, and Other Unconventional Investments and RED AND BLUE AND BROKE ALL OVER: Restoring America’s Free Economy

 

Free Chapters

Introduction:

The American Crisis

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

 – Thomas Paine (1776)1

America finds itself in a time of crisis.  For several generations we have expressed dissatisfaction with government, whether with the Viet Nam war, the energy and economic crises of the 1970’s, the scandals of the 1980’s and 1990’s, or the present wars in the Middle East.  While a little dissatisfaction with the status quo is healthy, it has gone far beyond that now.  For anyone remotely in touch with the state of our republic, there is a growing sense of dread that whatever is wrong is getting much worse much faster.  They realize that what was once a desire for change has now become a dire need for change.  Yet, in as much as the voting public clamors for it, does anyone think for a moment that the majority of people in America actually know what changes are necessary, or even what changes they want?

The United States emerged from the 19th century during the most innovative period in the history of mankind.  The industrial revolution had wrought miracles that could barely have been imagined 100 years before.  After thousands of years of traveling on foot or on the backs of beasts of burden, automobiles carried Americans wherever they wished to go.  Steamships freed travel by sea from the vagaries of the four winds, and the telegraph and telephone made communication with distant locations instantaneous, when just a few decades earlier weeks or even months might be required for a single letter to arrive.  Electric light replaced gas lamps, and man’s most ancient dream was realized by Wilbur and Orville Wright.

With the explosion of technology came an explosion of wealth and prosperity.  Mass production and other improvements made manufactured goods cheaper, increasing their availability beyond the affluent to the common man.  Indeed, as significant as the fortunes that were made by famous captains of industry was rising living standards of the growing middle class and even of the poor.  For the first time in history, the common people were the prime market for the output of society’s production.  After thousands of years, children no longer had to toil with their parents just to ensure that the family had enough to eat.  The average American lived comfortably on the income produced by one member of the family and that family’s standard of living was constantly improving.  No challenge seemed too formidable for a people that had harnessed the power of lightning, conquered the air and seemingly made a servant of Mother Nature herself.  Finally, the end of poverty and want were in sight.

At the dawn of the 21st century, no such optimism prevailed.  The technology-fueled prosperity of the 1990’s had hit a serious stumbling block with the crash of the NASDAQ index. A recession was just getting underway when America welcomed a new president.  In the midst of economic doldrums, socio-political disaster occurred.  Commercial airplanes exploded into the World Trade Center as a nation and world looked on in horror.  The buildings fell down and the War on Terror began.

Over a decade later, the United States finds itself quagmired in that war beyond anyone’s expectations.  Despite the fact that the Democrats won the White House and the House has changed hands twice since 9/11, there is still no end in sight to the wars in the Middle East.  President Obama began his campaign as an anti-war candidate, but has made it clear that he will continue the U.S. government’s policy of military intervention in the Middle East.  As the budget deficits and loss of lives mount, Americans are left to wonder if we will be at war forever.

At home, we find ourselves in economic crisis.  The stock market has experienced another historic crash, and for the second time in the past century we are told that we face a Great Depression.  While 50 years ago, the average American family was comfortably supported by one income, both parents in that family typically work today, and a second job for at least one parent is not uncommon.  While doctor bills were once only a concern for those with unusual medical needs, the typical American family is more and more being forced to choose between healthcare and other basic necessities.  While past generations saved for a comfortable retirement, the average American today is deep in debt.

How could a century that started with such promise end with so much doubt?  Where did we go wrong?  Since her historic founding, America has been known as the “land of the free.”  Yet, the answers proposed for each of our problems involves Americans giving up some of that freedom.  However, if freedom is what made America great, why would less freedom make things better now?

We are told “the world changed on September 11, 2001.”  Is this true?  Is the world fundamentally different than it was?  Do evil people really hate us enough because of our freedom and prosperity to commit heinous acts of murder against us?  Or are there other reasons?  Do we really have to surrender some of our freedom in exchange for security against this new threat?  What if the threat continues to increase?

Similarly, we are told our economic crisis was caused by too much laissez faire capitalism and too little regulation.  Can too much economic freedom really harm us?  Will the massive new government programs and “reregulation” promised by our new President solve our problems?  What if they don’t?  Will even less freedom be the answer then?

