- Published: 12 November 2011
A Principle of The Traditional American Philosophy
9. Liberty - Against Government-over-Man
". . . unalienable rights, that among these are . . . Liberty . . ." (Declaration of Independence)
1. The traditional American philosophy teaches that the God-given, unalienable right of Man to "Liberty" means primarily Freedom from Government-over-Man--or, otherwise stated, Liberty against Government-over-Man.
The Broader Definition
2. This is the primary meaning of the word "Liberty" as used in the Declaration of Independence and in the Preamble of the United States Constitution. In this fundamental law of the people, The Framers sought to translate into enduring governmental reality, to the maximum practicable extent, the ideals and principles of that 1776 Declaration. They stated in the Preamble the goals to be served by the central (Federal) government in its use of the powers granted to it by the people, as enumerated in the body of that basic law. The word "Liberty" also means, of course, freedom of The Individual from interference or coercion by other Individuals in the enjoyment of his unalienable rights and of the supporting rights. Individual Liberty is an indivisible whole.
3. According to this philosophy, Liberty must always be taken to mean Individual Liberty-Responsibility, with emphasis upon the duty of respecting the equal rights of others and just laws expressive of "just powers" (to quote the term of the Declaration of Independence) designed to safeguard the equal rights of all Individuals. Individual Liberty-Responsibility involves the self-governing Individual's being burdened with the duties underlying his share of the responsibility for their safety of the Liberty of all Individuals, and of their other unalienable rights. Lacking such a sense of responsibility, Liberty can readily degenerate into license. Individual Liberty-Responsibility denotes that challenging freedom which tests the courage and wisdom of Free Man because of the truth that:
Only the brave dares to be--only the wise can remain--Free Man
By accepting the challenge, performing the duties, of
Individual Liberty-Responsibility under constitutionally limited government.
Freedom of Choice
4. The Liberty of Free Man is basically the Liberty of freedom of choice, with due respect for the equal rights of others. Without this freedom, Man cannot really be free, nor can there be any moral value or merit in his actions because they are not voluntary, not a true self-expression, not based on unfettered election between right and wrong, between good and evil, in the light of conscience and his personal moral code. An example of freedom of choice is freedom of association--for instance, freedom to join, or not to join, any particular organization (such as an organization of employers or of employees) without compulsion by government or by any others. This means any organization for a lawful purpose--not a conspiracy to commit murder, for example, and not a conspiratorial, subversive organization such as the Kremlin-controlled Communist ("Party") conspiracy which aims to subvert the United States government and all other American governments as well as to destroy all traditional American values; as to which the overt act of joining the conspiracy is the main factor creating guilt by association of persons, not of ideas. (Discussed also in Par. 6 of Principle 4 and Par. 9 of Principle 7.)
The "Self" Factors of Free Men
5. Liberty means Man's freedom which characterizes a wisely and soundly self-governing people, determined to live up fully to high ideals in the enjoyment of The Individual's rights and in the performance of the accompanying duties defined by these essential elements of the philosophy of truly Free Man:
(1) the spiritual: self-respect; (2) the economic: self-reliance; (3) the political-social: self-discipline.
These are the "self" factors characteristic of the self-governing and genuine Free Man.
6. Fundamentally, self-respect stems from Man's realization of the truth that the Spiritual is supreme and that he is of Divine creation, therefore possessed of a spiritual nature; and that The Individual is therefore of supreme dignity and value. Self-respect is fostered and evidenced by The Individual's striving to maintain the integrity of his unalienable rights. This is manifested partly by insisting that government as well as others respect them--in keeping with the requirements of constitutionally limited government. It is further manifested by his dedication to his own unceasing growth in the fuller realization of his own highest potential--spiritually, morally and intellectually, in every aspect of life.
