The United States is one of the freest countries on the globe, but unless my sensibilities are entirely out of whack, I assert that this country—the country of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Randolph, Calhoun, et al—is not nearly free enough. It isn’t even as free as we think. Can a man or woman truly live here according to conscience? At one time, we could have answered “almost certainly.” Today one’s conscience must be conformed in so many ways to so many things. We are not free, except in the most abstract, academic—and ultimately irrelevant—way. Our spirits are dying: death by a thousand pinpricks. Nay worse, a hundred thousand paper cuts from a faceless bureaucracy! Since Eden, there have been so many constraints on man anyway, without the added coercion of the muscular enforcers of state, whether they enforce the will of the few on the many—or the will of the many on the few! I just wish our government were less concerned for my welfare and more concerned for my freedom. I wish it were less concerned for this collective nonentity called “the people” and more concerned for every single individual, made in the image and likeness of God. I wish the government were less concentrated, had less power and authority, and were more respectful of the natural regions and the natural differences that exist amongst us. I don’t want to cooperate with everybody else, marching off into a global abyss. I JUST WISH THE GOVERNMENT WOULD LEAVE US ALONE.
Of course, you know what they say about wishing in one hand and picking up horse hockey with the other: one hand is likely to get fuller than the other. I reckon the wish must obtain a will and the necessary resources to in fact change things. God help us. Today the federal government literally employs extortion on the States with the money it taxes from us. To make you wear your seatbelt and do a hundred other things, the feds withhold funds from sovereign States, unless and until those States pass particular laws. They did the same thing after the War Between the States: permanent military occupation unless the States would approve certain constitutional amendments. The contexts are indeed different, and there were hard historical and practical realities to settle during the Reconstruction. But is another Robert E. Lee or Jeff Davis left anywhere in this unified, chained and tethered house of ours—locked down from the inside out? Is there a governor with backbone anywhere in the country to point out and even put an end to . . . (shall I name it? Are you willing to recognize it?). Tyranny.
Some of you will say, gosh he’s gone over the top (again). So you think, “I’m free, right?” Not if you think you ought to be in charge of the money you set aside for retirement, or the age you choose to retire. Not if you think you ought to be able to choose when your child goes to school, for how many weeks he or she should study, as well as what subjects. Walter E. Williams reviewed Sheldon Richman’s excellent new book, Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State (available at www.laissezfairebooks.org and www.amazon.com). In the review, he asks “What if you think your child is capable of having a job at age 12, as I was? No dice. The government determines the age at which one can work, and for how long and at what pay.” Andrew Jackson joined the American Revolution at the age of 14, and he was a natural soldier. I’m glad nobody told him No dice, Andy. (He probably would have killed somebody on our side). Of course, I’m not advocating enlistment of child soldiers—just pointing out the arbitrariness of well-meaning rules, forced and enforced down every throat in the country—where no one possesses the slightest degree of discretion and no State retains a sovereign prerogative.
Alexis de Tocqueville predicted Americans would face this kind of despotism, to which democracies are prone—more widespread and milder than other forms, degrading men rather than tormenting them. In his masterpiece Democracy in America, he writes that our leaders are likely to become as schoolmasters. Our government will try to keep us “in perpetual childhood” and will do this by providing security and necessities, assuming responsibility for our concerns, managing our work. He foresaw government, which “gladly works for [‘the people’s’] happiness but wants to be the sole agent and judge of it.” Williams sums up his review with a very insightful comment, that “Democracy gives an aura of legitimacy to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny.” Moreover, my fellow tethered citizens, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed, there is no one quite as hopelessly enslaved, as the person who thinks he is free but is not!