Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture sometimes, when reading depressing articles like this or like some I myself have written in the past. Listening to Alex Jones for any length of time can send one into despair (one of the reasons I don’t do that).
When I was running the Wyoming Liberty Index, I noticed that even in an allegedly freedom-conscious state like Wyoming, the number of liberty-harming bills outnumbered the liberty-enhancing bills by a ratio of about four to one, year after year. Any legislator who had simply voted “No” on every bill would have won the title of “Most Liberty-Friendly Member” for that year by the largest margin ever recorded in the Index.
While liberty-enhancing bills are passed on occasion, it’s clear that on average, in the legislature, the process is set up (perhaps deliberately) to trample freedom over time. The record may be a bit better in direct democracy--initiatives and referenda--but by and large, one cannot vote oneself free.
How is it then, that, viewing the broad swath of history, we are gradually becoming more free? Would anyone really want to be transported in time, back to ancient Assyria? However awful our empire looks, I doubt there would be many takers willing to make this trade.
The answer is that we gradually lose liberty over time, except in those rare periods of upheaval. The last big one that succeeded was, of course, the American Revolution. The last big one that failed was the War of Southern Secession (or Northern Aggression, if you prefer). These are events outside the control of legislatures and governments, although governments often initiate them.
As Edward Abbey put it, “There was never a good war or a bad revolution.”
So, how fortunate we are! We don’t have to live and die in a period of declining freedom. We are going to see the next great upheaval for freedom in our lifetime. It has already begun! Some of us may even get to live in a condition of complete freedom, and pass that wonderful state of affairs on to our children.
This assumes the United States is finally broken up, which seems likely. One or more states may transition into the anarchist paradigm (if freedom-lovers care enough to move to them).
Now, this may seem a bit pollyannish. Lots of bad things happen in revolutions, secessions, and the fall of empire. Somehow, though, I’d rather die with my boots on, than hooked up to multiple tubes in some tax-supported hospital bed--ugh. It is foolish to worry about events as inevitable as death. And there is that point Thomas Paine made: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
Besides, humans were not designed for a life of ease. We were created in the Pleistocene Era, a harsh and difficult time; overcoming those trials is the very thing that made us human. (Theists may have a different take on this, but come to the same conclusion--that humans are not meant for a life of ease.) When men face challenges they are at their best. When everything is given to them, all sorts of pathologies appear.
Until recently, we have lived in a time when any idiot on Wall Street could make a million no matter how venal he was, no matter how flawed his view of reality. At the same time, prudent people were made to appear as saps and fools. Is that good for us? No. We now approach the time when the old virtues will reappear, and those who don’t exercise them will be culled by an implacable reality.
The time approaches when we can become fully human again. Let us rise to the challenge, and look forward to it.