What Truly is Liberty?
"...with Liberty and Justice for all."
When was the last time you thought about, wrote about, or talked about the concept of liberty? That's not a question that needs to be answered by the talking heads, mainstream media, or political pundits, but the ordinary folk known to each of us. It might be your sister, your brother-in-law, your kids or the next-door neighbor.
When we were kids (alright, when I was a kid), we'd get up in the morning, trudge off to a fun-filled day of educational torture, but before that torture began in earnest, we would stand by our desks, place our right hand somewhere in the general neighborhood of our heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Do you remember the last line of the Pledge? It is:
"...with Liberty and Justice for all."
If you check a dictionary the primary definitions of the word "Liberty" are:
1. freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.
2. freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.
3. freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.
The first two definitions describe an absence of governmental power. In the first definition it is the power that one's own government exercises over the citizen. The second relates to the power exercised by one nation over another, and by corollary, over the citizens of the subject nation.
The third definition describes the ability to act on a person-to-person basis within a society. It infers that to have liberty one needs to be able to act in any way one wants, at any time one chooses with no regard to anything other than an individual's whim of the moment.
In each case, though, the key is the first phrase, "freedom from..."
I think most people would agree that the loss of liberty to a foreign power is not something that could be altered by individual private citizens, so let's limit the discussion to the loss of liberty as described in the other two cases, that is, the loss of liberty because of the actions of our own government, and the loss of liberty because of actions by people who are not part of the government per se, in other words, private citizens.
When Americans (or colonists as they were known then) decided that the behavior of George III had become both "arbitrary" and "capricious", there followed a period of extreme unpleasantness generally called the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress drafted the Articles of Confederation in 1777 (which were finally ratified in 1781 by all thirteen states) to organize and govern the new nation, but they didn't work out as well as had been hoped because the states and the people were suspicious of granting too much authority to the new government. This was certainly understandable after their experience with government as embodied by George III, but it also failed to provide adequate authority for the central government to effectively perform the necessary functions of a government. In 1789, recognizing the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution was adopted, which provided for a much stronger national government. The new Constitution provided for a chief executive, the president. Under the Articles of Confederation, the pesident was the President of Congress. The Constitution also created independent courts and granted the Federal government limiting taxing authority and powers that eliminated the need for the Federal government to go hat-in-hand to the states to request funds to actually, you know, run the government.
In order for this new constitution to work, the people of the new nation voluntarily surrendered some, but not all, of their liberties while giving certain limited powers to the central government.
But in fact, even the Constitution as written and submitted to the several states for ratification required a few "tweaks" before the people were willing to trust the new government that had been created. The "tweaks"? Today they are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. There actually was a preamble to the ten proposed amendments that ultimately made up the Bill of Rights which is rarely quoted, and was obviously not incorporated into the Constitution itself. It reads as follows:
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, onWednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution. [emphasis added]
Note the phrase "...in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added..." Even with the best efforts of the Constitutional convention, several states were still concerned with the potential for the federal government to abuse the few and limited powers that the new constitution granted it, and demanded that language be inserted to clarify the idea that the government was limited, and certain things were not, under any circumstances,to ever be allowed. That's why the preamble to the Bill of Rights refers to them as "restrictive clauses". These amendments were designed to restrict, limit or prevent the federal government from doing just about anything that popped into its collective head.
We can see, on a nearly daily basis, how those restrictive clauses are being ignored, subverted, sabotaged or otherwise corrupted, distorting the clear meaning of the Bill of Rights.
First Amendment freedoms of worship curtailed during our recent (partial) government shutdown when the Obama administration threatened Catholic chaplains with arrest if they tried to provide (even on an unpaid, voluntary basis) spiritual care to their flocks -- if their flocks happened to be on a military base.
First Amendment protection for freedom of the press? James Rosen at FOX News and the Associated Press (a primary cheerleader for Obama) were targeted, their phones wiretapped.
But even more recently, independent journalist Audrey Hudson (twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) had her home searched, ostensibly for a possible weapons violation by her husband, and had notes she was working with on an article about the Homeland Security Department confiscated by armed Maryland police and armed Federal agents. I would imagine you could count this twice in the elimination of "freedom from..." since it not only violated the protection of the press in the first amendment, but the Fourth Amendment's protection:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. [emphasis added]
The warrant that was presented to Hudson in the pre-dawn raid never once noted that there were any documents to be seized.
In 1776 we, the ordinary people of what had been the colonies, took back our liberty, our "freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control", from an out-of-control government. Today we face the same arbitrary and despotic governance that our ancestors had to deal with. Today, or actually in November 2014, we can repeat their achievement but without the need for bloodshed. Unless of course some poor, pathetic excuses for free men and women feel more comfortable being modern day slaves. If that is their preference, they will also repeat history. In the 21st century, they would be playing the role filled by the Tories of the Revolutionary era.
As for the loss of freedom because of the actions of private citizen dictators, one can see out-of-control political correctness running roughshod over those who don't see the world, or at least America, through Progressive-colored glasses. It appears that the First Amendment, if enforced through the courts, would bring at least some of that nonsense to a screeching halt. That bit about freedom of speech would seem to be applicable. Free speech is protected by the Constitution, but that merely prevents the government from muzzling our ability to speak freely. On the other hand, there is no such governmental protection of speech which is libelous, slanderous, or defamatory.
If the mainstream media, media personalities such as those who appear regularly on outlets such as MSNBC, CNN, or PBS rail against the Tea Parties, Libertarians, Republicans, or anyone who might share their goals and their agenda were to be sued for damages under the umbrella of slander and libel laws, then protections for them afforded by the First Amendment would not have any purchase. Those outlets would then be forced to spend their own money for, at the very least, legal fees in their defense, and any damage done to their bank accounts might be more instructive for them than any "sensitivity" training.
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller, a two-tour Vietnam veteran and writes frequently about political idiocy, business and economic idiocy and American cultural idiocy. Jim also blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com/, and can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org