This book will set out to answer those questions.  In order to do so, we must take a sober look in the mirror.  In order to know what has put America in decline, it is necessary first to understand what made her great.  At a time when most people are confused and searching for answers, we must shine the light of clarity on every aspect of our society.  At times, that light may reveal truths we are not ready to face, including the part each of us has played in bringing about our nation’s decline.

We must question institutions we have long ago come to think of as unquestionable.  The past 100 years in America has been a time of significant change.  Of course, the 20th century was a time of astounding technological advancement.  However, we have also made ideological changes that have made America into a much different kind of society than the one our founders built.  Were those changes improvements, or have we moved away from the principles that made us great?  Are we still the “land of the free?”  Are we still the “land of opportunity?  Do we really know what those cherished words mean?

During the past few decades of apparent prosperity, very few of us wished to be bothered with the endless partisan bickering of our politicians, despite our frequent expressions of dissatisfaction with them.  While we may not have agreed with much about the direction in which our leadership was taking our country, we did not connect what was happening in Washington, D.C. with our own lives or the lives of our families.  We have been in a kind of slumber, believing that a free and open society of opportunity and prosperity is guaranteed in America, regardless of the decisions of politicians that determine what kind of society we are.

One thing is certain.  We are out of time.  In past decades, we have talked about issues we feared may present significant problems for the America of the future.  That future is here.  It is no longer enough to wistfully talk about the America we will leave to our children.  Everything we hold dear about America is in jeopardy, and the time has come to act.

 

Chapter 1

What is Freedom?

And what is this liberty, whose very name makes the heart beat faster and shakes the world?”

 – Frederic Bastiat1 (1850)

If there is one thing uniquely associated with America, it is freedom.  From the moment Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, America has been a symbol of liberty to the entire world.  Since the end of World War II, when the United States assumed a worldwide leadership role, it has been the leader of the “free world.”  At sporting events, standing crowds begin their ovation when the vocalist singing the national anthem gets to the words, “O’er the land of the free.”  Even in everyday conversations, scarcely a day goes by that one does not hear someone say, “Do what you like, it’s a free country.”

Although we all agree that America is the “land of the free,” there are questions about freedom that might be more difficult to answer.  What is freedom?  How is it defined?  What makes America the land of the free?  How would we know if we were to lose our freedom?  What is it that our soldiers die for and our politicians swear to defend?

We have been told a lot of things about what freedom is not.  From the end of World War II until 1991, most Americans understood that freedom was not communism.  For almost three generations, Americans lived in the “free world” during its cold war with the communist Eastern Bloc.  Without further thought or instruction, many children of the 20th century think of freedom merely as the antithesis of communism.  In some ways, this is not completely untrue, although it hardly provides a complete answer to our question.

Certainly, the mere absence of communism doesn’t necessarily guarantee freedom.  The 18th century British monarchy wasn’t communist, but the American colonists nevertheless considered it tyrannical enough to rebel against.  Likewise, the Royal House of Saud may be an ally of the U.S. government, but most Americans would not regard Saudi Arabia as a “free country.”

In addition to monarchies, there are plenty of dictatorships around the world that don’t enforce a communist system but are nevertheless oppressive.  While they also may be allies of the U.S. government, they certainly aren’t free countries, either.  So, a society is not free merely because it is not communist.

On the other hand, monarchy doesn’t seem to necessarily preclude freedom, either. Great Britain has been a relatively free country throughout much of its history, even when the monarchy was much more than a figurehead.  The American Revolution notwithstanding, Great Britain was at that time one of the freest societies in the world.  Therefore, rather than conclude that no freedom is possible under a monarchy, one might instead conclude that monarchies neither guarantee nor necessarily exclude freedom. Freedom or tyranny seems possible under almost any system of government.

Perhaps we can define freedom more easily by looking at its antithesis.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists slavery among antonyms for freedom.  Surely, we have found a start here.  Most people would agree that slavery is the complete absence of freedom.  Who can we imagine that is less free than the slave?  This is helpful in beginning to try to frame an answer, but freedom cannot be merely the absence of slavery.  Surely our founding fathers bled to give us a higher standard than this!

If we are told anything about what freedom is, it is that freedom is democracy.  If you ask most Americans, this is the answer you will get.  This is reinforced ad nauseum by politicians, media, and teachers in our public schools.  When Iraq held its first elections after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, politicians and journalists universally celebrated the Iraqis’ “first taste of freedom.”

