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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

How Political Talk Threatens Liberty

American political talk has always revolved around the concept of “liberty” or “freedom.”  This remains the case.  However, what often goes unnoticed, at least by the more vocal champions of liberty, is that much of this talk militates decisively against liberty.

Our founding fathers, recognizing that liberty requires as wide a dispersion of power and authority as possible, bequeathed to their posterity a government that is self-divided.  In spite of the singularity of the term, the American “government” actually consists of many governments, each sovereign in its own specifically delineated arena. Even the federal government is comprised of multiple branches, and within these branches, authority and power is further distributed.  As the founders conceived it, the federal government—precisely because it was a federal, and not a national, government—was severely limited in its scope.

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Although we still talk the talk of liberty, our vocabulary reveals that we have long since stopped walking the walk.

For example, we insist on crediting politicians when they “lead,” and blaming them when they fail to do so.  But this concept of leadership in politics is inimical to liberty.  The last thing that a liberty-loving people should want is a political leader.  Indeed, a champion of liberty who elects a leader is a contradiction in terms: the lover of liberty is not about to “follow” any politician anywhere. 

Although our elected representatives are custodians of our laws, they are as much bound by them as is every other citizen.  We are a nation of laws, not of men, as we are fond of saying.  Law—as opposed to commands or orders—doesn’t tell us what to do.  It simply tells us how we must do whatever it is we ourselves decide upon doing.

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Law doesn’t lead.  It has no destination, no end or purpose.

The lover of liberty abhors the notion of a political leader.  He wants nothing more or less than for his representatives to govern or, what amounts to the same thing, to rule in accordance with constitutionally sound law.

Interestingly, right-leaning commentators seem to have a glimpse of this insight when they decry as condescending or even “racist” the idea of the black leader.  Why is it, they facetiously ask, that it is only blacks who allegedly need leaders?  What they appear to be getting at here is that blacks should be treated like every other American as self-governing agents.        

Another word that I would like to see go the way of the dinosaur is “capitalism.”  This is a term that was originally coined by communists in the nineteenth century.  What it suggests—and what it was meant to suggest—is that societies differ from one another principally in terms of their economic systems or ideologies.

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In reality, however, what is derisively referred to as “capitalism” is neither an economic system nor an ideology of economics.  It isn’t a system or an ideology of any sort.  “Capitalism” is what happens when people are free.  That is, it is what occurs when political authority is decentralized and power diffused. 

Terms like “free enterprise system” and “economic liberty” are better than capitalism.  But they too fail to do justice to the liberty that we at one time prized.

As for the former,America is not an enterprise at all.  An enterprise is defined by its goal, some satisfaction that it wishes to achieve.  A business, for instance, is as clear an illustration of an enterprise as any, for the primary goal of a business is to procure the goal of profit.  In a business, there are leaders—CEO’s, say—who everyone in its employment are expected to follow.

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“Economic liberty” is a misnomer insofar as it too implies that there is some kind of liberty that is distinct from other kinds.  In other words, it obscures the fact that the liberty to trade material goods is part and parcel of the very same liberty of people to do whatever they want to do so long as their activities conform to law.

There is no “economic liberty.”  There is only liberty.

Americans from across the political spectrum have a penchant for lamenting “divisiveness” and longing for “unity.”  In some contexts, this is appropriate.  Yet the context of the political arrangements of a liberty-loving people isn’t one of them. 

Our liberty depends upon a divided government. It can thrive only if there is divisiveness—lots of divisiveness.  Indeed, if people are at liberty to formulate their own beliefs and pursue their own ends, how can there not be conflict?  How can there be unity in such an environment?

The words we use are crucial. They are the terms in which we think.

If we wish to think clearly about liberty, then we need to recognize and rid ourselves of those words that promise to impede this task.      

originally published at World Net Daily

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