Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Demands of LIberty

Freedom is a difficult thing to accept. Not our freedom, of course, but that of others.

Our Lord put it simply. He said, in essence, everything boils down to us. It’s not all about us, of course, but it all starts with us, for, at least in a proximate sense, ourselves are all we have. We, in the final analysis, are all we can really do anything about.

In His Infinite Wisdom Our Lord knew this and so He began with us as the touch point for his moral teaching by saying we are to love others as we love ourselves; we are to are to treat others as we want to be treated.

His unequivocal teaching clearly implies that we need not go further than the impulses of our own longings and most ardent desires to know the most profound things about others and discover the laws, the standards as it were, by which we are to relate to our neighbor, whether he be next door or on the other side of the world.

This, I insist, is not Our Lord’s dogmatic teaching, but His practical one. He knew and knows us well. If his Life and Teaching tell us nothing else at all it tells us that Liberty, with all its attendant difficulties, is, even for a fallen creature, wounded as he is with concupiscence, is still the only valid thing; the only thing that works; the only thing that can lead us out of our present human dilemma and into that great and glorious liberty of the Sons and Daughters of God: Veritas liberabit vos.

We are to live here as if we are there, for in a sense, we are. The One who came to “restore all things” tells us we are to live on this earth under the One Law God established in the beginning, not the two preferred by a fallen creature as he soujourned east of Eden.

This imposition of the One Law, so succinctly given by Our Lord, presents a great and immediate difficulty to us fallen critters, for experience teaches us we are reflexively inclined to have one standard for ourselves and a quite different one for others.

What does this have to do with the Southern cause of liberty so immediately uppermost in many of our minds? What has this to do with the Founding of our once great Republic and the substance of our once functioning Constitution?

Worthy questions all! And in response I offer what I believe to be a worthy answer: “Simply everything.”

I bring this up here because experience has taught me that the One Law is a very easy thing to let slide, to conveniently overlook, to find momentary exception to, to rationalize away, to simply set aside out of fear or “practical” concerns, such as “the public good.” It is easy to pass over for these or any of a thousand and one other possible reasons.

In the face of all these “practical considerations,” I don’t recall Our Lord acknowledging any as valid enough to permit an exception to the One Law, even for a single instance.

I could, of course, be wrong, since I’m hardly any theologian or Scripture scholar. But if I am correct we don’t have a lot of wriggle room. In fact, we don’t have any at all.

Indeed, like W. C. Fields was said to have done in his cconvalescing years, we may search the Scripture looking for loop holes only to find there is no getting around the hard fact: we must grant our neighbor the same liberty, both in kind and degree, that we demand for ourselves.

The equality Jefferson spoke of in his celebrated Declaration may imply more than that, but it can never imply less than that. The moment equality becomes so distorted and misapplied as to impair and diminish liberty it not only ceases to be American, it ceases to be equality and morphs into tyranny.

Those of us who do accept the One Law have no cause for celebrating or indulging some sense of superiority. Acceptance is not accomplishment, it is only the beginning of our labors.

We must not only accept, we must conform to that which we have accepted. Anyone who has tried it even for a short time knows what failure is. He has also come to know that it takes real courage to remain consistent in supporting the One Law, and such a realization cannot help but cause us to view the Founders with renewed admiration, for they made the theme of their labors, their sine qua non, their final cause and pearl of great price that thing we call Liberty.

What would such a society look like? What form would it take? What would regulate it? Would statist tyranny be merely supplanted with a puritanical religion based one that erodes liberty under just another flag?

The exercise of mutual Liberty is a fearful thing because it demands as much trust from us as it grants to us. A society based on Liberty is, de facto, a society rooted in the necessity of trusting our neighbor to consider our good and not his only. A liberty based society cannot work under terms other than that and remain liberty based.

The fact that we now fear it and even doubt its possibility shows how far we are removed from the real demands of freedom. Yet, not long ago, it was not that way. I know, for I have witnessed it.

For instance, as a child I recall the trust and generosity of those Southeast Kentucky mountain folk I proudly and gratefully name as “my people.” The good people inhabiting those beautiful and gentle hills met strangers with curiosity, not suspicion. To say or think otherwise is to labour under the delusion of a false, yankeefied caricature.

Encounters with strangers commonly resulted in sitting down at a meal of fresh garden vegetables and home grown meats together and, afterwards, a friendly talk on the front porch about all manner of things as the summer afternoon slowly turned into evening, the long shadows of the mountains turn the land into black sillouhettes against a still bright pale blue sky and fireflies illuminated the evening with their magical, mystical light, all coordinated with the music of a thousand crickets.

