My thesis is simple. If we have freedom of religion, which in turn stems from freedom of association, then why do we not also have freedom of political association? Why do we not also have freedom of politics?
The Constitution of the U.S.A. says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…" Thomas Jefferson supported freedom of religion strongly. Freedom of religion is an American ideal. Why not make freedom of politics an ideal too?
Freedom of religion is not perfect in America. There are problems of tax-exemption, speech, and incorporation. But I think we can agree that, to a very high degree, we have freedom of religion in this country. We do not have freedom of politics, however.
If we have freedom of religion, why shouldn’t we have freedom of politics? If a man or a woman can freely choose religion or no religion at all, why can’t a man or a woman freely choose what political system to participate in or choose no political system at all?
An individual can enter a church, and he can leave a church. He can do this without leaving the country in which he was born. In entering a church, he is freely choosing with whom to associate. He is freely choosing his method of worship. Freedom of religion is an implication of freedom of association.
The First Amendment of the Constitution does not explicitly guarantee freedom of association. But freedom of association is a necessary condition for freedom of religion and freedom to assemble and freedom to petition the government. The First Amendment presumes freedom of association. Otherwise the other freedoms that it mentions are vacuous. The Supreme Court of the U.S. has ruled that freedom of association is essential to free speech. Indeed, much of the rest of the Constitution makes no sense unless there is freedom of association. How could there even be a "We the people" unless the people associated? How could this "We the people" even express itself unless the people associated? What meaning would this association have unless it were free?
Whether or not the people actually freely associated in devising and approving the Constitution is another matter. That the concept of free association is a necessary condition for that document to have any meaning at all is indisputable.
Freedom of association is a basal freedom. It is indispensable, substratal, elemental, and essential. It is necessary to other freedoms such as freedom of religion. If we support freedom of association, it follows that we must support freedom of religion.
But if we support freedom of association, then it follows that we must support freedom of political association, or freedom of politics. Religious association, political association — what is the difference?
Do we have freedom of political association? Do we have freedom of politics? Most assuredly, we do not. While there are very many religions and churches, there is but one political system in the U.S. One cannot enter a political system within the U.S. and leave that system to join another at will. One can play the political game within the U.S. only within the U.S. system. It is as if there were a single church. One may choose a red pew or a blue pew, but one may not leave that church to set up another church. One must leave the country altogether in order to participate in another political system. But there is no earthly reason why a person should have to leave the place of his birth and leave his family, job, and relationships, in order to select another political system.
If we revere freedom, then we revere freedom of association. And if we have freedom of association as a precondition to freedom of religion, then we have it for freedom of politics too. If we are not able to exercise that freedom of political association, it is because we are being prevented from doing so. Oddly enough, the Constitution does not clearly and explicitly support freedom of political association. It established the monopoly political system that we have, but it left secession, which is an act of free political association, in doubt. The War for Southern Independence put the actual realization of freedom of association to the test. The U.S.A. failed the test. The war determined that there shall not be freedom of association in politics within the U.S.A. Brute force is the standing and existing cause (I would not call it a reason) why we do not have freedom of politics.
Freedom of religion brings a measure of peace to this country. We tolerate each other’s religions, even as we criticize each other, debate each other, and attempt to convert each other. We have a peace treaty on the matter (sometimes violated). We do not make religious conflict a centerpiece of our lives. We know that if we did, we’d be the worse for it. Where religious conflicts come to a boil is actually through and because of our political system that disallows freedom of political association.
Freedom of politics should equally well be an ideal for us. It too would bring a measure of peace to America. With only a single political system, majorities are invariably suppressing minorities. We fight over religious matters. We fight with each other for income and wealth transfers arranged through this single political system that claims the right to tax everyone, willy-nilly, whether we agree with the uses of those taxes or not, according to arcane rules handed down in distant halls that defy justice and simple understanding because they are arranged for reasons of power and privileged gain.
With only a single political system, we are all herded into one place of political worship. We cannot walk out of the Iraq War or the War on Drugs or any other of the system’s constant wars, not unless we are prepared to live in Italy, New Zealand, Costa Rica, or some other distant land. We are a captive political clientele.
We do not have freedom of political association. If we did, it would mean the end of the U.S.A., that is, the State that is the dominant political apparatus of this vast country. It would mean that we would be able to form much smaller political associations. That would not rule out those larger associations that we might find beneficial and wish to construct, but these would be optional and voluntary. Just as churches amalgamate and federate voluntarily, there is no reason why smaller political associations could not do the same for particular purposes.
Freedom of politics means that our political associations become subject to that process that is an essential ingredient of freedom of association, namely, voluntary exit. And voluntary exit is the ultimate check and balance that really works! The Framers set about concocting checks and balances within the Constitution. They established a monopoly political system and toned down its possible excesses by internal checks and balances. They confined the nation to that system in 1787 and we have been confined ever since. The check and balance of voluntary exit takes people and money out and away from a system that people believe is not acting in their interests. What better and faster and more responsive check could there be than such an expression of personal preferences? Exit constrains a system that is performing under par. It tells the underperforming political system to shape up or continue losing support. With voluntary exit, the system no longer has a captive clientele who have nowhere else to run.
Freedom of religion provides an appropriate model for freedom of politics. Our experience with freedom of religion has been successful at defusing tensions, because the underlying theme is freedom of association with its safety valve of voluntary exit. People who disagree can go off on their own and live according to their own ways. So also our experience with freedom of politics can succeed.
Freedom of political association does not mean merely the right to associate and then take part in the government of the monopoly State, although such a meaning is preferable to a situation where there is but a single political party. Such a limited right constrains the individual to a single politics, a single political system, and a single State. Freedom of politics means the right to choose one’s political system altogether. And that spells the end of the monopoly political State as we know it.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.