Anyone who appeals to freedom as a reason for war has to support and favor freedom. He has to favor the exercise of freedom over one’s just property. He has to favor the absence of unjust attacks and infringements on one’s life, liberty, and property because that is what freedom means, correct? Not so. Politicians constantly make the appeal to freedom while simultaneously supporting the state’s multiple infringements upon life, liberty, and property.
What are we to think of this blatant contradiction? We can conclude that our rulers are hypocrites. This is true. They pretend to favor freedom while their every act undermines it. Whenever they invoke freedom, watch out. They are talking about other things, things that are not freedom, things that go against exercising one’s free will over one’s property. Their aim is to sabotage freedom.
Our rulers are even worse than hypocrites. They falsify the meaning of freedom in three distinct ways. Without shame, they claim that the democratic process sanctions the laws they pass. They claim, in other words, that since the democratic processes (including majority rule) are lawful, freedom is not infringed by the laws that are passed via these processes. Then they claim that democracy guarantees freedom, meaning that democracy is what gives human beings their rights through its processes. Finally, they claim more generally that democracy is freedom and freedom is democracy.
But all of these claims are totally false. If majority rule or any democratic process takes one man’s just property to give to another, this destroys freedom. Taking a man’s just property is unjust. There is not a democracy on earth that does not destroy freedom in this way. Nor does democracy guarantee freedoms or rights. The rights of man are anterior to government of any kind, including democracy. And if democratic processes violate rights and are not necessary for their existence, it is false to say that democracy is freedom and vice versa.
Rulers liberally lard their speeches with these freedom phrases. This is by no means harmless rhetoric. They do this to deceive their audiences. In Orwellian fashion they are intent on persuading listeners that their (democratic) slavery is freedom, and conversely they wish to teach them that freedom means (democratic) slavery. But since freedom means the absence of others interfering with a man’s rightful exercise of his free will, every interference by the majority upon such exercise violates and diminishes his freedom. Since democracies routinely violate rights, they diminish freedom. The correct slogans are slavery is democracy, and democracy is slavery. At the risk of some confusion, we might also say that democratic freedom is slavery, that is, what passes for freedom in democracies is actually slavery.
If our rulers mislead us about something as basic as freedom, we have to be very skeptical about anything they say. At a minimum, their other ideas are liable to be skewed and twisted too. If some listeners suspect deceit, this is understandable. At a maximum the more cynical will conclude that whenever politicians move their lips, it is to lie.
Fighting for freedom?
Consider this statement made to combat veterans: "And you know the price of freedom, because you risked your lives, shed blood, and lost friends in freedom’s defense." Statements like these are frequently made to battle-scarred veterans. At this point, I feel like Linda Schrock Taylor who could not tell her father, who was a veteran, what she really felt and thought: that he was used as a pawn. It would have hurt him too much to admit that he had spent 50 years of his life celebrating the loss of his own freedom. It is very, very hard to admit longstanding errors. This is why Gorbachev wrote: "…how can we agree that 1917 was a mistake and all the seventy years of our life, work, effort and battles were also a complete mistake, that we were going in the u2018wrong direction’? No . . . it is the socialist option that has brought formerly backward Russia to the u2018right place.’" America is not different from Russia. It also embraced socialism, imperialism, and empire. It also has gone in the wrong direction for a very long time. It also cannot admit this. It also has to hold on to the illusion that socialism has brought it to the right place, only it calls socialism by the name of democracy. The pain of changing one’s basic view plays into the hands of rulers. It makes it easier for them to equate slavery with freedom.
What did the veterans risk their lives for? They’ve been bravely risking their lives for a long time, and many shed the final drops of blood that Secretary Rumsfeld referred to, for it was he who made that statement. Suppose we choose the Spanish-American War (1898) as a convenient date. Have the veterans defended freedom successfully? If that were so, we would have more freedom today than in 1898. This is simply not the case. American governments today control a vastly greater fraction of every person’s life, liberty, and property than in 1898. Yet we are told that America won its critical wars for freedom. The veterans defended freedom and did so successfully, we are instructed. No, the problem here is the one analyzed above. By freedom, Rumsfeld does not mean real freedom. He means democratic freedom, he means democracy, he means slavery, he means socialism, he means the American system, he means the American state.
Rumsfeld spoke of the price of freedom. Similarly, Vice-President Cheney remarked to the same audience: "Freedom is not free." A very high price was paid in America’s wars since 1898, but what was it paid for? The question is whether all these wars were even necessary. Many of us think they were not. Certainly our freedom was not threatened by the Spanish, by the Central Powers in World War I, by the North Koreans, by the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong, and by Saddam Hussein and Iraq. And America’s dispute with Japan over Japan’s war with China led to Pearl Harbor and Germany’s entry into World War II against America. America’s freedom was not directly at stake in Japan’s conquest of China. But even if these wars were necessary, they brought us no closer to real freedom over property. They did the very opposite. "War is the health of the state," Bourne wrote. Every war increased the state’s control over us and our resources, as Robert Higgs has so ably shown. Every war decreased real freedom while augmenting the state. The veterans risked their lives for the state, state socialism, and the American empire. And in most of the wars since 1898, it is not clear they defended any property of the American people as a whole at all as Rumsfeld claims.
I am sure that Rumsfeld and our other rulers calculate their words and their effects. But I do not think they construe them in terms of the kinds of arguments I am making. They are too deep into their own unquestioned world view to be doubting their own deeply held assumptions. Rumsfeld is not defending his ideology when he tells the veterans that they risked their lives on behalf of freedom. He believes his own deliberate falsehoods. He has heard and repeated them so often that he no longer thinks much about them. And Americans have heard them so often that they no longer question them either.
Freedom at home means ending America’s degrading democratic socialism here in America. But freedom is indivisible; it does not stop at the shorelines of the two great oceans. To take wealth in order to pay for armed forces that are stationed all over the world is just as much a diminishment of domestic freedom as to take wealth in order to subsidize peanut farmers. To funnel American resources taken from Americans to foreign countries infringes American freedom here. For American rulers to overthrow or try to overthrow foreign regimes is just as illegitimate as trying to depose the governor of a state. America cannot champion freedom overseas while denying it to Americans and also dominating foreign peoples through the somewhat hidden and subtle techniques of diplomacy, currency manipulations, military pressure, aid, debt, and trade pacts. To prevent Americans from traveling or exchanging goods with foreigners is just as much an imposition on freedom as a domestic edict on the composition of gasoline.
Domestic tyranny and international tyranny go hand in hand. The ideas that support one support the other. They feed off of each other. If domestic freedom is compromised, it is natural for rulers to interfere with the freedom of peoples overseas too. Freedom at home means ending America’s international empire overseas.
Freedom is the basic American value, and Americans have retained this value and term throughout America’s history. But America has changed from a relatively free country into a standard democratic socialist atrocity. America could not have been transformed from a free country into a country tottering on the edge of abandoning its last vestiges of freedom without having transformed the meaning of the word freedom. The concept had to change to remain consistent with the political changes. As the country’s economic and political relationships have become debased, so has the meaning of the word freedom. Today the word freedom as used by our rulers means something closer to slavery. It means acceptance of the American system of government in its current form, and that means a socialism that is inimical to true freedom. Defending freedom now means little more than defending the power of the state to do as it wishes. Our rulers now demand that we spill our blood for them, not for the sake of our own freedom. This is a bad bargain.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.