My people reflexively assumed a good will in the stranger passing through or the new comer. This practice was not just a habit of body, it was a habit of mind and of soul––a common disposition. The stranger was assumed innocent until he had proven himself guilty beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt by a deliberate act of malice.

Was good will ever betrayed? Of course, but more times than not it was rewarded, and the rewards served as the bulwark that guarded against bitterness and cynicism.

Let us be plain about the consequences of the exercise of universal liberty: The moment we place our trust in another we lose total control. This abdication of control, freely chosen by the will, is nothing less than a rejection of the practice of personal tyranny. It takes courage and discipline.

At a lecture I attended last month Lew Rockwell gave a speech about liberty. In it he recounted an event in one of the Russian Republics freed of Soviet domination. It seems the leaders were all for a proposed reform up to the point they realized it required that the people have freedom of movement in the process of seeking a better life themselves and their families. These leaders simply could not accept freedom. They were like starving dogs who, coming upon food, could not bring themselves to eat.

They were like the fruit fly who had tried and failed to escape from a covered jar so many times they ceased to try, even long after its had been removed. Not only that, but these men God had created free, had become so enslaved in their minds, they not only refused freedom, they feared it. They opted for the thing to which their enslaved minds had become conditioned: central planning.

They demonstrated by their actions they not only did not trust their neighbor, they did not trust themselves outside of the security of the collective.

It is a fiction for us in America to entertain the notion that we are the least bit different, except perhaps in degree. The chief feature of one who has been propagandized is the denial that he has been propagandized.

I recently went for a haircut and was served by a lovely young lady of Mexican heritage. During our conversation I tried my best to explain to her what Liberty was all about and its value. I could see that she was genuinely interested but very unfamiliar with the subject. At one point in our conversation she said, “Well, liberty might be fine for most of us, but what about those who don’t know how to act?”

I answered that the greatest single factor in limiting our personal actions and choices in life is the same factor that regulates business choices in free markets: risk. The possibility of failure and the loss that inevitably follows.

I told her the one thing that a free society does not provide, at least as government policy, is a bailout. In a free society that is what the churches are for; to bind up the wounded, to instruct the ignorant and to encourage the fearful.

In a free society we do not need a police state to maintain order. Risk and the possibility of real loss, real punishment, real and severe consequences for criminal, immoral, irresponsible, fool hearty and abusive acts do the job more adequately, more perfectly and more completely than any police state ever could. Unlike the law enforcement officers that patrol the police state, the cause and effect of our choices in a free society never sleeps, never ceases to teach and instruct those with a teachable spirit, never ceases to encourage in just the right way by the very means of its punishments: natural law and a liberty based society go together like butter and toast––or my personal favorite: peanut butter and chocolate.

As I spoke I could see the light of liberty begin to shine in her eyes. She understood. She saw that liberty was not just good for me, the old guy of European descent, and bad for her, the immigrant from Mexico, but good for us both.

I spoke to her as I speak to every one else. I have no idea what she has been raised to think of the “gringo,” and I don’t care. Those of us who love liberty refuse to think in the categories of the ant-brained collectivist. I cared only that she saw the jewel of American liberty, if only for a fleeting moment.

I ended by paraphrasing that great lover of the Constitution and liberty, Dr. Ron Paul––a northerner by accident of birth, but in many ways one of us and one with us.

I told her the concern of those who love liberty is not that we all agree––forced agreement by any means is the way of the tyrant––those of us who love liberty care only that we all be free. Let us first establish that and then we may, without fear, labour to resolve all that remains.

Many of us in the South think that the greatest challenge we face is our struggle for independence from a tyrannical, rapacious government run amuck; a government that has rejected its foundational documents, heaped contempt upon its fundamental principles, ceased to serve the people and seeks only its own growth in power, prestige and control by despotism domestically and aggression abroad.

There is no denying it, this is a great challenge. But I believe we too have our own share of Stockholm syndrome.

We have been unconsciously wounded and do not see that our labors within ourselves are at least as great as those we face from without.

We need to consider the possibility a small swamp critter from the Okefenokee named Pogo knew long ago: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

How we face and deal with that fact will determine if, when the opportunity of liberty comes, whether we are ready and have the courage to live under its benevolent aegis, or whether we will simply seek to replace the Yankee’s brand of tyranny with some legalistic, theocratic horror of our own making.

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