7. Self-reliance in the economic field--of the essence of Individual Liberty-Responsibility--is an essential characteristic of Free Man. This is true because dependence upon government for economic support inescapably saps the independence of Man's spirit, robs him of the inspiration and inclination to be individually venturesome and self-reliant, and undermines his willingness and capacity to oppose developments of a Government-over-Man nature including violation by government of the unalienable rights of himself and others. Such violation can be brought about by use of force, or by inducement through subsidy by government which is inescapably accompanied by control. As The Federalist (number 79, by Alexander Hamilton) soundly states: "In the general course of human nature, a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will." (Emphasis Hamilton's.) This truth, in keeping with the adage that "he who pays the piper calls the tune" as well as with the dictates of common sense born of experience, was acknowledged by the United States Supreme Court when it stated (1936 Butler case) that: "The power to confer or withhold unlimited benefits is the power to coerce or destroy." Firm belief in the supreme value of Liberty--to the complete subordination always of economic security to Liberty's well-being--and consistent action in support of this belief, are always chief characteristics of every American who is worthy of his heritage of Free Man.
8. Self-discipline involves, in main part, The Individual's faithful performance of the duties underlying Individual Liberty-Responsibility, in keeping with the truth that there can be no Right apart from Duty, no Liberty or Freedom apart from Responsibility. The self-discipline of the self-governor is the alternative to being disciplined and controlled by government. Self discipline by The Individual, by respecting the boundary line separating his rights from the equal rights of others, provides the requisite moral basis for prohibiting violation by them of his own rights. Self-discipline, in the political-social realm, is a principle characteristic of Free Man among Free Men in an enduring and ethical environment of freedom. This is the only environment in which Individual Liberty can be secure and flourish.
As to each Individual among a self-governing people under constitutionally limited government, self-discipline involves self-control with regard to making demands upon government. The inherent duties require that nothing be done to help induce government to violate the limits of its powers or corresponding responsibilities as defined in the people's fundamental law: the Constitution, regardless of any seeming benefits temporarily. Such sound conduct is required, in part, in order to help to influence others soundly by proper example in keeping with the moral precept that, in this limited but important sense as to things governmental, each Individual is his "brother's keeper."
Liberty's Two-fold Meaning
9. Liberty is expressive of that within Free Man which reflects the essence of his mind and spirit--of his very soul, in the religious sense implicit in the uniquely American concept of Man's being endowed by his creator with unalienable rights. This is what was meant when American leaders of 1776-1787 used the word "Liberty"--for instance, Patrick Henry in his famed cry "Give me liberty or give me death." This is what was meant by Benjamin Franklin in his profoundly true statement in 1759 that: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Such convictions typify Americans. These spokesmen for Free Man in America meant primarily Man's Liberty against Government-over-Man. Included also, of course, is Man's right to freedom from violation of his rights by others than government--by any person, group or organization. The "safety" to which Franklin referred can soundly be said to include also the economic aspect: economic security provided by government--always involving sacrifice of Liberty, in varying degree, however subtle or disguised.
The Lofty Challenge
10. The signers of the Declaration of Independence elevated Patrick Henry's glowing expression of this loftiest of sentiments regarding Liberty to the highest reaches of the human mind and spirit when they closed this 1776 Declaration's uniquely American message, to American Posterity and to all mankind, with these immortal words:
"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor."
On a similarly high plane, President Washington's First Inaugural Address defined the great opportunity and responsibility of the American people - as custodians of Individual Liberty-Responsibility in history's first example of a soundly conceived and adequately founded Republic (defined, for example, in Par. 6 of Principle 5) embracing an entire country and its people. His inspiring words were:
". . . the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty. and the destiny of the Republic model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally stated, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." (Emphasis Washington's)
(True Republics had been formed in Mass., 1780, and N.H., 1784.) This profound message to all generations of Americans emphasizes their true role and opportunity in relations with other peoples: to seek to influence them chiefly by sound example, as successful self-governors ever faithful to the Constitution's spirit and letter, as never faltering Friends of Individual Liberty--of Man's Freedom from Government-over-Man.
11. The American philosophy teaches that Individual Liberty is indivisible and for one and all, or for none, in the long run--that the American choice is: Individual Liberty in full, for one and all, always.