If asked, most Americans have no trouble giving you a laundry list of explanations for why freedom is eroding in America. Some would blame the actions of President Obama. Others would blame the actions of President Bush. Many would blame a subservient Congress. Many others might blame terrorists— arguing that presidents and Congress are just taking necessary actions to protect the nation.
In other words, most people take an outside-in approach to explain why our freedoms are eroding. By an outside-in approach I mean we search for causes outside ourselves to explain events.
Once we take an outside-in approach, it is quite natural to think that the situation we are concerned about will resolve itself once we change the outside factor that we believe is most at fault. Those who think President Obama is at fault might look forward to a candidate such as Rand Paul, an outspoken supporter of civil liberties, winning the race for President in 2016.
In 2008 that outside-in approach didn’t work out too well. Many hoped President Obama would represent real change, and yet the election of President Obama has only accelerated the erosion of our freedoms. I wonder, how many of those disappointed voters are questioning their outside-in approach to solving problems?
Every day millions of people play the outside-in game by listening to pundits and commentators on talk radio and cable news shows. Emotions run high as the pundits denounce the bad guys. However satisfying it may feel to express anger at President Obama, former President Bush, or Congress, that anger does about as much to promote freedom as being angry at Coca-Cola does to promote healthy diets.
Coca-Cola sells soda because the public demands soda. President Obama takes away our freedoms because the public no longer seems to value freedom.
While pundits may help you carry on your part in a tedious conversation about who is to blame, they are almost certain to be ineffective in restoring America’s freedom. Why? Anger occupies bandwidth in our mind. When that bandwidth is occupied you will not receive inspired ideas about the unique things that you can do to help restore freedom in America. Anger generates conflict, not inspired ideas.
Restoring freedom in America requires an internal revolution. When that internal revolution occurs necessary changes will occur—attitudes will change, institutions will change, and advocates of freedom will be elected to public office. That day may still be many years away, but we can think of this internal revolution as a process. Acting from a place of conflict in our minds slows down that process.
For all of our distress as a nation, we never seem to question that we, the citizens, may be the cause of our eroding freedoms. In other words, rather than causation being outside-in, could it really be inside-out?
Instead of looking outside, look inside. The inner-work of freedom requires us to examine our own beliefs. What beliefs do you and I have that are empowering politicians and government official to strip of us our freedoms? Here are a few to consider:
Do you believe it is somebody else’s responsibility to insure your freedom? Wishing for freedom is not the same as taking the responsibility for understanding and creating the conditions under which freedom flourishes and thrives. A citizen that values freedom should always be learning about those conditions. Jefferson was a big proponent of knowledge as a safeguard of freedom. In his words, to be ignorant and at the same time free is a condition that “never was and never will be.” In his own life Jefferson observed he “was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led.”
Do you believe that others are less worthy of freedom than you are? For example, should drug users and prostitutes be incarcerated? If you answered yes on the grounds that a drug use is bad for society, would you imprison a father who ignores his family for golf and football on the grounds that neglecting his children contributes to juvenile delinquency? Would you imprison an obese individual on the grounds that they are raising health-care costs?
Watch this short segment as college students sign a petition to take away basic rights from Fox News employees. Do these students understand that every intrusion on the freedom of others erodes their own freedom? Ludwig von Mises wrote:
It is important to remember that government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action. Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen. The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.
Do you have a profound respect for your fellow citizens? Freedom requires it. Would you throw yourself in jail for doing drugs? If not, why would you throw somebody else in jail? Would you tolerate a SWAT team breaking into your home because an undercover officer thought you bought too “much” hydroponic equipment at a garden supply store? Would you have a gun drawn on your daughter for buying bottled water? If not, why aren’t you concerned when these things happen to our fellow citizens?
If you run a business, do you believe you are entitled to government subsidies? Do you believe you’re entitled to government protection from your competitors? The irony is that many businesspeople who claim to be supporters of capitalism actually spent millions lobbying government for subsidies and protection. They are not supporters of capitalism; they are among the biggest enemies of capitalism. Why? The public begins to forget that crony capitalism has nothing to do with the free market. They watch as our nation’s wealth is destroyed by crony capitalism and then demand more regulation of the free market which will only increase incentives for crony capitalism.
Let me hold up a mirror to see another belief that I fear is empowering politicians to take away our freedoms. Do you believe that our fellow citizens are capable of and deserve to be productive human beings? Most government aid programs begin with an outside-in mentality—at their foundation is a belief that some people are simply not capable. Can it really be that hundreds of millions of Americans are not capable of being happy and productive without government assistance?
Freedom flourishes when each person strives to live up to his or her potential. Each of us must ask ourselves if we are living up to our potential. The more we contribute positively to the lives of others through voluntary exchange and value creating production the more the economy progresses and society flourishes. Freedom is not a license to abandon your responsibilities to your family and society by drinking, by using drugs, or by settling for a career that does not allow development of your potentialities. As more people live happy, productive lives, the less demand there is for big government. If you are not living according to your highest purpose, what steps can you take to change course?
When we begin to understand why the maintenance of freedom requires inner-work we understand why Oliver DeMille wrote: “The real question isn’t ‘What is freedom?’ but rather ‘What is my role in freedom?’”
Professor Irwin Corey, “The World’s Foremost Authority” has quipped: “If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where were going.” Engaging ourselves in the inner-work of freedom is the only way to change direction.