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November 15, 2021

Democracy in America: The Devil's Bargain, the Bear in the Cage, and the Doorway to Freedom


Once upon a time there was a bear kept in captivity in a small cage. The caged and abused bear spent most of its life restlessly patrolling the perimeter of its cage. Then one day rescuers came and removed the cage. Yet the bear continued to patrol the perimeter of the cage, never stepping outside of its boundaries, which now existed only in its mind.

I used to think this was made-up story to illustrate an important psychological point. Sadly, it was a true story, and it wasn't an isolated case. On January 29th, 2021, Zenger News reported a story about another bear called Ina, which spent 20 years in a tiny cage in a zoo in Romania. In 2014 she was rescued and released onto a wildlife reserve. Seven years later, out in the woods, she still spends many days simply pacing around in a circle, which corresponds exactly to the dimensions of the no longer existent cage. The cage defined her world for so long that she cannot properly comprehend life without it.

Society is that bear. We speak the language of freedom. Yet we use government to wrap ourselves in the chains of yesteryear.

Abused Zoo Bear Still Circles In Imaginary Cage Seven Years After Being Freed. Zenger News, January 29th, 2021

Liberating the human spirit is a gradual process, part physical, part philosophical, and part cultural. The American Revolution removed the cage. And the American Constitution created a recipe to give free people the tools to safeguard their individual freedom and to pass it on to future generations. 

Yet, bit by bit, motivated by our fears about an uncertain future, by our envy of our neighbors, and by our impulse to control others, we suffocate our own freedom by molding our democratically elected governments to resemble the mighty hand of a king. Freedom is hard work. We do not recognize how easily we lead ourselves back into our own cage. It seems humanity has yet to complete the philosophical and cultural journey to achieve true freedom. 

Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

The Social Contract — A Devil's Bargain

Since the dawn of the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago when we first began living in settled communities ruled by centralized governments and formal top-down hierarchies, all cultures have been organized according to some version of the simple philosophy that you owe your existence to the State (and by default to those in charge of the State), and therefore your service and perhaps even your life could be called upon to defend the interests of the State. There was a great deal of truth to this view of society. If a State fell to another State, its people were often sold into slavery, its cities burned, and its fields seeded with salt to prevent crops from ever growing there again.

Consequently, a view of society emerged in which the greater good of the herd is central to survival of every single individual in the community. And the herd lives or dies according to the wisdom of its shepherd. From this perspective, the individual fades into irrelevancy; he is a mere cog in a much larger wheel. It is the model of the farmer and his cattle herd where even cruelty and subjugation must sometimes be imposed on some individuals in order to serve the greater good of society. The eternal tug-of-war between the rights of individuals and the needs of the State begins to take shape.

This led to a kind of social contract between the people and the State. Since the State plays the role of the shepherd and is responsible for the long-term survival of the herd, and since individuals depend on that herd for their survival, the State therefore has the legitimate authority to impose obligations and grant conditional rights to individuals according to what it believes will best serve the interests of the community. And the State can alter or revoke those rights in an effort to optimize society for the survival and future prosperity of the community. 

From this perspective, submitting to the shepherd's arbitrary authority is a reality that must be accepted in order to retain membership in the herd. Serfdom, the slavemaster's whip, military drafts, forced vaccinations, and lockdowns of the unvaccinated are all easily justified at various points in history by those who hold this view of the relationship between the shepherd and his flock.

In other words, the agricultural revolution wasn't just when we domesticated our cattle and sheep. It's also when we domesticated ourselves, with kings and councils as our shepherds.  

In 1651, during the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes was the first to write about the social contract that gives a state its legitimate authority over individuals. The image shows the original cover of his book, Leviathan.

This social contract is a kind of devil's bargain by which you theoretically benefit from being a member of society, but your life hangs on a leash if the State's interests collide with your own. Your life, liberty, and property are ultimately subordinate to whatever the government decides is best for the community. In essence, the social contract is a balancing act between two opposing dangers, and it is not always clear whether the enemy outside the gates or the shepherd sleeping within poses the greater threat.

The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. — James Madison, Founding Father and 4th President of the United States.

Sometimes there really is a cruel enemy at the gate. There will always be warlords and hostile nations willing to raise armies to plunder their neighbors, slit their throats, and sell their children into slavery. The risk is real and eternal.

But nine times out of ten the threat is only a shadow on a wall, frequently created by those who know how to put on a good light show. And, whether the threat is real or not, the demands placed on a community to combat that threat are typically decided by whichever special interest groups have the ear of the State. Those who demand sacrifice typically demand it from others, not from themselves, and it is all too common that they emerge from crises with wealth and power acquired at the expense of those they called upon to make the sacrifices. And sometimes you will even be drafted to become the cruel enemy at someone else's gate to satisfy the ambitions and whims of your rulers. The shepherd demands payment for his services and soon confuses his own ambitions for the needs of the flock.