Certainly, democracy is a vast improvement over the autocratic rule of a dictator. But does democracy automatically mean freedom?  If democracy is rule by the majority, what about the minority?  What if 51 % of the people voted to oppress the other 49%?  Would that society truly be free?

Most Americans would be quite surprised to learn what our founding fathers thought about democracy.  Any objective analysis would conclude that their feelings lay somewhere between suspicion and contempt.

James Madison said, “Democracy is the most vile form of government … democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths,”2

In a letter to James Monroe, he also said,

“There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.”3

While often extolling the virtue of majority rule, Thomas Jefferson nevertheless wrote,

“…that the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”4

Can this be true?  The founding fathers were ambivalent about democracy?  For many people, this is tantamount to sacrilege.  More shocking still is what the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution say about democracy: nothing.  Nowhere in our founding documents will you find the word “democracy” or the assertion, implicit or explicit, that our government is a democracy.  How can this be?

Despite what we are taught virtually from birth, the United States of America has never been a democracy.  As only contrarians point out these days, it is a constitutional republic.  We choose our leaders using the democratic process of majority vote, but that is the extent to which the United States involves itself with democracy.

Like monarchy, democracy neither guarantees nor necessarily prohibits freedom.  Our founders actually feared that democracy poses a danger to freedom.  Apart from the pure heresy of the idea, it leaves us with a problem.  We are no closer to defining freedom.  If even democracy is not freedom, perhaps freedom doesn’t really exist!  If we are not to find freedom in democracy, where else can we look?

We certainly won’t learn what freedom is from our politicians.  While terrorism, healthcare, unemployment, gay marriage, and a host of other “major issues” dominate public debate, freedom is just too quaint, too academic, or too forgotten to get any airplay.  Yet, as we shall see as we explore the different subjects of this book, freedom is the fundamental issue.  In fact, despite what we perceive as a myriad of different problems facing the United States of America today, freedom is actually the only issue.  That may be hard to accept, given the decades of shoddy history, obfuscation, and plain old bad ideas we’ve been bombarded with.  Nevertheless, our greatest challenges and their solutions revolve around freedom.  If freedom is really that important, we’d better be absolutely sure we know what it is.

In order to answer the question posed by Bastiat at the beginning of this chapter, we will have to go back to the beginning.  Our founding fathers faced no such quandary about the definition of freedom. They knew exactly what it was.  They were children of the Enlightenment, and derived their ideas about freedom directly from its philosophers, especially John Locke.  While these philosophers were powerful thinkers and their ideas were (no pun intended) revolutionary at the time, the principles of liberty are relatively simple.  They are, as the namesake of this book concluded, common sense.  It was an understanding of these revolutionary ideas by average American colonists that inspired the revolution that gave birth to a nation.

The idea that opens the door to the true meaning of freedom is individual rights.  Despite the emphasis today on the “general welfare” and the “common good,” the American tradition of liberty has nothing to do with either.  Instead, the founders believed each individual was born with natural, inalienable rights.  The Declaration of Independence states,

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” 5

This passage is quoted widely in popular culture.  Invariably, the words emphasized are “that all men are created equal.”  Certainly, these are fine words and worthy of veneration.  However, the rest of this passage is equally important.  Every human being, because of his equality with all other human beings, has rights no earthly power can take away.  These rights are “unalienable,” so that governments, even democratically elected governments, have no power to revoke them.  To the founding fathers this was self-evident.  It was true based purely upon man’s existence itself.

This idea is drawn directly from the philosophy of John Locke, who wrote,

“A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection,”6

While these rights are endowed by a Creator, the founders did not specify who the Creator was.  Too often, those arguing for the ideals of our republic make the fatal mistake of basing the natural rights upon belief not only in God, but specifically upon the Christian God.  While the founders were by no means opposed to Christianity, belief in it or even in God is not a prerequisite for the existence of the natural rights.  The beauty of this idea is that it transcends religion and thus welcomes members of all religions, and those with no religious beliefs at all.  Therefore, the first building block of freedom, individual, inalienable rights, can be claimed by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, by every person on earth.

So what are these inalienable rights, which cannot be taken away?  The Declaration goes on to say, “That among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”7

At first glance, this statement might be a bit deceiving, maybe even a little disappointing.  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?  Is that all?  Surely we have more rights than these!  Of course, the Declaration says “among these,” so it does not limit the natural rights to these three.  But these three are important.  It is worthwhile to determine the meaning of each.

