What Freedom Isn't

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Reading some of the carping from members of the left about Ronald Reagan, it’s evident that what they don’t like is not Reagan but freedom. "Freedom" is a word used carelessly these days, so perhaps we should examine what it is and what it isn’t.

Freedom is just being left alone to think, to speak and to do as you please, as long as you don’t infringe on anybody else’s right to do the same. Freedom does not guarantee health, happiness or success. You can be free and unhappy, unhealthy and a total failure.

The fact is that a majority of Americans are not as keen on freedom as you would think from listening to the rhetoric. Most Americans have, by this point in time, bought into the philosophy of redistribution of income. That involves a loss of freedom.

When private individuals give their own money to others, it’s called charity. When government takes money from people who have earned it and gives it to a person who has not, that is redistribution of income. Like everything government does, it is coercive. Taxation is not a voluntary program. Today government subsidizes everything from large corporations and the middle class to the genuinely poor. I dare say that not many Americans would exchange their government checks for more freedom.

Government is another thing many people seem to not understand these days. It is exactly as George Washington defined it — institutionalized force. Mao Tse-tung was more poetic. He said the power of government comes out of the barrel of a gun. Exactly so. If you don’t believe that, write the government a letter and say that from now on, you are not going to pay any taxes. Then see what happens to you.

Other groups not so keen on freedom are the liberals and the professional civil-rights crowd. Freedom means equal opportunity. It means everyone must take the same test, must meet the same requirements. Alas, many people say they believe in equal opportunity until the equal opportunity produces unequal results. Then they cry for a double standard, commonly called affirmative action. Give the job or the promotion or the admittance to this person because of his or her sex or race, they say. Well, of necessity, that involves unjustly denying the qualified people their earned opportunity.

While equality before the law and equal opportunity in the private sector are worthy ideals to pursue, the human race is not uniformly equal. As I have often quoted, an author once observed that the characteristic of nature’s creation is profusion, not uniformity. We are not equal in our mental and physical traits, and in a free society, this inequality will be reflected. Some of us are not smart enough to pass the tests. Some of us lack the energy and drive to become entrepreneurs or to climb the corporate ladder. Some of us are too foolish to save and invest. Some of us have the bad luck to be born into circumstances that present obstacles to success.

Rather than try to achieve phony equal results with double standards, we should try to construct a society in which everyone, regardless of his or her abilities, can find a niche in which to live with dignity and respect. A good janitor should be no less admirable than a good CEO. If we put more emphasis on character and less on income and position, we might realize that.

At any rate, the late President Reagan caught it from both ends of the political spectrum. The left feared he would give Americans more freedom and less redistribution. The right complained that he did not end the redistribution system. Just remember, it is always easier to criticize than to do anything.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.

© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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