Any society that endorses this notion of the social contract unwittingly writes a blank check for ideological or self-serving leaders to take society on harebrained Crusades and social engineering experiments. When you grant anyone that much power over your life, you will forever be tied to the passions, virtues, and follies of councils and kings (and to the scheming plots hatched by well-connected opportunists who whisper in their ears).

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty. — John Adams, Founding Father and 2nd President of the United States.

And the might of the State never sleeps so all of society gets caught up in a never-ending popularity contest to win the king's favour and avoid his wrath. If cattle were smarter, they would all sneak into the farmhouse at night and compete to be the cuddliest foot warmer on the farmer's bed in order to avoid being the one selected for next week's trip to the abatoir. Dogs and cats are playing a much smarter game. Those who win the heart of the shepherd will reap privilege and be spared sacrifice when the shepherd tends to his flock.

During the time of France's King Louis XIV it was said that "the whole of France gathered around the King." In practical terms, up to ten thousand of France's highest-ranking nobles lived with the King at the Palace of Versailles because none dared stray too far as long as everyone else was whispering in the king's ear to gain an advantage. Those who stayed away might find that their lands and privileges had been reassigned to a well-connected competitor with a more compelling story to tell, "for the greater good" of course. There was even a highly-contested pecking order for who would be the first to greet him in his bedchambers when he awoke in the morning.

All the bowing and curtsies, all the pomp and prestige, they were all just part of a gigantic game of one-upmanship in order to establish the pecking order, solicit the favour of the king, and avoid his wrath. A life of nail-biting servitude, clad in the finest of silks. It's not altogether different from the entourage of bootlickers who spend their lives trying to ingratiate themselves with today's powerbrokers in Washington, Ottawa, Brussels, or Beijing. It's the same old whisper game, dressed up behind a new veil called democracy. Corruption is not the cause of a nation's problems, it's a predictable consequence that inevitably emerges when nations make the mistake of concentrating great power in few hands.

The right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of oppression, if they are strong enough, whether by withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable.” —  Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States.

Reception of the Grand Condé at Versailles, painted by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Democracy in France - the Fantasy of the Benevolent Elected Parent

The formula for choosing leaders to represent the common good has changed over time, but the underlying social contract remained the same. Feudalism and the imperial age both elevated monarchs and lords to the role of benevolent shepherd or parent tasked with looking out for her children.

The feudal social hierarchy. Notice the steep stairs between the lower layers. And notice that there are no stairs between the topmost layers. Hegodis, CC BY-SA 4.0

European-style liberal democracy replaced monarchs with elected councils to play the role of shepherd in the hope that elections might curb the self-serving interests of those in power. The divine right of kings was replaced by the herd's right to choose its own leaders. But conditional rights were still handed down by those at the top of the pyramid. And the individual still remained subservient to the collective needs of the whole, with conditional rights dependent on the ever-changing needs (and whims) of the State. And the whisper game continued.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 1762 book, The Social Contract, provided the philosophical basis to transfer the divine right to rule from the king to a legislative assembly. He also promoted the idea that individual rights should be conditional, on loan by the herd to individuals, to serve the needs of the herd. This idea of using conditional rights to engineer the future trajectory of society is the basis of the European obsession with social engineering. 

Until the Founding Fathers wrote their radical Constitution, no-one else had a better idea on how to free themselves from this devil's bargain. And even now, freedom is so complex and the fantasy of a benevolent king or council is so seductive that most of humanity cannot comprehend life without a meddlesome shepherd. And so, round and round we go within our little bear cage, and woe to anyone who tries to point out that there's an open door.

The French Revolution and its aftermath illustrates the enduring nature of this social contract across time. In 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, the monarchy had achieved absolute power by stripping away the complex hierarchy of feudal rights and obligations. All the power once held by middlemen (the lesser princes and nobles) had been transferred into the hands of the king. France's King Louis XIV, the Sun King, once said, “L’état, c’est moi” (“I am the State”). 

And the State is responsible for its children. 

The social contract is a two-way bargain. There are a hundred men in rough wool for every dandy clad in fine silk. A crowd that gives up its freedom wants something in return. When bellies go empty at night, the crowd will get rid of an ineffective shepherd and find itself a new one. The shepherd is a predator. But the sheep have teeth too.

The French Revolution kicked off when hunger and abuse of power motivated angry crowds to renegotiate the leadership arrangement with the help of a guillotine. They swept away the monarchy and transferred power to an elected council. A sort of "government by the people, for the people" emerged. It didn't work out very well. 