The right to life is pretty easy to understand.  Most civilized societies have laws against murder.  Each individual has a right not to be killed by another human being, except in self-defense.  So far, so good.  What about the other two?  We are in the midst of trying to define liberty, or freedom, so let us put that aside for the moment.  The third right listed is “the pursuit of happiness.”  What does that mean?  Does it mean nothing?  Or does it mean everything?  What if it makes me happy to steal cars or blow up buildings?  Surely, I don’t have a right to pursue happiness like that!

No. There is a natural limit on liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Again, we can find the answer in Locke,

“To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” 8

While people are free to do what they want, they must do so “within the bounds of the law of nature.”  What is the law of nature?  Locke goes on to tell us,

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and Reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions…” 9

Finally, we have some indication of what freedom is, rather than what it is not.  Liberty is not the unlimited ability to do whatever you want, nor is it confined to the arbitrary limits placed upon people by governments.  Contrary to the spurious argument that unfettered liberty would result in chaos, we see that the law of nature, Reason, very clearly and unambiguously prohibits some actions, even for people in a state of absolute liberty.  They are:

1.   Initiating the use of force or violence

2.   Infringing upon another person’s liberty

3.   Harming them in their possessions.

This last limit upon the actions of free individuals is important.  Locke spends an entire chapter of his Second Treatise talking about it.  It is related to property, which is arguably the most important right, while at the same time the least understood.  Property is important enough that we will spend the next chapter examining the subject.  To do this we will have to come to a clear definition of property, including how it is acquired, how it is exchanged, and what right the owner has to it.

More importantly, we have arrived at a definition of liberty.  It is the right of any person to do as they please, as long as they do not violate the equal rights of anyone else.  The latter half of this definition is generally referred to as the “non-aggression principle.”  Political activists associate this principle with libertarians, while intellectuals associate it with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.  Certainly both movements recognize and venerate it, but it is important to realize that neither is its source.  In fact, the non-aggression principle has been articulated with very little variation by all writers in the liberal tradition, including Locke, Jefferson, Paine, Bastiat, Mill, and later Rand and other 20th century writers and thinkers.

By applying this principle, the most complicated societal issues become astoundingly simple.  The ambiguous becomes unambiguous.  The answers become clear.  Virtually every problem facing America today can be solved by applying the principle of freedom.

There are a few points we should review for emphasis.  First, the rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and drawn out of Locke’s philosophy are inalienable.  They cannot be taken away by any power on earth, including a majority vote.  The reason the founders were suspicious of democracy was because of their fear that the majority would oppress the individual by voting away the individual’s rights, especially property rights.  This was the reason for the separation of powers and the limits on government authority.  Even a majority vote can be a threat to freedom.

The difference between a right and a privilege is a vital concept to understand.  A right is something you are born with, that you possess merely because you exist.  A privilege is something that is granted by another person, group, or a government.  Our country was founded upon the principle that all people have inalienable rights that cannot be taken away, not privileges granted by their government.  As John Adams so eloquently put it,

“I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws — Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe.”10

There is no need to be “thankful for the rights we have in America.”  All people have those rights and gratitude is neither necessary nor appropriate.  Rather, people are justified in demanding their rights, and any violation of them should be recognized as an act of aggression.

Second, in any conflict between individual liberty and the will of the majority, individual liberty prevails without compromise.  The majority has no right to violate the rights of the individual.   This is to some extent merely making the first point in reverse, but it is important enough to say in more than one way.  Society doesn’t have rights; individuals do.  Society is nothing more than a collection of individuals, so protecting each individual in society protects society.

Despite these seemingly undeniable truths, individual liberty is today under constant attack because of its perceived conflict with the common good or “the needs of society.”  While living together and agreeing not to initiate aggression against each other seems astoundingly simple, our politicians would have us believe there is something incredibly complicated about it.  They create a world in which civil society is a maze of moral dilemmas that only their astute guidance can lead us safely through.  Once liberty is properly understood and applied, all of these supposed dilemmas disappear.

End Notes

Introduction: The American Crisis

1 Paine, Thomas The American Crisis “The Crisis No. 1” December 19, 1776 from Paine Collected Writings edited by Eric Foner Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York, NY 1955 pg. 91

Chapter 1: What is Freedom?

