Monday, February 16, 2009

If you want liberty for yourself, you have to allow it for everybody

In the comments to my jury nullification piece at The Examiner (yes, I read comments) Smitty was especially on-point when he said, "The real problem might be toleration, or more accurately, the lack of it. We wish our preferred freedoms to be respected, while applauding governmental crackdowns upon those freedoms we dislike or are indifferent to." Frankly that's been an ongoing hurdle in the effort to preserve and extend liberty. Until pot-smokers and gun owners and low-taxers and sexual minorities recognize that liberty is indivisible and that we're all in this together, we're going to be picked off piecemeal by government officials all too happy to exploit our mutual antagonisms.

After World War II, Pastor Martin Niemöller voiced several variants of the following sentiments in his public speeches:

When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I was not a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

Along the same lines, Benjamin Franklin once commented, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

It comes down to the same thing: When liberty is under attack, everybody is at risk. But that's not what the politicians and inspectors and tax collectors and police officers say, of course. No, they're all too happy to tell you that the queers next door are a threat to your way of life, or that the gun nuts are a public danger, or that the tax dodgers are greedy and not doing their fair share, or the store keepers are running amuck without entangling red tape, or that the pot heads are lazy parasites who will corrupt your kids.

But once the politicians and inspectors and tax collectors and police officers are done with the queers, they'll happily shift their sights to the gun nuts, then to the tax dodgers, the store keepers, and then the pot heads, and ...

Where were you planning to hide? Forget about it. Because you're some kind of menace, too, and you'll be fresh out of allies if you don't realize that the freedom of people you don't care very much about is just as important as your own.

The sort of people who make up the political class -- the control freaks of the world -- are experts at divide and conquer. They have all sorts of reasons why you should be glad that somebody else is being hemmed in by laws and threatened with prison. Those people are bad -- until it's you who's so bad. What the control freaks will never tell you is that they'd be entirely unable to impose those draconian laws and threats if you'd ally yourselves with those different folks and their peculiar interests to protect their liberty and your own at the same time.

You don't care about your neighbor's gun collection and he doesn't give a damn about your pot farm? So what? If you help each other out, everybody wins. If you don't, you'll both end up losing something you want, or else hiding it in the shadows and hoping for the best.

Keep that in mind the next time a politician promises to protect you from bogeymen who look an awful lot like the pleasant couple who live down the street. Maybe it's time to knock on their door and talk about an alliance of convenience.

Because you're not going to stay free if the only liberty you care about is your own.



Blogger Kent McManigal said...

Absolutely dead-on.

February 16, 2009 9:20 PM  
Blogger MCLA said...

"Because you're not going to stay free if the only liberty you care about is your own."

Well said!

February 16, 2009 10:24 PM  
Anonymous sunni said...

Spot on! Now, maybe if we all say it enough, it will start to penetrate some thick skulls ... both inside and outside the libertarian movement.

February 17, 2009 7:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I doubt that your point will be foisted to the core of the civil liberties movement, but I believe it is the core principal. At issue for an individual is consideration of the trade-off between the (perhaps artificial) comfort we are provided by limitations on the freedom of others vs. the flexibility, power, and independence inherent in our own freedom.

As you have so aptly pointed out, we are largely responsible for the restrictions that bind each of us today because we don't value freedom for freedom's sake. We only value freedom for actions we deem ourselves likely to take.

However as can be seen from other comments in this thread, this will continue to be the primary tool that government uses to increase its restrictions on us until we are able to draw a common 'line in the sand', and agree to defend the freedom of one another up to the point of this line.

I believe that this line should be drawn based upon the answer to this question: Will allowing others to engage in {insert controversial behavior here} likely harm ME or MY FAMILY in a way that I am powerless to prevent? If the answer is "No", then I believe we should fight for the freedom of the individual. If the answer is "Yes", I believe we should first attempt to explore possibilities where the answer could be "No", and adapt if possible. If ultimately there is no reasonable protection or course of action, then I would be on the side of the regulators.

Specifically, I believe it is in the pursuit of protection of unspecified people in theoretical circumstances that we support regulation, even when we believe we wouldn't be personally harmed should said activity be permitted. I think we consider ourselves strong and resilient, but consider others helpless.

But when we don't apply the standard of "how will this affect ME", we fall prey to the squeeze between the good guys and the bad guys. The bad guys will do something bad. The good guys, unable to stop the bad guys, will then exaggerate the likelihood of our own injury, increase fear as much as possible, and then ask us to immediately and tangibly give away our freedom in exchange for protection from theoretical harm. Unfortunately we only gain in theory but what we lose each time is tangible and cumulative.

Keep up the good fight!

John Kennedy / Michigan

February 17, 2009 11:56 AM  
Blogger Kent McManigal said...

"Will allowing others to engage in government likely harm ME or MY FAMILY in a way that I am powerless to prevent?"

Yes, absolutely. Powerless to LEGALLY prevent, anyway, since the thugs of government wrap a shroud of legal protections around themselves.

February 17, 2009 2:55 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home