Cartoon showing Robespierre guillotining the executioner after having guillotined everyone else in France. Unknown artist, 1794.

The elected council did not turn out to be the benevolent parent that society had been promised; it failed to transform society into the land of bread and honey that the original revolutionaries had envisioned. So, influential revolutionaries like Maximilien Robespierre were themselves led to the guillotine by even more radical revolutionaries who promised the crowd that they could do a better job of dispensing rights, printing money, and controlling people in order to achieve their elusive egalitarian utopia. 

"If only people were sufficiently committed in their beliefs," they must have thought, "France's social engineering agenda might achieve its glory." When Robespierre's head landed in a basket, it was met by applause and cries of joy that went on for fifteen minutes. The knitting ladies beside the guillotine didn't miss a beat. Murder and assassination have frequently been a part of the social engineer's toolbox. Shepherds periodically cull part of their flocks for what they perceive as the good of the herd. And the passions of the herd frequently demand it. 

Ten years of terror, monetary inflation, human rights violations, economic and social instability, and escalating bloodshed at the hands of the elected council (dominated by ever increasingly radical factions competing for control of the guillotines) left France exhausted and no closer to having a more effective and benevolent gold-giver. So, they turned to dictatorship instead by appointing Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Once again, a single hand controled the rights of every individual in France in order to bring prosperity to the people. But instead of order and stability, what they got was a megalomaniac who believed France's future prosperity could be secured through military adventurism. He bled France dry of men and reduced all of Europe to misery. 

Neither the ignorance of elected councils nor the incompetence of ordained rulers produced particularly different results. The French idea of putting the herd in charge of its own destiny turned into a colossal social-engineering disaster and proved to be no less wicked than when conditional rights and obligations are divvied out by a dictator or king. 

"Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else." — Frédéric Bastiat, Member of the National Assembly of France from 1848 to 1850.

The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David (1804)

France's Revolution was never about individual liberty. It was about a herd yearning to replace an overbearing tyrant with a more benevolent shepherd. Perhaps most ironic is that the French Revolution was partly inspired by the American Revolution, which had kicked off only a few years earlier. They even borrowed language and symbols from their American counterparts, yet they completely missed the central point of the American Revolution. 

The American notion of individual liberty was a bridge too far. France couldn't conceptualize life without a powerful shepherd. And ever since that ill-fated revolution, Europe has oscillated between meddlesome elected councils and overbearing dictators, each with their own grandiose social engineering fantasies, some more deadly than others.

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.” — Samuel Adams, Founding Father

Democracy in America - Striving for Individual Liberty

"A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people." — US Declaration of Independence

What made the American Revolution in 1776 so different from the emerging European concept of liberal democracy is that, rather than striving to liberate the herd from despotic rulers, the Founding Fathers sought to liberate the individual from both ruler and herd. They sought to put the individual in charge of his own destiny. Their radical idea was to elevate the individual as the foundation stone of society, with permanent and inviolable inalienable individual rights that neither the herd nor its leaders could renegotiate or revoke. 

John Locke (1632-1704) is considered the "Father of Classical Liberalism". He wrote, "no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions." The Declaration of Independence echoes his words: "all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

In this re-imagining of society, the herd is not the central pillar of society. The central pillar of society is the individual, the minority of one. From this perspective, the authority granted to government is only temporary, on loan by citizens, and can be withdrawn at any time. In essence, it is an inversion of the pyramid — rights are placed permanently in the hands of individuals while power is only temporarily on loan to the government.

Individual liberty and personal responsibility go hand in hand. In this American re-imagining of the social contract, individual liberty is the only greater good. There is no herd; society as a whole is merely a collection of free individuals. Government's sole responsibility is to protect the liberty of its citizens; everything else is the responsibility of individuals and communities who must provide for themselves through their own hard work and their voluntary collaboration with one another. This was a completely new social contract. You take care you, I take care of me, and the government makes sure we don't step on each other's toes. That's it. That's the extent of the social contract. 

"A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned -- this is the sum of good government. — Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and 3rd President of the United States.

The Founding Fathers believed that the State should no longer have the authority to play the role of a shepherd, parent, or gold-giver and that we are not its children. Government was merely meant as a safeguard to step in when free people are unable to defend their rights and freedoms against peers or hostile nations that step over the line. It was (and still is) a truly radical and revolutionary idea.

In this radical re-imagining of the social contract, change and prosperity come from below, from the naturally evolving culture and the free choices of individuals, rather than being imposed by leaders from above. This makes every single individual wholly responsible for their own well-being rather than looking to the government to put its fingers on the scales on their behalf to deliver privilege and prosperity. 