1 Bastiat, Frederic The Law 1850 from The Bastiat Collection 2 Volumes Vol. 1 Ludwig Von Mises Institute Auburn, AL 2007 pg. 79

2 Madison,James Federalist #10    http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/fedi.htm http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/fed10.htm

3 Madison, James Letter to James Monroe October 5th, 1786 James Madison Center, The http://www.jmu.edu/madison/center/home.htm Phillip Bigler, Director, James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA http://www.jmu.edu/madison/center/main_pages/madison_archives/quotes/supremacy.htm

4 Jefferson, Thomas To Dupont de Nemours from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson New York, NY: Literary Classics of the United States, 1984 pg. 1387

5 Declaration of Independence, United States 1776 National Archives and Records (website) http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

6 John Locke Second Treatise on Civil Government from Two Treatises of Government C. and J. Rivington, 1824 (Harvard University Library Copy) pg. 132

7 Declaration of Independence, United States 1776 National Archives…

8 Locke Second Treatise pgs. 131-32

9 Locke Second Treatise pg. 133

10 Adams, John A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law 1765 Ashland Center for Public Affairs (website) Ashland University  http://www.ashbrook.org/library/18/adams/canonlaw.html

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>Liberty Is An Absolute

>“Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

– Thomas Jefferson (1816)[1]

Over the past week I’ve made two round trip flights by air, which means I have had the distinct pleasure of passing through airport security four times in seven days. It may be my imagination, but I believe that our friendly neighborhood TSA officers are getting more authoritarian. While the officer at the podium still exhibits call center courtesy, those charged with seeing that people make their way through the canvass rope maze and show up with their license and boarding pass ready have taken to shouting orders as if managing a chain gang. Of course, this characterization isn’t far from the truth. However, I don’t really blame the officers personally that much. Their job is to get people to act in a completely unnatural manner – partially disrobing in a crowded room full of strangers just for starters – and with the exception of frequent travelers they are never going to do it right.

So, as the days go by and thousands of new travelers shuffle in and forget to have their licenses ready, forget to take their suntan lotion out of their carry on, try to go through the metal detector with their jackets on, and do a thousand other things that innocent people would never think twice about doing, the frustration must build with these foot soldiers in the War on Terror. “I just told you yesterday that you can’t bring liquids through security!” they must think, forgetting that the little old lady they are snarling at is not the same little old lady from yesterday or the day before or the day before that…

However, my sympathy does not go so far as to let me forget what is happening each time I remove my shoes and render my person, papers, and effects insecure against unreasonable searches. Regardless of the chirpy greeting by the uniformed agent with the infrared flashlight or the bizarre signs attempting to characterize this shakedown as some type of customer service (Rather be molested in private? Just ask…), I always remember what is really going on: I am being investigated for a crime.

There is no probable cause, no writs, no warrants sworn by oath or affidavit. In fact, for the 90-year-old gentlemen in front of me who just put his cane through the x-ray machine and is now holding onto the glass wall as he tries to stumble through the metal detector without it, there is no scenario that any reasonable person could imagine where he would or could harm anyone. Yet he is a suspect, too.

Most sane people who observe spectacles like this immediately conclude that law enforcement is going too far. Surely, there must be a better balance than this between liberty and security. However, in thinking this they have already made an error. When it comes to liberty, there can be no balance. Liberty abides no compromise. Liberty is an absolute.

For generations, Americans have been conditioned to believe that there are no absolutes. The truth is always the synthesis of the extremes and compromise is the supreme virtue. These ideas proceed from the “intellectual class” that dominates our education system – a breed that long ago abandoned Reason for the Hegelian confusion that allowed them to embrace communism. It is from this quarter that the spurious arguments against liberty proceed. “Absolute liberty is anarchy” or “you must balance liberty with the needs of society” or Bill Clinton’s infamous “When personal freedom’s being abused, you have to move to limit it.” All of these arguments are groundless, and those who make them do so because they do not know what liberty is.

