Freedom

The following quote is the beginning of The Law by Frederic Bastiat, a 19th Century French philosopher and economist. Bastiat understood the concepts which originate in Natural and Divine Law and that had been echoed by Samuel Rutherford, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson. He understood the issues and wrote a thorough, though short, analysis of the issues and distortions of the eternal truths being presented in his day. I hope that we can learn from what he and others left for us so that we do not follow the all to familiar path of freedom to complacency to tyranny.

We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life -- physical, intellectual, and moral life.

But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course.

Life, faculties, production--in other words, individuality, liberty, property -- this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.

Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.

What, then, is law? It is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.

Each of us has a natural right--from God--to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?

I have been teaching a course on the Foundations of Freedom to a group of homeschool students. One of their assignments was to write a speech. The context was this: You are having dinner with the president of the United States and he says to you "The U.S. is the most free country in the world." How do you respond? Do you agree or disagree? Write a speech using arguements and evidence to back up your position.
I chose to write a speech that met my requirements to present to the students after they had given their speeches. The text of that speech is below.

Is America Free?

I haven't traveled around the world, so I have no ability to compare America to other nations other than by reading news articles. Because of my lack of experience in this area, I cannot agree with or deny the idea that America is free compared to other nations. However, I think that I can evaluate the America I see against the ideal of freedom as I have studied it. Great and wise people through history have written about freedom, liberty, law, politics and economics. They left in their writings the history of their experiences and the conclusions to which they came based on those experiences. Drawing on their writings and my own experience, I can propose an ideal of freedom, liberty and law and we can compare America to that ideal.

Liberty under law. That was the cry of the liberal thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries: thinkers such as Adam Smith, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, Frederic Bastiat and others. They, and I, believe that man should be free to act as he wills as long as he does not harm others, either by encroachment or by breaking his word. This, then, shows us what law is to do. Law must prevent encroachment and uphold promises which today we call contracts.

Should law tell us what we should do? Never! Law should always be stated in the negative. Law should tell us clearly and concisely what we are prohibited from doing. And what are the realms where man should be protected from encroachment? First, and most important, is life. The law should uphold man's life, the life that man was given by God. God, in giving life to man, expected that man would sustain his life. This thought leads us to the second realm into which the law should prevent encroachment: liberty. If man has life, but is prevented from applying his mind and muscle to the world in order to provide himself with food, clothes and shelter, how can he sustain his life? The law must uphold and prevent encroachment into man's liberty - the application of his faculties to the natural world. And what of the products of a man's ideas and action? Does not the chair formed by the carpenter out of wood the carpenter cut in the forest belong to the carpenter? Does not the produce of the tilled and planted field belong to the one who tilled and planted it? Thus we find that third, the law should protect a man's property - that property being the product of his liberty and the natural resources of the world. In these three realms, and in these three only, should the law prevent certain actions.

Let us consider for a moment the ideas of politics - politics being the art of governance. Government consists of three parts: legislative, executive and judicial. The legislative part examines these three realms of law and the situations of the day and proposes ways of wording documents which embody the three realms of law in applicable ways such to prevent encroachment and uphold contracts. The executive provides for ways that these documents of legislation be enforced. The judicial is the part which examines situations and determines whether encroachment occurred or contracts were broken and proposes a solution which attempts to alleviate the harm of the situation.

How can we be sure that the politicians and people do not pervert the law for their own selfish gain or the gain of others? After all, Lord Acton upon examining the governments and political systems of the world penned that "Power corrupts." How can we keep the governing bodies from becoming corrupted and thus corrupting the law? Two immediate answers come to mind. First, the power of any political group, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, must be limited. In addition, the power of the people themselves must be checked. But what can check the power of the people? John Adams wrote of America, "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Thus we see that second, a foundational morality, a religious virtue, is necessary to prevent the degradation of the law. Unless the people hold to a moral code, they will pervert the law in any way they feel it will benefit them. After all, it is this moral code under the law which makes the law right and without moral backing the law loses any real meaning.

What kind of government, then, can prevent such decay? Plato proposed that the polis or state should be ruled by a philosopher. He felt that the wise could be trusted to hold power, absolute power, and not abuse it. Yet anywhere that we look in history where a single ruler held absolute power, corruption, oppression and tyranny ensued. Think back to the ancient kings of Egypt, Israel and Babylon, the Caesars of Rome, and the modern tyrants such as Hitler in Germany, Franco in Spain, Stalin in the U.S.S.R. and Hussein in Iraq. No, we cannot trust a single ruler nor even an oligarchy or an aristocracy. A single individual or a small group of individuals will be corrupted if they hold power over the people. What form of government, then, can we choose? A democracy? A rule of the people, by the people?