During the feudal and imperial eras, the future of the herd was planned by hereditary monarchs and their advisors. The European vision of democracy transferred the responsibility to plan the herd's future to elected councils and politicians, thereby theoretically allowing the herd to plan its own destiny through its elected representatives. In both cases, "progress" was thought of as an engineered pathway to the future as a consequence of deliberate planning and the continual reorganizing of privileges and rights to achieve preferred outcomes. In other words, social engineering. 

"Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth." — George Washington, Founding Father and 1st President of the United States.

By contrast, the Founding Fathers' vision of their republic denied anyone the ability to shape the future. The future was meant to evolve naturally as a result of the countless autonomous decisions of free individuals as they interact freely with one another. John Locke's concept of uncompromising individual liberty. Adam Smith's concept of the free market.  

Adam Smith (1723-1790), the Father of Economics and of the Free Market, recognized that large scale government intervention and regulation is a hinderance to the economy and that the greatest benefit to society as a whole came from free individuals interacting freely with other free individuals. He described this spontaneous and unplanned optimization of the greater good as the invisible hand of the market. In other words, when individuals interact freely with one another in their own best interests, it has a net effect as though there was some kind of invisible shepherd. 

The Constitution was purposely designed to prevent the State from acting on its social engineering impulses and meddling in the voluntary interactions of free individualsThe gridlock of the American political system was intentional — it was a deliberate feature to keep government from being able to control the lives and choices of its citizens. It forces people to talk to one another because they do not have the power to use the coercive force of government to impose their will on others. The noise of American politics is one of its most endearing features.

The Founding Fathers recognized the danger of giving anyone power over their fellow citizens. The inalienable individual rights and the system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution were meant to create strict limits on State power in order to prevent the government from acting like an imperial throne. Anyone who complains today about how government isn't getting things done has forgotten the original purpose of the American Constitution. They are falling prey to the seductive fantasy of a benevolent and eternal parent who can make life's challenges a little more bearable. That instinct leads straight back into the bear cage. 

If you want to "get things done" through government action, you would be better served playing the whispering game in a country with a more European concept of liberal democracy — conditional rights and a top-down power structure. You don't have to go far; Canada has it in spades. America's Constitution was intended to prevent that sort of top-down social engineering adventurism. In Europe, society marches to the beat set by government central planners. But America was meant to be a place where individuals could choose their own adventures.

"In that land the great experiment was to be made, by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new basis; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the history of the past." — Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Murphy's Law: A Shortcut is the Longest Distance Between Two Points

It is easier to write inspiring prose than to live it. As Alexis de Tocqueville said, "Nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom."

There is no doubt that the freedom created by the Founding Fathers' vision produced a nation with more prosperity, more opportunities, and more individual liberty than any other nation in the history of our planet. But it is also indisputable that it has frequently strayed far from its ideals and has not been shy about trampling on individual rights and freedoms. Even in the land of the free and the home of the brave, freedom in all its many forms has ebbed and flowed throughout its 250-year history, often at the expense of one segment of society for the benefit of another. 

The culture of restraint and the tradition of limited government is fading fast. The government has slowly injected itself into every aspect of everyday life, growing ever larger like a bloated parasite in defiance of the Founding Fathers' vision. And many are eager to erase the remaining checks and balances so they can fully unleash the social engineering potential of an all-powerful State. 

The growth of regulation in the United States between 1960 and 2016: in 1960 there were 22,000 pages of regulation, by 2016 there were 185,000. NPR, October, 2018.

As the layers of red tape build up, it becomes harder and harder for individuals to get things done through their own initiative, and it gets easier and easier to believe that life's problems are best solved by creating tribal alliances and by whispering in the ear of a kindly king. And all too many people fall for the belief that the solution to dysfunctional government is to expand the power of the State even further so it can do a better job of policing itself, and to elect more virtuous leaders who are willing to use executive orders as a magic wand to cut through the bureaucracy. "If only we had better leaders and a more proactive government," they must think, "then government could do a better job of divvying out privileges to transform society into a land of bread and honey." 

The garden is being ruined by the goat that was hired to watch over it, so a second and third goat are added to watch over the first. We are the architects of our own cage. 

"I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts." — Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States.

There are no shortcuts to prosperity. Inalienable individual rights combined with limited government are the fastest route. But we continue to believe in shortcuts and, as a result, the American Experiment today increasingly resembles the European vision of liberal democracy, with the State playing the role of meddlesome parent in everyone's lives. And every problem created by its meddling is inevitably blamed on too much Liberty, paving the way for still more central planning and still more regulation. Bandaids on top of bandaids on top of still more bandaids.