Today, what we used to call “liberty” has been given a sterile, quasi-clinical 20th century name. We now call it “the Non-Aggression Principle.” This is by no means an inaccurate name, but hardly as poetic or stirring to the soul as Liberty. While it is useful in making arguments (I do so myself all of the time), I often wonder if this name allows the great majority of people to relegate this most sacred of rights to the small libertarian and objectivist constituencies who champion it. It is much easier to say “there are more important things than the Non-Aggression Principle” than it is to say “there are more important things than Liberty.” However, Liberty and the Non-Aggression Principle are one and the same.

The passage from Jefferson is not meant to suggest that it originated with him or our founders. They got it from Locke, who developed his ideas from ancient sources. As Locke said, men are naturally in “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature.”[2] The natural right to liberty is absolute within a natural limit: the law of nature. What is this law? The law of nature is Reason, which “teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”[3]

Thus, a state of absolute liberty “is not a state of license.”[4] People exercising their right to liberty do not have an unqualified right to do whatever they wish, regardless of the consequences. There is a clear and unambiguous limit to even what a person in an absolute state of liberty may do. He may do anything that he wishes as long as he does not harm another in aggression, which he absolutely may not do.

Therefore, it is just more politicians talking gibberish when we hear arguments for more or less liberty or balancing liberty with security or other priorities. Liberty does not conflict with any proper functions of government. When there is conflict between government and liberty, it is always government that is in the wrong. Most importantly, as our founding document clearly states and Reason demands, liberty is a right. It is for no one to limit, regulate, or balance with anything. The minute that any limit on human action is put in place beyond “the bounds of the law of nature,” liberty has ceased to exist. One is either free or not free. You cannot enslave someone a little.

Once liberty is properly understood, there are a few conclusions that one can draw about the purpose of government. First, government cannot at the same time secure the right to liberty and prevent crime. The minute that it acts before a crime has been committed, it has destroyed liberty in the process. Since they have committed no aggression, those restrained by the government crime prevention policy should be free to do whatever they choose, but they are not.

In order to preserve liberty, government may only prosecute and punish crimes after they are committed, except in those rare instances when a law enforcement officer happens to be at the scene of a crime as it is taking place. Even military action is something that our founders understood was only justified when a state of war already existed, which I wrote about in more detail in an article last year. That is why they granted Congress the power to declare war. By definition, to declare something presupposes that it already exists.

An understandable first reaction to this idea is that non-aggression must mean that in order to be free we must offer ourselves up as sitting ducks to criminals and foreign armies, only able to take action once the damage has been done. This is refuted by the second conclusion one must draw from an understanding of Liberty: that each individual has not only a right but a responsibility to defend himself. While this may sound frightening at first, it is not. If the truth be told, this is really the only choice that you have whether you live in a free society or not. In all but the rarest of cases, the government simply is not there at the moment that you are attacked. You must defend yourself the best that you can and try to survive. It is only after the fact that the law can come to your aid. This is only one reason that liberty and the right to bear arms are inseparable from one another.

Finally, you must conclude that in addition to destroying your liberty in the process, crime prevention will always fail. A just law is one that prohibits aggression, such as the law against murder. However, once an aggressor has decided to violate this just and natural law, he is certainly not going to be dissuaded by some societal rule of conduct that attempts to prevent him from having the opportunity to commit the real crime. He will simply break that law, too, as so many murderers do when they use “illegal” firearms to commit murder. Only the innocent are punished by attempts to prevent crime. They either follow the unjust law and surrender their liberty or are unjustly punished when they break the law while committing no aggression.

This inevitable failure gives rise to the most ominous aspect of government’s misguided attempt at crime prevention: its equally inevitable expansion. With each new failure, the preventative measures must be increased in intensity to prevent further failure. The actions of all must be more and more limited until all opportunity to commit a crime is eliminated, which even under martial law can never be achieved. So, it is a steady march onward, with a police state as the only logical end. Each new failure in the war on drugs or the war on terror takes us another step down that road.

Life in a state of liberty is not perfect. It makes no guarantees other than the opportunity to pursue your happiness. You may prosper or you may be poor. You may be safe or you may come to harm. Chance will certainly have some effect on your life – we all deal with unexpected circumstances that we cannot control, both good and bad. However, liberty gives you the ability to act upon those things in life that you can control in the way that you believe will be the best for you and those you care about. Without liberty, you can control nothing, and it is only a fool who believes that any government can guarantee that he will never be poor or will never come to any harm. There is only one thing that life without liberty does guarantee: you will never truly be able to pursue your happiness. Robbed of that, why live at all?

