Safeguarding Our Freedom

It is easy to become alarmed by the growing number of intrusions on our freedom; it is harder to understand where solutions lie. Many of us believe that the solution is a political one—find and then elect a politician who promises to strengthen the freedoms we value. As we do so, we often miss the essential point—our own freedom can only be guaranteed as we work to guarantee the freedom of others.

For example, those who drink and sell raw milk have found their freedom to do so trampled upon by local, state, and federal governments. AT&T is not free to merge with T-Mobile. Raw milk advocates may believe that their freedom has nothing to do with the freedom of a big corporation to utilize their capital assets, and AT&T executives may believe that their interests have nothing to do with raw milk advocates. We may not see the connection between these examples and our own freedom, but in essence, the connection is there. Believing a government that tramples on the rights of one group can be trusted to ensure the rights of another group is absurd.

Consider the detention of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul this week. Paul was traveling back to Washington when he set off an airport screening device. Paul refused a pat down and offered to go through the screening device again. The TSA refused and detained Paul for about an hour and a half.

The blow-by-blow account of the Paul incident was not as important as the reaction of the American public afterwards. In newspaper forums, Americans ridiculed Rand Paul; to be sure, others shared but did not display contempt for him.

Consider these comments by New York Times readers:

The effort of the Paul nut-jobs to undermine the TSA could put us all at risk.

In Paul’s Libertarian world you would never need to worry about airport pat-downs because you could not afford to leave the Monsanto collective at which you toiled 16 hours for goulash.

One New York Times reader, appalled by the abuse heaped at Paul wrote, “Aldous Huxley was right. The powers that be can get people to actually LOVE their servitude. Somebody speaks out against increasing government intrusion, and the masses just poke fun at him?”

And then there are those comments that reveal exactly why our freedoms are eroding. Consider this Times reader who apparently believes he has no rights other than what government grants him: “If TSA wants me to strip naked in the center of the airport fine by me… Most importantly flying is not a right (Constitutional or otherwise), it is a privilege and presently that privilege occasionally involves some guy or gal running his or her hand up your thigh or around your waist line.”

Would this commenter be appalled if freedoms he values were threatened? Sadly, he has no understanding that only by defending the rights of others does he get to enjoy his rights.

It should be clear why that is the case. Either government grants us rights or rights are inherent in each of us. If the latter is the case, the role of government is to protect and not to grant those rights. The understanding that government protects rather than grants rights is at the core the revolutionary basis of this country.

If government grants us rights, those rights by definition are continually insecure. Should we be surprised that the TSA is now claiming to have the authority to set up checkpoints at railroad and bus stations? Should we be surprised if at a future date pedestrians are stopped and asked to show their papers?

If the New York Times commenter is asked for his papers on Madison Avenue, will he then claim that walking is a right and not a privilege? Probably, but it will be too late. The heavy lifting to obtain acquiescence to violate our rights would have already been done by individuals such as himself. If the newspaper forums are any judge, many people believe it is okay to violate the rights of those with whom they disagree.

Or consider those on the “right”, such as Newt Gingrich, who apparently hold very similar beliefs as those who read the New York Times. In 1996 Gingrich supported (and recently defended) legislation that would condemn “anyone coming home to the U.S. and caught carrying enough marijuana (2 oz.) to distributed… to life imprisonment with no parole — or if caught twice, … to death.”

Do you see the connection? Gingrich believes that government grants us the privilege of what we do with our body—be it ingesting raw milk or marijuana—and the Times reader believes that government grants us privileges such as flying. Both believe that our rights begin with the dictates of politicians.

Until both “conservatives” and “liberals” see that their rights are only as strong as their defense of the rights of others, year-by-year, our freedoms will weaken. If this trend continues, the terrible government that, no doubt, will come our way will be exactly the government we deserve.