The horrors of Nazism, Communism, and the two World Wars provided stark examples of the lengths to which nations with social engineering impulses are willing to go in trampling the life and liberty of both their own citizens and the citizens of neighboring nations in order to pursue whatever they perceive as being for the "greater good" of their people. The Nuremberg Trials were an attempt to rub European noses in the mess they'd made to get them to recognize the horrors behind their utopian social engineering impulses and their concept of conditional rights. And the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, was a conscious effort to get all nations to sign on to the American idea that individual rights must be unconditional and inalienable. Yet, conditional rights and social engineering are back in vogue everywhere and have spread to American shores.

These are not the only European notions that have taken root on the American side of the Atlantic. The blending of Corporate and State interests to create a more powerful force for social engineering was pioneered by Benito Mussolini in the 1920s under the name of Italian fascism — a virtual carbon copy of the nightmarish government-corporate chimera that we face in 2021. It seems that discredited social engineering strategies are a bit like bell-bottom jeans and high-waisted pants — wait long enough and even the absurd will come back into fashion, albeit under a new name like "stakeholder economy" to hide its teeth. 

In Greek mythology, a chimera was a fire-breathing monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. Drawing from 1590–1610, attributed to Jacopo Ligozzi.

Control is easy to visualize. Freedom is hard to visualize. The more bloated a State becomes and the smaller Liberty gets in the rear-view mirror, the easier it is to fall prey to the illusion that even more layers of regulation, more conditional rights, and even more arbitrary power can engineer a more equitable society. The promised advantages of government intervention always beckon like a mirage shimmering on the horizon, never quite reachable, and every step taken towards it takes you further and further from your individual rights until everyone wallows in equal misery.

"Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude." — Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Louis XIV receiving the Doge of Genoa at the Palace of Versailles on 15 May 1685.

Cultivating a Culture of Liberty

"When once a Republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils but by removing the corruption and restoring its lost principles; every other correction is either useless or a new evil." — Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and 3rd President of the United States.

As long as society continues to embrace the devil's bargain at the heart of the European vision of liberal democracy, society will remain in the bear cage, forever trapped in an endless cycle of tribal rivalries, palace intrigues, and bloody revolutions to try to reclaim a little extra breathing space before the cycle begins anew. Round and round the bear cage we go.

The culture war currently consuming the Western world is, at its heart, a continuation of the philosophical divide that separated the American Revolution from the French Revolution. We have a choice between two very different social contracts. On the one side is the vision of uncompromising individual liberty and individual responsibility championed by the Founding Fathers. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. On the other side is the discredited obsession with social engineering embraced by the likes of Robespierre, Rousseau, Napoleon, Mussolini, and countless other leaders, current and historic, who believe they can create a better society based on top-down conditional rights and central planning. There's always an action plan implied by their slogans. The global buzzword of "Build Back Better" is just the latest reincarnation.

"If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it." — W.C. Fields

The uncomfortable reality is that the ultimate dividing line between citizen and subject, between freedom and servitude, is not found at the voting booth or through the courts. They are secondary. The dividing line is culture. The dividing line is the willingness of citizens to take full responsibility for themselves rather than looking to government to provide all the answers. The dividing line is the ability of citizens to visualize a life of freedom, resist the lure of an all-powerful shepherd, and be willing to make the hard choices required to live a life of freedom. The dividing line is a culture of Liberty.

The Constitution is so much more than a piece of paper with words on it. It is part of a history that tells of a long, difficult, and often bloody struggle for freedom, from the Founding Fathers themselves, to Martin Luther King Jr.'s march to hold America to its ideals, to the story of every single immigrant escaping to America's shores in search of freedom. It is an intoxicating story because it uplifts the individual above the whims of both herd and shepherd, and allows every individual to choose the adventures of their own dreams.

Statue of Liberty (Photo by Militiadis Fragkidis, courtesy of Unsplash)

What the Founding Fathers created was a vision and a set of ideals to aim for. It is not a national vision, despite being shared by millions. It is an individual vision. It is a vision that invites people to foster a culture of liberty in their personal lives, in their communities, and ultimately in their nation. It inspires people to push back against the inexorable growth of tyranny that typically consumes empires as they become bloated with age. And once that bloat sets in, as it has today, it provides an alternative vision to strive for that doesn't condemn society to continue walking around in a circle in a never-ending search for a more benevolent shepherd. 

Above all, the Constitution provides a vision for renewing the culture that is required to defend Liberty. Its most essential role in American society is its power to capture the imagination. Freedom begins in the mind. Freedom begins by being able to visualize life outside of the cage. Only then will you begin to make choices that gives government less and less power over you. Freedom is about letting go of the impulse to control others in an effort to shape the future. 

Freedom accumulates in the hands of those willing to bear the responsibilities of individual liberty. When that philosophical journey is made by many, you soon have the seeds of a renewed culture of Liberty.

