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Life Without Liberty is Unthinkable, So Think About It

Life Without Liberty is Unthinkable, So Think About It

Important. Precious. Indispensable. Priceless. Liberty is all these and more. And yet, people frequently vote it away in exchange for a short-term advantage or benefit

To declare that liberty is important is a monumental understatement. It is so very much more than that. Not even the adjective “precious” does it full justice.

Without liberty (or without the hope of ever securing it), I dare say that life itself would hardly be worth living. It is indispensable to each person’s uniqueness or individuality. If you’re not free to choose, so long as you do no harm to others, then you’re not living your own life; others (slave masters, for example) are living their lives through you. George Orwell gave us a chilling description of what the future would look like without liberty when he wrote, “Imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

To punish the worst criminals, every society deprives the guilty man of some of his liberty. To take his life is to extinguish all of it. All over the world are regimes that do both to the innocent as well as the guilty. If you have a conscience, that should horrify you.

Liberty and freedom are often used as interchangeable terms, though they are not precisely the same thing. That’s a distinction worth noting, and I refer the reader to an essay by Brian Miller, in which the difference is carefully explained. In the quotations I cite below, however, the two terms are indeed used synonymously.

It should surprise no one that something as critical to life as liberty has produced an ocean of thought and action over the centuries. From earliest records to the present day, it spawns violent revolutions and inspires lofty movements. Untold millions have given their lives on its behalf. Literature is replete with analyses of it, tributes to it, and excoriations of those who oppose it.

Important. Precious. Indispensable. Priceless. Liberty is all these and more. And yet, people frequently vote it away in exchange for a short-term advantage or benefit. Apparently, we need regular reminders of exactly why it is important, precious, indispensable, and priceless.

Phrases about liberty

Liberty is at the core of some of the most eloquent statements ever uttered about anything. Four times a year in this space, I will offer the reader a small selection of those statements. Who uttered them is far less important than the wisdom in each statement itself. Think about each one. Talk to your children and your friends about their implications. In this way, make liberty something that’s never far from your either your thoughts, your lips, or your heart.

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“Now liberty and good government do not exclude each other; and there are excellent reasons why they should go together. Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life” – Lord Acton.

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“So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men” – Voltaire.

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“The most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity” — J. R. R. Tolkien.

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“If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?” — Frederic Bastiat.

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“The practical reason for freedom is that freedom seems to be the only condition under which any kind of substantial moral fiber can be developed. We have tried law, compulsion and authoritarianism of various kinds, and the result is nothing to be proud of” — Albert Jay Nock.

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“Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try to set them free. Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery” — Pope John Paul II.

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“The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both” — Milton Friedman.

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“There can be no greater stretch of arbitrary power than is required to seize children from their parents, teach them whatever the authorities decree they shall be taught, and expropriate from the parents the funds to pay for the procedure…. A tax-supported, compulsory educational system is the complete model of the totalitarian state” — Isabel Paterson.

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“Even despots accept the excellence of liberty. The simple truth is that they wish to keep it for themselves and promote the idea that no one else is at all worthy of it. Thus, our opinion of liberty does not reveal our differences but the relative value which we place on our fellow man. We can state with conviction, therefore, that a man’s support for absolute government is in direct proportion to the contempt he feels for his country” — Alexis de Tocqueville.

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“The worship of the state is the worship of force. There is no more dangerous menace to civilization than a government of incompetent, corrupt, or vile men. The worst evils which mankind ever had to endure were inflicted by bad governments. The state can be and has often been in the course of history the main source of mischief and disaster” — Ludwig von Mises.

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“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place…It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder…When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law” — Frederic Bastiat.

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“The saddest epitaph which can be carved in memory of a vanished liberty is that it was lost because its possessors failed to stretch forth a saving hand while yet there was time” – George Sutherland.

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