5 Responses to Safeguarding Our Freedom

  1. Chris Claypoole says:

    But why do I get the government THEY deserve? I’m quite frustrated with people I know, work with, etc., telling me that we need the TSA to be safe, that I shouldn’t be so (fill in the blank, but it amounts to some variation of “individualistic”), or that flying is not a right, so I should shut up or drive. We are being conditioned to NOT travel, to blindly obey the silliest of orders, submit to any indignity, because someone with a position of “authority” tells us it’s for our own good. I enjoy thinking for myself, and am quite bemused (and annoyed) by the majority of folks that find that exercise painful and difficult. I am beginning to discover how Mencken felt, and I don’t enjoy it, as I am not a tenth the writer he was, and cannot express those feelings adequately.

    • Barry Brownstein says:

      Chris,

      “But why do I get the government THEY deserve?” Now that could have been written by Mencken!

      As a long as a growing minority (perhaps majority by now?) believes government grants us rights, this may end very badly for all of us.

  2. Paul B. Donhauser says:

    Professor:

    In reading your title to this post, I did a double take at the source as my RSS feed also delivers me RSS feeds from the NRA-ILA. At first glance that was the author I assumed composed such a headline. Keeping that in mind, I would like to comment on your Rand Paul incident commentary.

    When I first learned of this incident, I laughed and thought to myself why Paul was making such a big deal about the airport security. As the Times reader you quoted proffered, our Constitution does not guarantee us a right to fly. What the Bill of Rights does afford citizens, however, is protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and therein lies the litmus test.

    Citing Rousseau’s and Locke’s social contract theories, the government must derive its power from the people, consent of the governed. These very basic principals upon which our country was founded are, indeed, being violated by big-government, mainly at the Federal level but Maryland’s hands are by no means clean of the blood of its taxpayers either, daily. It is certainly no doubt government has far, far overstepped its power granted by its people. Nonetheless, in terms of air travel and using the scales to weigh the liberties sacrificed in exchange for order, I would say most Americans in the wake of 9/11 and the religious radicalism of the middle east would support the majority of TSA policies. I, a self-proclaimed constitutional conservative in my own right, am certainly willing to be subjected to the increased security of a patdown or similar non-invasive security protocol if it meant that our country never would have to experience the pain that was 9/11 ever again. Simply put, I believe the increased security at airports is a perfect example of an instance in which a governed people affirmatively give up certain limited rights in exchange for the protection of the government, for the better.

    Now, a Ron Paul supporter for President that I am (given the circus that is the Republican primary this year), I believe Senator Paul’s altercation is nothing more than a meager publicity stunt on his part, blown out of proportion by the media as is their usual practice. The increased airport security is common knowledge and should be know to Senator Paul. For a few moments, or in rare extreme cases a few hours, an individual should allow a thorough inspection of their person and belongings when attempting to board a commercial flight. The extent of that inspection is certainly debatable. X-ray-like scans that reveal silhouettes of genitalia, etc., I believe are unreasonable. A patdown similar to what one would receive entering Raven’s stadium, metal scanners, chemical/gun powder residue chemical testing on carry-on luggage, and random interviews of anyone raising suspicion at the TSA’s discretion I believe are all reasonable expectations for global well-being of airline passengers. Such policies do not violate the liberties guaranteed and are completely consistent with sovereign people yielding modest freedoms in exchange for protection of life under the law.

    In further analysis, the search and seizure right appropriately protects against the government’s ability to arbitrarily search one’s property, person, etc. Particularly, it has long been held that a citizen’s presumption of privacy under this amendment carries heavier weight as it pertains to a residence or real property as opposed to a citizen’s vehicle pulled over on a public highway. Taking it a step further, one’s presumption of privacy would be and should be even less when attempting air travel.