The path to freedom starts with a simple question. What role do I want government to play in my life? Do I want a parent, gold-giver, or shepherd? Or do I want a government pared down to the bare minimum to defend my liberties while I take care of everything else? 

Listen carefully to those who promise to end today's tyranny. Do they promise a path to individual rights and limited government, or are they simply offering to be a more benevolent shepherd playing the same old endless game?

The Founding Fathers' vision of inalienable individual rights and limited government created a door in the bear cage. We just need to step through. The journey begins, one person at a time, as we let go of the illusion of a benevolent all-powerful State and take steps to foster a culture of Liberty in our personal lives. The journey is long and rocky from where we stand today, but the open gate to individual liberty is beckoning. 

I will give the last word to Alexis de Tocqueville who travelled from France to America in 1831 to study America's strange new social experiment based on individual liberty. In his book, Democracy in America, he reflected that:

“What good does it do me, after all, if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life; if it monopolizes vitality and existence to such a degree that when it languishes, everything around it must also languish; when it sleeps, everything must also sleep; and when it dies, everything must also perish?

There are some nations in Europe whose inhabitants think of themselves in a sense as colonists, indifferent to the fate of the place they live in. The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance. More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.” They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved. They are so divorced from their own interests that even when their own security and that of their children is finally compromised, they do not seek to avert the danger themselves but cross their arms and wait for the nation as a whole to come to their aid. Yet as utterly as they sacrifice their own free will, they are no fonder of obedience than anyone else. They submit, it is true, to the whims of a clerk, but no sooner is force removed than they are glad to defy the law as a defeated enemy. Thus one finds them ever wavering between servitude and license.

When a nation has reached this point, it must either change its laws and mores or perish, for the well of public virtue has run dry: in such a place one no longer finds citizens but only subjects.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America #CommissionsEarned

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30 comments:

  1. Concisely done. I enjoy simply written, true story.
    Thank you Julius.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What do social engineers and freedom worshipers have in common?
    They view the world in idealistic terms (black & white).

    Following the collapse the welfare state, you will have more opportunity to pursue your 'freedom'. For most, it will be a brutalizing experience.

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    1. "a brutalizing experience" - well then, hard times will create strong men. Quite the opposite of the current environment, and quite necessary. Overdue even.

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    2. The more government muscles into things, the more the private sphere retreats. Europe has a much larger welfare state than America and far fewer charities. America has a smaller welfare state but more charities. The two are correlated in time, as govt grows, charity retreats. People are much more likely to take care of their own communities when there is no govt backstop. But when charity is private and voluntary, it eliminates the freeloaders, prevents a culture of dependency from evolving, and prevents all the other unintended consequences of a welfare state from emerging, like the epidemic of fatherless households that Thomas Sowell has written about. An end to government welfare does not mean an end to charitable backstops, quite the contrary. And consider the billions spent on lobbying and propping up the bloated govt - by trimming down government, all that money would suddenly be freed up and in search of a new home (there's no point lobbying a government that no longer has the power to stack the deck in anyone's favor). So, that money will either be invested in new jobs or be given to local charities because it is no longer needed to "influence" govt for your own survival.

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    3. The institutions of civil society have been crowded out through various means of government influenced and control, such as charitable tax status. This has impacted even religious institutions. Of late we have seen the rise of 'foundations' that amass power and wealth under guise of independence through so-called collaboration between private and public entities. This has crowded the charities also.

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  3. You ought to check out Tocqueville scholar Joshua Mitchell of Georgetown U. His contemporary elucidations are brilliant.

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  4. Great essay again, thank you for this. I am trying to find more people open to discussing this topic. Obviously the problem is 90% or more of the people I even attempt to slightly approach this immediately signal they don't want to talk - "people are dying" , "your freedom ends where my safety begins" etc. And even then, with the 10% who will discuss, many of those are not making this connection.

    My question to you, Julius, is sort of along the line of Peter Hitchens' current position. He indicated early this year that basically the majority have given away their liberty and rights for convenience, 'safety' and in a sense don't want freedom and/or liberty. I don't have his exact words but he basically said he knew democracy would die completely but he thought he wouldn't be around to see it.

    How do you stay positive when such a huge portion of the Western world is on board with this all? Even if it's out of fear and irrational behavior due to social engineering?

    Peter Hitchens, Democracy muzzled
    'Covid masks are a potent symbol of the West’s headlong flight from Enlightenment values.'

    https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/october-2020/democracy-muzzled/

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    1. I agree with the essence of Peter's observation. There is no law in the world that will protect our freedoms if the culture has abandoned the principles underpinning that law.

