No man is free who does not realize he is foremost a prisoner. Imprisoned by unfulfilled desires, as Buddha described, and selfish worldly aspirations. Not to mention bills, bodily functions, jobs, duties, obligations, allegiances, plus hunger and thirst.
Diogenes sought an honest man; Jesus explained that no man is good; Marx theorized no one is free until they have cast off their chains.
I've yet to meet a free man, a good man, an honest man. Perhaps such a saint exists, although they would be the first to deny their goodness and question saintliness.
Ask any American citizen if they are 'free.' The answers might surprise, amuse and confound you. I asked several people that question. Here are some responses.
'What do you mean by 'free'?'
'Yeah, I am'All the way. Yes.'
'Free? We live in a democracy don't we?'
Perhaps they are free, within the narrow confines of their mind. Such is my cynicism that I can say: Show me anyone who claims to be free and I'll show you someone partially or fully brainwashed. Not that a happy state of brainwashing is necessarily bad. Indeed, that shackled slave who imagines himself free, is freer than an unrestrained, unchained man who imagines himself shackled. True?
In many respects, it would be truer to say Henry David Thoreau was the Great American Emancipator, greater than Abe Lincoln. Because Lincoln helped enslave a nation into war, and only incidentally freed the slaves, while Thoreau, the naturalist, philosopher and firebrand suggested ways a man might 'transcend' and attempt to free himself.
Give me liberty or give me death! Nice little advertising slogan there, by Patrick Henry. Probably a future, catch-phrase for a Jeep commercial. Likewise, Live Free Or Die, the state motto of New Hampshire , that mountainous backwater half the size of some California counties.
Live Free or Die. What exactly does that mean?
Wouldn't it be wiser to say: Live and Let Live?
Now that is a state motto I'd love to see on some license plate. Perhaps we could adopt it as the official US motto. And then attempt to live by it.
Instead we live in a nation that loudly preaches democracy as if we invented it, freedom as if we patented it, and individual rights as if we were marketing them like a Jeep commercial. In reality we have a fake democracy, where voters actively send elected officials off to faraway Washington , to take away their God-given rights (never state-given rights) on a weekly basis.
Imagine Patrick Henry living today, working as a lobbyist, or in the fast-paced world of public relations (PR) or advertising: 'Give me liberty, or give me a decaf latte to go!' Imagine Ben Franklin, patriot, printer and inventor. 'We must all hang together or we shall all hang separately'at Outback Steakhouse.'
Perhaps, were they living today, Pat and Ben might emulate Ben & Jerry, and create a tasty homemade ice cream for overweight couch potatoes, who constitute the majority of Americans and have less interest in the inner workings of their government than in the American Idol contestants.
I believe, however, Franklin and Henry'together with Revere, Adams, Hancock, Paine, Jefferson, etc'were they alive today, would strongly suggest we hack the electronic black boxes and lob them into the Potomac rather than lobby our elected officials.
I'm 57 and don't know if I would recognize liberty--true freedom--if it hit me in the face and knocked me down and introduced itself: 'Hi, I'm liberty.'
Nor has anyone made a huge impact on me, had a tremendous, liberating influence on me, aside from a few dead and dying guys. Mostly writers, and painters who could write.
Writers---good writers'have always affected me. Best-selling authors of American pop fiction rarely make a dent in my thick head, however. Can't remember a single, noteworthy sentence or phrase from Stephen King or Tom Clancy but avidly recall the impact several censored writers have had on me.
Used to read a lot of state-censored Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His First Circle and Cancer Ward influenced me greatly. These were books about prisoners coping with a loss of freedom within a totalitarian state (coming soon to a neighborhood near you?).
Possibly Solzhenitsyn, this stoic, tortured Russian historian and novelist, influenced me more than anyone then, in my impressionable twenties, when I read constantly, rarely had a girlfriend or job, and weighed nearly every personal move on a monastic scale calculated to subdue the natural, pleasure-seeking side of me.
Like Solzhenitsyn, I imagined I was rejecting the materialistic west, repudiating consumerism, the acquisitiveness that passes for a sacred religious doctrine in America .
Remember, that was the age of the (so-called) liberated woman and the new age man. Wonder how many aging baby boomers would honestly claim to be liberated and living in a new age. Brave new world maybe, but liberated new age? I doubt it.
What gives me hope, as an old geezer, are all the young voices of dissent. Guys like Chemical Ali  and Doug Newman  and Dahr Jamail, writers like Anthony Gregory , Paul Joseph Watson and Kevin and Monica Benderman.
We liberate ourselves one paw at a time, like wild animals chewing off a foot to escape a trap. The trap was built centuries ago and set for us long before we were born. Luckily we have a few one-footed examples hobbling around, like Solzhenitsyn, to lead by their courage.