    I would also like to briefly touch on the GOP candidates this year. Ron Paul is the only candidate legitimately committed to restoring the values upon which this country was founded. The Federal Government MUST start to return power to the states and the people. A great number of the petty partisan disputes in Congress would be eliminated if this simple goal would be a priority to elected officials. The economy, largely as a result of government intervention via increased government spending, handouts, the Federal Reserve, bailouts, and lobbied subsidies, is so divergent from the actual market supply and demand that investors and consumers continue to invest at economically unsustainable rates. These economic policies of the Federal Government must be the main priority in this upcoming election to be reversed and no other candidate would prioritize accordingly other than Paul. In this sense, I recall Congressman Paul’s response at a recent debate to Santorum’s accusation of having a 50% pro-life rating where Paul indicates that he is devoutly pro-life, but as a FEDERAL congressman, does not support legislation outlawing abortion as he believes it to be a state issue. Paul said something along the lines of, “[the Constitution] does allow for the States to deal with difficult problems, [as a] matter of fact, it allows the States deal with almost all the problems if you look at it. These powers are not given to the Congress. I see abortion as a violent act and all other violent acts are handled by the States: murder, burglary, violence, that’s a state issue. So don’t say that I am less pro-life because I want to be particular about the way we do it and allow the States to… this is the solution, because if we would allow the States to write their laws, take away the jurisdiction by a majority vote in Congress, you repeal Roe v. Wade overnight…”

    The other candidates in the GOP field are not even worth mentioning, because they all continue to make their paramount issues ones which are nowhere near as important as our liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the economy at this time. It is a shame Governor Ehrlich does not run. The Governor recently released a book, “Turn This Car Around: The Roadmap to Restoring America” and I HIGHLY recommend your reading it. In it, Ehrlich gives his blue-collar conservative views a libertarian twist (e.g.: calling for the decriminalization of marijuana, etc.) yielding a prescription which this country desperately needs to reverse the detrimental economic and other policies which continually overstep the power of government.

    • Barry Brownstein says:

      Paul,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I would disagree with you and the Times reader concerning “Our Constitution does not guarantee us a right to fly.”

      On the contrary, as you write government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. Our Constitution gave government few and defined powers. Some rights are itemized in the Bill of Rights but everything else as the 9th Amendment specifies is retained by the people.

    • Chris Claypoole says:

      Paul,
      You wrote the phrase, “liberties sacrificed in exchange for order”. Aside from Franklin’s admonition on the subject of giving up liberty for security, governments can no more bring order to aviation than they can to economic activity. How many potential terrorists have the TSA procedures discovered? (Hint: zero) And to call the TSA pat-down a “non-invasive security protocol” is similar to denying that waterboarding is torture, because no blood is spilt. And the pain of 9/11 is experienced nearly every month on US roads (up until 2009, there have been at lease 3,000 deaths, on average, every month), albeit in a more diffuse and distributed manner. I reject your proposition that the people “affirmatively” gave up their rights, as the TSA was not put to any sort of plebiscite. They have certainly been propagandized and frightened into accepting it, because few people understand the statistical probability (vanishingly small) of being harmed in a terrorist incident (there is your blown out of proportion by the media). However, the flying public does know how to handle wannabe terrorist on planes now, as evidenced by the fate of the shoe-bomber and underwear bomber.

      What the TSA seems to be good at, however, is stealing from luggage, getting huffy with anyone who questions their “authoritah”, and strip-searching elderly ladies. In short, they are bullies.

      I won’t go into your discussion of rights, as you and I obviously are operating with different assumptions, and we would be generating heat, but little light. However, your assertion that “The Federal Government MUST start to return power to the states and the people” is a bit naive in light of your earlier statements about order and rights. If any government can put a restriction on an activity, it is no longer a right. If a government gets to define what is order, that government no longer has to care about the consent of the governed.

      As far as Bob Ehrlich goes, his dedication to his ideals can be measured by how little he promoted them while in office. Of course he had no chance of getting them through an overwhelmingly Democrat legislature, but the power of fighting in a lost but just cause is not to be underestimated. He is, after all is said and done, another politician. But, again, we have different basic philosophies on this topic, as I am a libertarian free-market anarchist, although I have some good friends who are paleoconservatives. But, as others have commented, “We’re not voting our way out of this mess.”

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