What “Freedom” Really Means

By Bradley Harrington

“Politicians, like bombers, seldom see their victims.” — Donald Boudreaux, “Losing Touch,” 1994 —

wte3-column-26-illustration-breaking-chainsIt seems as though my analysis of some of the results of our recent Wyoming political races (“Local Elections Advance Freedom,” WTE, Dec. 2) has ruffled soon-to-be former Wyoming legislator (HD41) Ken Esquibel’s feathers to no end, inasmuch as he has penned a claim to the exact opposite (“Freedom Takes a Hit in Local Elections,” WTE, Dec. 19.)

While I have no doubt that Mr. Esquibel is sincere in his opinions and beliefs, though, that thesis, along with some of the points he raised in his piece, demands challenge.

Since it is “freedom” we are talking about here, let’s start off by defining the term (“the quality or state of being free”) — which contains, as its first two characterizations, the following: (a) “the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action,” and (b) “liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; independence.” (“Merriam-Webster Dictionary.”)

Clearly, therefore, “freedom” relates to “freedom of action,” i.e., not being under the control or power of another.

Mr. Esquibel, however, seeks to redefine the term repeatedly, asserting that it consists of things such as: The “freedom” to not “end up in a minimum wage job” or to not “die on the job”; to not “suicide” or to “seek out help”; to experience “small class sizes” and the “freedom to learn”; and, remarkably, enough, the “freedom” to “drink clean water,” to “breathe clean air,” to “access health care” and to have “quality child care.”

Well, Mr. Esquibel, why stop there? Why not include the “freedoms” from “want and fear,” as did your Democratic mentor, Franklin Roosevelt, quite a few decades back?

Indeed, if that’s the road we’re going to travel, why not include things such as “freedom” from hunger, the “freedom” from the need to produce in order to survive, and the “freedom” to ignore all the rest of the “constraints” of reality as well?

All of which totally misses the point. As the philosopher Ayn Rand once observed: “Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state — and nothing else.” (“America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business,” 1961.)

By seeking to reformulate concepts such as “freedom” and “liberty” away from the lack of intrusions into people’s lives on the part of the state, however, and into such areas as the “freedom” from “hunger, want and fear,” Mr. Esquibel turns the English language on its head and attempts to wipe out the few freedoms we actually have left.

How so? Because government, by definition, has nothing that it doesn’t take away from somebody else first. Government, by definition, IS coercion. And, in a truly free society, the only justification for the use of coercion is a prior act of force against the rights of another.

To contend, therefore, that the path to “freedom” (i.e., a lack of coercion) lies in the institutionalization of coercive actions into the hands of an almighty State, with dictatorial powers over the lives of everyone, is the grossest of inversions — logically, morally and philosophically.

Democrats such as Mr. Esquibel, however, have this tactic down pat. When they encounter resistance to their coercive schemes of enlarging state power and control, they simply proclaim that such individuals support “dying on the job,” are opposed to “health care,” have no use for “small class sizes,” have no interest in “clean air” or “clean water,” etc., etc., etc.

Speaking for myself, I’ve never met anyone, out of the thousands of people I’ve known over the years, that’s interested in drinking dirty water or breathing dirty air. Nor have I ever met anyone who doesn’t want to see their children gain an education, or who wants their kids to go out and commit suicide. To boldly proclaim, therefore, that anyone advocating limitations on the power of the state is only predisposed to achieving such results is little more than obfuscation of the highest order.

Which is not to say that Republicans, necessarily, have a better grasp of reality than do Democrats such as Mr. Esquibel. Indeed, it has been my experience that the inability to grasp these simple facts of reality cuts across party lines, as both parties have been vehicles in such political destruction. So I’ll give him that!

Thus, the true question — for both Democrats and Republicans — remains: How is it, exactly, that “freedom” now consists of forcing your state schemes down everybody else’s throats? And, once that reversal has been achieved — and it has — just where, exactly, are we to find our true freedoms afterwards?

Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email:  bradhgt1776@gmail.com.


NOTE: This column was originally published in the “Wyoming Tribune Eagle” on December 25, 2016. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.

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About Bradley Harrington

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