Most of us take our liberty for granted. We don’t think about it most of the time. Yet most of us do not want to be imprisoned or made to live our lives according to the dictates of others. We actually want our liberty very deeply.
When aroused to a direct threat to that liberty, we rise to its defense. We really do fear losing our liberty.
But what if the threat is indirect? What if it is subtle, like the serpent? What if it is disguised? What if it is intentionally disguised by deceivers? What if the threat is made into reality in small steps? What if the threat is hidden? What if the threat is made real by those whom we trust? What if the threat is made real by an overpowering force that we cannot contend with? What if we are fooled into giving up our liberty by the promise and temptation of something greater?
Then we are not as well-equipped to defend ourselves. Then we are prone to lose our liberty.
Our greatest fear should not be the loss of liberty from enemies external to our country. Polygamists, Branch Davidians, drug users, pornographers, home-grown terrorists, the ACLU, anarchists, militias, and any number of other groups, past and present, have never and do not now pose serious threats to our liberty. Neither do foreign governments. None of these has a record of systematically curtailing or even threatening our liberties, nor did they or do they now possess the means to tyrannize us.
Threats may arise. Even grave threats may arise. It is up to each one of us to assess these threats as well as defend against actual invasions. To maintain our liberty, there are no shortcuts. Each of us needs to bolster our judgment skills, so that we know a real threat from a phony threat. We cannot leave the judgment up to elected officials. They have a record of lying and deceiving us. They lie all the time. It comes with the turf of gaining office and using and wanting power.
Saddam Hussein was never a grave threat, but we were told he was by those we trust with command. Bush II repeatedly and at various times and places in 2002 said that Saddam Hussein was a grave threat. He said:
"…this man [Saddam Hussein] poses a graver threat than anybody could possibly have imagined."
Iraq posed a "grave and growing danger."
"The danger to our country is grave and it is growing."
"Tonight I want to take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace, and America’s determination to lead the world in confronting that threat. The threat comes from Iraq."
That was Bush II and Iraq.
The bankruptcy of badly managed financial institutions poses no grave threat to the economy. That would be a salutary course of affairs. But listen to Ben Bernanke use the words "grave threat" as he persuades Congress on the big bailout plan. I quote a Washington Post story:
"Testifying before the Joint Economic Committee, Bernanke warned lawmakers of the u2018grave threat’ posed by deteriorating lending conditions…"
Listen to Barack Obama in May of 2008:
"Iran is a grave threat. It has an illicit nuclear program."
Early in 2006, Bush talked about a nuclear Iran as a grave threat:
"Iran armed with a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the security of the world."
Then we have Bush II once again in 2006 saying:
"The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States…"
None of these statements about nuclear threats are credible coming from U.S. politicians who command a huge nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver them anywhere in the world. If they really believed that nuclear weapons posed such a large threat, then they would be working feverishly to lead the world in a non-nuclear bomb direction.
John Foster Dulles in 1954 made statements that precede by only a few years the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam:
"Under the conditions of today, the imposition on Southeast Asia of the political system of Communist Russia and its Chinese Communist ally, by whatever means, would be a grave threat to the whole free community. The United States feels that that possibility should not be passively accepted but should be met by united action."
President Johnson subsequently lied us into the Vietnam War via the Tonkin Gulf incident. Dulles’ fear of a communist Vietnam has proven entirely unfounded even after Communist North Vietnam won a war that was a disaster for the U.S.
Governments love threats and emergencies. That is their opportunity to use and expand their power. The Bush II administration was asleep before 9/11 whereupon it literally came to life to the detriment of our liberty.
Our greatest fear should be the loss of our liberty at the hands of our own government.
Only our own government possesses the motive, means, and opportunity to tyrannize us. Only our own government has already significantly curtailed our liberty.
Those in government who wish to diminish our liberty know that we fear losing our liberty. They play upon that fear constantly by invoking and inventing new enemies and telling us that those enemies threaten our security and liberty. In that way, they sell themselves as the protectors of liberty and security. That is how they extend their power and control over our lives. They diminish our liberty by a ruse. Rulers are masters of deception.
The enemies they single out may be Anarchists, or Huns, or Japs, or Jews, or Commies, or pinkos, or traitors, or pointy-head intellectuals, or Islamic Fundamentalists, or Iranians, or terrorists, or extremists. They may be Saddam Hussein anxious to envelop us in imaginary mushroom clouds. The propaganda may include concocted stories of uranium yellowcake.
The Bush II Administration has been on the frontline of concocting enemies. Bush II, like many of his predecessors, has pushed for extensions of government power. He has gotten them, much of it supported by Congress and the Supreme Court. Bush II has gone further than any recent President in putting in place the pieces that will enable a U.S. government to become a dictatorial organization with or without the U.S. Constitution.
A U.S. citizen may be termed an "enemy combatant," at which point he or she may be whisked away to a prison camp, interred for years, and tortured, all without benefit of any traditional legal protections. U.S. citizens may be singled out, spied upon, and placed on lists of people suspected as dangers to the country. Every one of us is subject to indecorous and illegal searches and seizures at airports every day.
Ron Paul has introduced salutary legislation in the Restoration of American Freedom Act (H.R. 3835.) It is supported by the American Freedom Campaign. The American political system can be made to bend toward liberty if liberty becomes a single-issue feature of the system. In that case, Congressmen could be judged on a single-issue basis. Do they support Dr. Paul’s H.R. 3835 or do they not? In that case, casting a vote would make a difference and I’d vote.
To make liberty into a single-issue feature of American politics requires a sea change in political alignments. Most of us have to learn to stop battling one another and beating each other up through the political system. We need to become libertarians. We have an incentive to change, which is that there does indeed exist a grave threat to everyone’s liberty, and that threat is government
Why do we need to become libertarians? Liberty is a whole. It is for everyone. You cannot deny others their liberty and expect to retain your own. You and I cannot single out those who use drugs and make them criminals without compromising our own liberty. We cannot imprison fellow Americans who use drugs without undermining our own liberty. We have a right to plead, persuade, educate, cajole, and influence others. We have a right to speak out and advertise our views. We have no right to foreclose the legitimate choices of others on our say-so. If we do that, we are no better than those who are impounding our liberties. We are asking for trouble, and we will get it. We already have got it. If we ask government to turn against our neighbor who smokes marijuana or tobacco, we are inviting government to turn against us.
It is written in Luke "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." These words are truth. They are true in all contexts including the political. We cannot erect an organization we call government, give it power to oppress and tyrannize, and watch as it oppresses and tyrannizes, and then not expect that what we have done to others will not be done to us. Only if we tolerate others and govern ourselves by voluntary agreement can we expect tolerance from others and their non-interference in our liberty.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.