      In my opinion, the greatest threat to freedom is that there is a model in place now that everyone is so accustomed to that they can no longer envision anything else. I think a lot of people are deeply unhappy with how little agency they have over their lives, but because they don't have another vision of how else to live, they turn that frustration against their peers. Thus, a culture of infighting evolves. Until people are able to visualize an alternative, and see the practical hands-on application of how their own lives would look if they lived in that alternative system, they will not crave something else. You must be able to imagine something before you can reach for it.

      Changing the trajectory of a culture is difficult. But we are at an inflection point. Clearly society is searching for a way out. If there is no alternate vision, they will go down the dark rabbit hole of war and oppression to vent their frustration against a scapegoat. But, the flip side is that if that pressure finds a positive release by being able to visualize something better, then the floodgate will open in a different direction and will surprise us all at how quickly something new can emerge.

      Freedom is contagious. Our greatest challenge now is to build an alternate vision that allows people to imagine a better future for themselves.

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  5. You're very accomplished writing about CovID and CovID tyranny, and your writing on the subject has been very much appreciated. Less so writing about political theory and practice, and history.

    The Nurnberg trials were Jewish revenge theatre, meant to rub all of European Christendom's noses in the triumph of Jewish bankers over the European peoples.

    Your libertarian take on government is found wanting; it always was. There is no such thing as a society of one, and cannot be. A man without loyalties or social bonds is a man who cannot be trusted, and a man who is easily defeated by those who do travel in packs (herds) like bankers and (((bankers))).

    Lockean liberalism was meant for a homogeneous society - he was writing long before any man alive could have conceived of the mass migrations of the late 20th century.

    Even in a homogeneous society, men who wish to be left alone will always be outnumbered by the pack and the schemers, which is why America died as early as 1803 (Marbury v Madison).

    You present a fairy-tale libertarian version of collective/national action, but libertarianism is a dead and buried ideology.

    Human nature and human frailty means that 'men who want to be left alone' will always be a small minority.

    It is in society's interest that its best men have the freedom to invent, and to take risks, but the pack, especially one as urbanized and effete as today's Western masses, will always want the State to provide security.

    Only the collapse of the fiat currencies can take down the bankers, the financial speculators and the leviathan administrative state with its hordes of useless place-holders.



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  6. Anther great article Julius thank you. I would submit to you and your readers there is something most important missing. When you say: "Liberating the human spirit is a gradual process, part physical, part philosophical, and part cultural. The American Revolution removed the cage," you failed to mention the single most important person in liberating the human spirit. That would be our divine and awesome God, aka the God of the Bible in the person of Jesus. When His love (as perfected in Jesus) becomes the guiding principal in our lives then we have a true "social contract," one that is sanctified and eternal.

    "No one can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" The fundamental problem underlying the issues confronting us today is getting away from God and His Word. When people understand and accept His love as perfected in Jesus then love becomes the guiding and motivating principal. For those who haven't, read the New Testament. Make it easy, to start, read one of the Gospel's and perhaps Paul's letter to the Romans. God's Word IS the answer to the problems confronting our world today. If one hasn't read it, how would one know? Selah

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  7. A a wonderful educational contribution. This historical/philosophical perspective is important to study to understand the need to peacefully defend liberty.

    I loved "Control is easy to visualize. Freedom is hard to visualize." Let us work harder to visualize freedom, experience it and live it peacefully and creatively!

    It seems that like bears in the wild, the love of liberty might be going into cultural hibernation. Like some hibernators, liberty is currently sleeping so deeply that it almost appears to be dead. But we will wake up--weak but hungry and determined to look for food to nourish a life based on free thinking, true science and a search for the truth. And just as hibernators prepare for the winter by storing and consuming nourishing food, we must continue to nurture our minds and soul by reading essays such as this one. But where is the safe, warm shelter--away from predators--in which to curl up and hibernate?

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    1. Thank you Gefen! Your imagery of a bear waking up from hibernation seems very apt for what is happening. I suspect the bear is in for a rude awakening from his hibernation (;

      Once a predator spots you, the safest way to deal with it is often to simply turn and face it and hold your ground.

      To think of it from the predators perspective, the most useful characteristic to decide whether something is prey or not prey is whether the thing shows fear (prey runs), or simply ignores and growls if it gets too close). Holding your ground signals you're dangerous to the predator and makes the predator reassess if there isn't something else it ought to do with its day. The honey badger strategy.

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    2. Great advice from nature, Julius!

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  8. Another great job you did here, Julius.

