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Life Without Liberty is Unthinkable, So Think About It

Life Without Liberty is Unthinkable, So Think About It – #2

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

A few months ago at El American, I introduced a series of occasional collections of great quotations on liberty. This column is the second in that series. Though I have retained the introductory paragraphs as they appeared in the first installment, the quotes below are all new to the series – LWR)

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.

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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.

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 either your thoughts, your lips, or your heart.

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“It constantly amazes me that defenders of the free market are expected to offer certainty and perfection while government has only to make promises and express good intentions. Many times, for instance, I’ve heard people say, “A free market in education is a bad idea because some child somewhere might fall through the cracks,” even though in today’s government school, millions of children are falling through the cracks every day” ― Lawrence W. Reed

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“Truth is the ground and condition of freedom. Unless it is true that human beings deserve to have fundamental liberties respected and protected, the tyrant does no wrong in violating them. Relativism, skepticism, and subjectivism about truth provide no secure basis for freedom. We should honor civil liberties because the norms enjoining us to respect and protect them are valid, sound, in a word, true” — Robert P. George

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“The ultimate aim of government is not to rule or restrain by fear, nor to exact obedience, but contrariwise, to free every man from fear, that he may live in all possible security; in other words, to strengthen his natural right to exist and work without injury to himself or others. No, the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty…The real disturbers of the peace are those who, in a free state, seek to curtail the liberty of judgment which they are unable to tyrannize over” — Baruch Spinoza

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Hilarious, brilliant, incisive are all terms that describe the late Stefan Kisielewski (1911-1991), a prominent Polish intellectual. He was a constant thorn in the side of the communists and socialists because he had the courage to speak truth to power. I interviewed him in 1986 in Warsaw, when he told me that he had once been arrested and jailed for simply declaring that “Socialism is stupidism,” which only proved his point. On another occasion, he famously said, tongue-in-cheek, “Socialism heroically overcomes difficulties unknown in any other system.” In 1981, to make the point that the bad economic times in socialist Poland were the product of the system itself, he said, “It’s not a crisis, it’s a result.”

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“The soul-crushing misery, the mass exodus to get out, the endless broken promises that are all so endemic to socialism simply cannot be dismissed as the failures of a few bad people. There’s something rotten in the system itself. Indeed, the very ideas from which it springs are rotten. At socialism’s core is end-justifies-the-means, moral relativist, anti-individual and collectivist rubbish. Bad people are everywhere, but nothing brings them forth and licenses them to do evil more thoroughly than concentrated power and the subordination of morality to the service of a statist ideology. That is the essence of the socialist vision, the iron fist within the velvet glove that belies all the happy talk to the contrary” —Lawrence W. Reed

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“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He, therefore, is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man….The sum of it all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people” — Samuel Adams

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We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Freedom is like that. It’s like air. When you have it, you don’t notice it” — Boris Yeltsin

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