Monday, April 27, 2009

What degree of slavery to the government is acceptable?

A blogger named German Wrench that I follow asked an interesting question a while ago.
"What is your definition of liberty? What difference does it really make in your
life? Is it worth defending, fighting for, dying for? Would you die to be free,
as you understand it? What degree of slavery to the government is acceptable?"
That is an excellent question. When the founding fathers of the U.S. stated in the Declaration of Independence that all men have the right to liberty, they were drawing on the humanist and Enlightenment philosophy that these things are innate human rights. As Voltaire said, “All men have equal rights to liberty, to their property, and to the protection of the laws.”

These Enlightenment values were held very, very strongly by the writers of the constitution, and it is that passion to protect liberty from tyranny and control that birthed this country and that continues in the intensity of German Wrench's question. The question reflects the same sentiment that Sam Adams spoke with when he said:
"The liberties of our country, the freedoms of our civil Constitution are worth defending at all hazards; it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors. They purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood. It will bring a mark of everlasting infamy on the present generation – enlightened as it is – if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of designing men." -Samuel Adams”
The current fear, particularly reflected in the Tea Parties last month, is that we are giving up our liberty and letting our government grow too large and too powerful. As Woodrow Wilson says, "Liberty has never come from Government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it... The history of liberty is a history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.”

And so - the logical question that GermanWrench and others are asking is, if our government does get too big, are we willing to fight? As Patrick Henry said “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”

But .....wait a second. Woah. Hold up. We have gone from the founding fathers to a potential civil war in just a few paragraphs, and I think we've missed a crucial point. I think it's extremely important that we define what we're talking about when we talk about "liberty". What IS liberty actually? We say we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but.... we also put limitations on that. I mean, you can pursue your happiness, but if you think raping a woman would make you happy, that's still against the law. We think men should be free, but it seems that freedom and liberty do NOT mean that we should be entirely uncontrolled

Here in the U.S, we can choose our own jobs, we can can worship where we want, we can state our opinions... I would say we have a great degree of freedom. On the other hand, children are required to go to school - and yet this is something that benefits me rather than harms me. Technically, I am not "free". The government is forcing me to do something.

What I'm trying to get at is that freedom is relative. I think that rules and regulations are necessary to keep order, and the we fiercely independent American need to stop acting like rebellious teenagers that are demanding freedom. Ultimately, that teenager will leave home and rejoice in their "freedom" and then find themselves under the rules of their land-lord, college administration, and bosses. We are not fully free. The absence of all authoritative rule is anarchy, and really, is that what we want? We want an ordered, democratic society in which we influence and participate in the governance and future of our country.


Not only that, but that liberty is not currently being challenged.

I think that the great privileges that we have in this country have gone to our heads and we are taking things for granted. We have run with this idea of "inalienable rights" and are demanding things that we think we deserve that really perhaps aren't our rights.

So, back to GermanWrench's questions. I think those are great questions that we should really think about, particularly because we DO have a say in the direction of our country, so I certainly hope we understand the liberty that we are trying to defend and perpetuate. It's the last question that is stated most strongly and that I react to the most.

"What degree of slavery the government is acceptable?"

I really don't think this question is helpful, because it assumes that we are slaves to our government. How are we slaves to our government? Because we have to follow the laws of the land? The laws provide order, don't they? Are we slaves because we pay taxes? Yet we elect the people that have decided our taxes. It seems to me that we have instituted into our government and society a certain level of debt to society. We all have to give up a certain amount of money to build roads, to pay for the elderly in our society, to help with research about things like swine flu, to pay for our mutual defense and to help with natural disasters. We have to abide by the laws of our city, state, and country to keep order.

I think that when our fierce independence results in our inability to ever give to our government and our society without being angry about it and acting as though our personal rights are being infringed on, we have become spoiled, suspicious, and unhelpful to our democratic system. Maybe it's time we reevaluated the words of John F. Kennedy: And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

Do not mistake me. I am not criticizing protest, a variety of opinions, or the need to hold the government in check. I do, however, question the idea that our current government is pushing into our constitutional rights and making us slaves.


Sarah (JOT) said...

Hello. I got your comment on my blog and read the newest one you left on CPG. I welcome dialogue always. I'm an armchair apologetics type of gal, which means I know some, don't know some others, and am still learning. You have been most kind and charitable - and I hope that I have been. You are correct as far as I know that the dogma I wrote about is not what saves you. Salvation and eternal life with Christ is for us to work out in this lifetime. All will be judged - by God, not me. I think heaven will be peopled with many many surprises! And that is a good, encouraging thought. JP2 was a wonderful gift to not only the Catholic Church, but to the world at large. He really lived out LOVE.

Mason said...

"The absence of all authoritative rule is anarchy, and really, is that what we want?"

Well... no, but I say that because I think that the Scriptures show us the world is going somewhere and that people and the created order has value.
If you just have the abstract principles of the Enlightenment, I think eventually anarchy is what you'll get as people realize that it is not always in their personal interests to obey.
And once obedience becomes optional based on what is best for you at the time, then it's a pretty short step to outright anarchy.

Kacie said...

Yeah, interesting. And that is why... I think we have to be careful with how much we demand our rights and speak against an already democratic government. I know a lot of people are uneasy about the government spending right now, and that's fair enough, but I've heard some extreme words of protest that make me very uncomfortable because it seems to me that if they were truly followed up on - we would end with anarchy, not democracy.