To evaluate the ability of democracy to uphold and prevent the corruption of the law and limit political power, let us think back to the city of Athens in ancient Greece. In the setting of Athens was one Socrates. Here he was born, lived, and died. He spent much of his life asking questions, ever seeking wisdom and truth. As Socrates questioned people, the ignorance of many who were considered wise was made plain, to the embarrassment of the same. Socrates even questioned the religious customs of himself and his people. He gathered about himself a group of men who, like him, wished to see the truth and Socrates began to influence these young people. But by asking such questions, Socrates had made many enemies - enemies who began to seek his destruction. In time Socrates was brought to trial on charges of impiety and corrupting the youth. He was tried before a jury of Athenians, found guilty and sentenced to death. And yet, Socrates was guilty of neither charge. Justice, the rule of law, in Athens was set aside to silence an undesirable citizen. So we see that democracy, the rule by the people, can easily pervert the law. But what of limiting power? Does democracy prevent the consolidation of power into the hands of a group or single person? Let us consider the Greek statesman Pericles. Pericles was contemporary with Socrates and was powerful politician. So powerful, in fact, that the Greek historian Thucydides wrote that government under Pericles was as rule by a single great man. Pericles held such power that the people simply followed him. They followed him into the Peloponnesian war - a war against Sparta which they lost, a war which was started only for the purpose of building an Athenian empire. The danger of democracy is just as troubling today. When the general mass of people rules, they will soon learn that they can band together to pervert the law to their own benefit. No check on the power of the people exists and the people, through legislation, will pervert justice and cease to uphold proper law. What a democracy gives is, in the words of John Stuart Mill, a tyranny of the majority.

To what system of governance can we then turn? Does any system of governance place law at the foundation and limit the power of all? There is, perhaps, one type of government which can provide these needs - a republic. But, what is a republic? Isn't it just another name for a democracy? Some may use republic and democracy interchangeably, but their ideas of governance are worlds apart. The foundational idea of a republican form of government is the rule of law - law which prevents encroachment and upholds contracts. The main idea of a republic is that no one, not even the government, may disobey the law. The workings of a republic can vary but they generally divide power into three sectors: legislative, executive and judicial. Of these, judicial is most important, since, under a republic, law is the foundation. Certainly the people have a part to play in a republic, but the power of the people is checked by the law, because the law is based on morality and cannot be changed by the will of the majority. Thus we see that a republican form of government can uphold the law and prevent the consolidation of power into the hands of a few. This form of government protects all under it, for the legal rights of the minority cannot be trampled by the majority.

Let us return to our main question of freedom of America. How does America stand up to these ideals of law and governance? Do we Americans have liberty under law? Are the rights of the minority upheld against a majority? Is power limited so that people can remain free?

Today it is quite popular to refer to America as a democracy. More and more people forget that the background of law, law based on morality, was the foundation of America. President Bush, in his State of the Union address in 2005, spoke of "the role of courts in our democracy" thus denying our republican heritage. In contrast, Benjamin Franklin, when asked after the Constitutional Convention about the form of government which had been decided upon, replied "A republic, madam, if you can keep it." One may wonder what brought about the change in our understanding of the fundamentals of our government. Did we desire a democracy more than a republic and change the effective governance ourselves? Perhaps a change in the religious and moral background of the people of America is the cause. The Christian tradition upholds the ideals of liberty under law and limited government as manifested in a republic while the Humanist tradition, as it states in the Humanist Manifesto II, is "committed to an open and democratic society."

How does this democracy affect the freedom and security of Americans today? Because of the change in the conception of government and law, our Congress has ceased to operate as a legislature and now operates as a supreme law giver. This democratic system has flooded our nation with laws, laws of human invention not rooted in natural law or morality. The law no longer tells us what is prohibited in the name of protecting life, liberty, property and contracts; rather it tells us how we should live and act and forces upon us obligations which remove property, liberty and even life. The law of America has been perverted; it allows the seizing of property from it rightful owners and the giving of it to others, it restricts the liberty of the people to freely conduct business and govern their own affairs, and it allows the arbitrary taking of human life.

No, America is not free. We have given up the limits of government which would protect us from arbitrary power. We have cast aside the foundation of law as supreme which would safeguard from the whimsical will of the people our natural rights of life, liberty, property and contracts. We have discarded natural law and morality for our share in the spoils of the plundering political law. America has indeed abandoned liberty and law.

Ben Kuehmichel, Copyright 2005.