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  9. Blah blah...noise..more blah...more noise. Sorry, Julius. You are a good writer but after 3 or 4 of these screeds...I'm out. The same mindset has set in at my work. Ppl luv to congregate, and kvetch. I agree with you, with them, but God Bless You All, I can be around you for too long. The "Woe is Us" ethos is like those Sirens inviting all to join. SNAP OUTTA IT! Come up with real solutions, no matter how small. Got a way to denude those GO nanobots in the jab? Tell us, we'll help. Can you write to beat the band? Great- help the rest of us decloak the Controlled Opposition sock puppets. The Titanic, we are told, is sinking- or is it? Folks are running to the lifeboats in terror. Social Proof takes over once the WTF Plausibility meter passes, umm, 4%. Anyone still on Facebook? 1 Q...why? Sent your spit to 23+Me.....why? "They" now have your dna, name, address et al. Any you complain about the oppressive "Terms of Service" of the social media outlets......DUHH. At some point, all children must grow up.

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  10. Good points, but regulation isn't the problem if it's to prevent big groups, like corporations from hijacking the system by pretending they represent people.
    Quoting Reagan is ironic. He used that to limit the power government had over corporations, while starting the biggest horror on the people, the war on drugs.
    Sorry but you misunderstood his intention

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  11. This is an excellent and passionate warning about the waste of human potential that happens when people willingly, even thankfully, cede their autonomy and sovereignty to business and political elites. We have set loose the ferocious brute of central planning and will pay dearly for selling our responsibilities as free citizens for pennies on the dollar.

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  12. Whether masking or vaxing, the government has reached into our chests and with its cold bony fingers locked onto our free will and oppressed the spirit of liberty; it promises to substitute out living freewill with the dead and alien will of the State, a fictional entity. And sadly this has been a comfort to so many whose imaginations conjur up scary monsters from which they seek shelter in a cage that they readily give away their liberty and then turn to the rest of us and demand that, fair is fair, we submit and comply readily. The culture is the largest factor. A society of citizens with great expectations of liberty do not tolerate this invasion, not for themselves and not for others. Just as we can be conditioned to live in cages of our own minds, we can be exposed to risks and rewards in the wild and adapt ourselves to society of liberty minded friends and neighbours. We are social and cultural beings. FREEDOM means we look to ourselves, to our non-governmental associatons, to real people and not to ficitonal entities. The mechanics of politics do not safeguard the organic freedom that renews itself. Mechanics requires servicing and re-builds and replacements. All of that is for nothing if there is no liberty in the air that we breath and no freedom in the losses and gains we experience. This is to say that the government, or more of it, will not solve the problem of government. That is up to us. We build a framework with many doors and many windows because freedom is out there not inside the structure that might serve as a refuge from storms and temporary dangers. It may not always save us or keep us safe but it is not our world. It serves us not the other way around. THANK YOU JULIUS for your take on this.

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  13. Again, Brilliance Julius, you capture the storm here, you are truly my hero! I just love your articles, I'm going to read this out to my group. Your words are more precise than mine.
    Should we suffocate under grovernment.. I think not! now is the time, to branch out.. to get rid of them.
    You know I watched a documentary on the Mennonites in the USA, and they said they DO NOT OBEY the Government, they don't even fly an American flag? but point being that they sustain themselves..They build their own schools, they rely on THEIR community.. they actually have auctions to help others out in medical bills. Its brilliant.! They obey GOD!

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    1. Thank you Martine! The destruction of the sense of community has, in my opinion, played one of the biggest roles in this madness, because government has essentially replaced what everyone used to do voluntarily in their own communities. I grew up in cattle farming country in BC, and people leaned on one another so much more in those days because there was no other backstop. But as government muscled in, that sense of community has faded. As the old timers said, "Don't ever let the government help you because once they get involved, you'll never get rid of them." If we reduce how much we ask the government to do for us, I think it will lead to a major revival of community spirit.

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  14. I also love your articles. I did buy your book and have tried several times to leave a 5 star review on Amazon to no avail. It shows that it's been accepted but it's never posted. I find that really weird, but I probably should have known. I hope you might write a sequel. I would definitely buy it.

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  15. I am trying to imagine what kind of country America could have become if the words written in the preamble to the constitution had been used as a literal guide to the development of the nation. If the authors themselves had not been slaveholders who could not even recognize the humanity of most of the people who had been brought to that land to build their country for them. Just imagine what could've been achieved if all those indentured servants from Europe and elsewhere, and captives from Africa had been released from their chains upon arrival and allowed to keep the fruits of their labor and skills and to participate in governing themselves. If the people native to the land who managed to survive the plagues brought by the European colonists had been bargained with in good faith, with treaties actually honored by the colonial government. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people, with all humans to be respected as individuals, and no rent-seeking parasitic class to siphon off the fruits of all their hard work and send them off to kill and be killed for the enrichment of the oligarchy that the "founding fathers" actually instituted. That would truly be something unique in all of history (that we know of). We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men (humans) are created equal. May it someday be self evident to all.

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