© Thomas Mullen 2009

[1] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Francis Walker Gilmer June 7, 1816
[2] Locke, John Second Treatise of Government Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis, IN (1980) Pg. 8
[3] Locke, John Second Treatise of Government Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis, IN (1980) Pg. 9
[4] Ibid

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>False Prophets of Freedom

>One might be tempted to celebrate the “growing” number of people here in America that associate themselves with the “freedom movement.” As encouraging as it may be to see a loss of confidence in the present “neo-con” ruling class, there is certainly no reason to think that what most people would replace them with would result in any more liberty. Sadly, as was the case in Germany in the early 1930’s, the opposition to the present tyranny simply thinks their form of tyranny is better. Using Bastiat’s terms, they don’t object to legal plunder, they just have a different idea of how to divide up the loot.

While professing to be staunchly against tyranny, it is apparent that most people don’t seem to understand what tyranny is, and most importantly don’t understand its motivation. Perhaps many do not WANT to understand, because their solution may not be substantively different. Let me clear the air in the hopes that the 800 pound gorilla hiding in the corner of this tea party we call the “freedom movement” can cease to be politely ignored. In all of human history, there has only been one motivation for tyranny: plunder.

No conqueror in history has gone to the expense and trouble of raising, training, and feeding an army, marching them across vast distances, and risked his own position and wealth for the purposes of suppressing free speech. Neither has he done so to suppress freedom of religion, the writ of habeas corpus, or the right of the people to freely assemble. While he may have attacked all of these rights, he did so only as a means to one end: plunder. Every tyrant that ever lived has violated the rights of his own people and of those he has conquered for no other reason than to gather wealth that he did not earn.

The reason that most people don’t understand tyranny or its sole motivation is that they don’t truly understand liberty, either. If your understanding of liberty ends at freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to due process, then you are omitting the heart and soul of liberty – property rights. Without a right to keep the fruits of your labor, there can be no liberty, no matter how fiercely the other “civil liberties” are protected. The right to the fruits of your labor is the central right, the foundation of liberty. Without controlling the fruits of your labor, you have no control over your life. Whether you have nothing to eat, a little to eat, enough to eat, or enough to save for another day all depends upon your control over the product of your work. However, it is the violation of precisely THIS right that is the sole desire of the tyrant.

This is why Jefferson said that “’the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it” is the “first rule of association.”[1] Samuel Adams called it “self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.”[2] It is the reason that John Locke devoted an entire chapter of his 2nd Treastise on Civil Government to property, and the reason he said that “The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”[3]

Plunder is the violation of this central right. Plunder is the use of force to divest people of the fruits of their labor without their consent. When it is done by individuals or groups outside of the law, it is recognized as a crime. When it is done by government, it becomes what Bastiat called “legal plunder.” Legal plunder by government generally falls into two categories: welfare and warfare. While cosmetically different, these two practices are essentially one and the same. They represent the use of government force to plunder the property of the individual. One merely does so farther away than the other – a relatively minor difference.

Recognizing that the right to property is the most important civil liberty (without which there can be no liberty), and recognizing also that plunder is the only true threat to liberty, Bastiat devoted much of his brilliant essay “The Law” to the subject of legal plunder. Like Locke, our founding fathers, and all philosophers in the liberal tradition, he recognized that government in a free society has only one purpose, beyond which it may not be permitted to go. Its sole purpose is to protect life, liberty, and property. According to Bastiat, the minute that government goes beyond fulfilling this role, it must necessarily attack life, liberty, and property. This is the fundamental principle of government which must be understood before one can begin answering questions of liberty.

Bastiat correctly concluded that there are only three alternatives for a society in determining how to address the question of plunder. Only by choosing the last of these can a society be free. It is not surprising that our two political parties generally align themselves with one of the other two. I will take the “liberty” of inserting their names in parenthesis next to the alternative they advocate:

1. The few plunder the many. (Republicans)
2. Everybody plunders everybody (Democrats)
3. Nobody plunders anybody (Freedom – the position of neither party)[4]

Like the unfortunate child in the middle of a game of “pickle in the middle,” Americans have been running back and forth between the first two alternatives offered by their political parties for decades. It has never occurred to the great majority of people that NEITHER ONE can benefit them in the end. There are only two possible reasons for this. Either the great majority of people do not understand the true nature of liberty and tyranny – that they both revolve around property rights – or the great majority of people DO NOT WANT TO UNDERSTAND. This may be because they secretly do not want to let go of the possibility that THEY ALSO might benefit from legal plunder. This second possibility is even more pathetic than the first. Like the gamblers in Las Vegas, they should know by now that the House always wins.

