Monday, February 20, 2012

The Freedom Dilemma

I came across an interesting quote today, which got me thinking about a rather interesting aspect of freedom. The quote is from John Locke, who said "Where there is no law, there is no freedom." What makes this quote so interesting, to me at least, is the current climate seems to view law as a restriction on freedom, rather than the guarantor of freedom.

Much of the presidential campaign seems to center on who will do the best job of freeing American from the tyranny of unnecessary rules and regulations. The dominate theme of the Republic campaign has been who would capture the "TEA" party vote (remember the TEA stands for "Taxed Enough Already" - a demand for a drastic reduction in the size of government). President Obama (and Governor Romney) have come under fire for government health insurance programs which, it is argued, reduce personal freedoms. Government is seen as the enemy of freedom and not its defender.

It is clear government can go too far - we need only look at the repressive regimes of Syria, Iran, Libya and Egypt, who have all been in the recent news.  In each of those situations government repressed freedom in an attempt to consolidate and maintain power. Similarly North Korea, Russia and China have repressed their people in an effort to maintain control. 

The dilemma is, as John Locke rightly pointed out, without government there is no freedom either. We can look at Somalia to see what happens to a society with no working government or rule of law. After decades with no effective civil government the country has devolved into a lawless frontier ruled by warlords. No one is free because everyone is in constant danger.  Anything you have can be taken at any moment on the whim of the local thug.  Anything he has can be taken if a more powerful thug comes along. Or, closer to home, we can look at the current problems in Mexico.  Drug cartels war openly for territory and power. Judges, police and citizens are caught in the crossfire and the government is seemingly powerless to stop the violence. As a result, there is no freedom for the people.

Far too often we forgot how good we have it in America. The freedoms we cherish - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - are protected by a strong but relatively unobtrusive government. Around the world we can see what happens when there is too much or too little government. In either case freedom withers. In America we argue and sling mud over questions of whether 15% is a high enough tax rate for the rich or if we should be required to purchase health insurance (or should we let our fellow citizen die if they don't have coverage). In Syria people are dying as a repressive government tries to hold on to power and in Mexico people are dying because an ineffective government has lost power. We live in the sweet spot between the horns of the freedom dilemma, even if we don't take the time to appreciate our good fortune.

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