Rather than objecting to legal plunder itself, false prophets of freedom frame the debate into organizing opposition to the present ruling class on the assumption that the loot should merely be divided up differently. At the moment, the Democrats position themselves as against the war in Iraq, not because it is wrong, but because the Republicans started it. Their position is no more the position of liberty than was the Republicans’ in objecting to President Clinton’s war in Kosovo, or their ludicrous impeachment of him over a sex scandal. They are merely looking to divide up the loot differently.

However, politicians will be politicians, and I am much more concerned about the average American than I am about them. In the end, politicians can be bought with votes. If the vast majority of voters demand liberty, liberty is what they will get. However, when the vast majority of voters are persuaded to demand legal plunder, then it becomes clear why Madison described democracy as “the most vile form of government.”[5]

For those interested in finding their way through this maze of false assumptions, I offer the following examples of common arguments made on current issues and their implications for true liberty.

If you are (rightly) against the war in Iraq, but go on to say that the money we are spending on that war should instead be spent on providing healthcare to uninsured Americans, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are opposed to the recent bailouts of the banks during the mortgage crisis, but like False Prophet of Freedom Lou Dobbs go on to say that the government should instead help average Americans that are in danger of losing their homes, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are against the fascist alliance being formed between large corporations and government, but suggest taxing the profits of corporations more heavily to fund some public redistribution of wealth, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are concerned that Social Security and Medicare are imminently insolvent, and go on to argue that they must be “reformed,” rather than abolished (or at least phased out), then you are not against legal plunder. You are merely concerned that you won’t get your share of the loot.

These are only a few examples of the lapses in reason so common even among those who claim to be part of the “freedom movement.” Presently, average Americans are running from the Republicans (the few plunder the many) to the Democrats (everybody plunders everybody) in their perennial game of pickle in the middle. They still haven’t noticed that no matter which side they’ve run to over the past century, they never actually get to catch the ball. However, the implications are more ominous than this.

After at least a century of practicing legal plunder in one form or another, the inevitable end to which such a society comes is now in sight. Having given up the central civil liberty – property rights – Americans now see that the government monster they have built is coming to gather up the rest of the rights that people have deluded themselves that they retain. It is vital to realize that the police state measures and the perpetual war that we now find ourselves confronted with are not an aberration of the Bush administration BUT THE LOGICAL END OF DECADES OF LEGAL PLUNDER. This was Hayek’s central point in his classic The Road to Serfdom – that Naziism was the natural result of socialism, and that England’s and America’s socialism of the 1940’s would eventually lead to the same results in decades to come as Germany’s socialism of the 1870’s had led to by 1933. He was not only correct in theory, but seems to have correctly predicted the duration.

In conclusion, there will be no “freedom movement” until Americans recognize and understand the nature of freedom and tyranny. Until Americans cease to marginalize or ignore property rights, and again recognize them as the MOST important rights, as our founding fathers did, we will not move one inch toward freedom. In fact, even if we were able to completely end warfare for several presidential administrations in a row, our practice of welfare would lead us right back to our present circumstances.

Do not look to your politicians to offer you Bastiat’s third alternative. They have seduced free people throughout history with the prospect of sharing in legal plunder, while keeping the majority of the loot for themselves. It is left up to every American to reject the notion of legal plunder on their own, to reject the false prophets of freedom, be they named McCain, Obama, Clinton, Dobbs, Paulson, Bernanke, or Roosevelt, and again take responsibility for their own self preservation, and thus regain the right to determine it themselves. This is the ONLY path to freedom.

Tom Mullen

[1] Jefferson, Thomas Note in Destutt de Tracy’s “A Treatise on Political Economy,” 1816. ME 14:466
[2] Samuel Adams The Rights of the Colonists (1772) The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772 Old South Leaflets no. 173 (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, 1906) 7: 417-428.
[3] Locke Second Treatise Ch. IX, Sec. 124
[4] Bastiat, Frederic The Law (1850) (words in parenthesis inserted by the author of this article)
[5] Madison, James Federalist #10

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