Friday, February 17, 2006

Where does freedom come from?

A new visitor (and/or first-time poster), Gaurav Ahuja, wondered Thursday about something I said way back when I wrote about freedom and Bobby McGee (and am I glad for any excuse to look at that lovely photo of Janis again).

Gaurav wrote: "I wish I could believe that statement about we set most of our freedom instead of the government. But, the thing is others are also responsible for our freedom. New technology sets us freer, and that takes millions of people buying, selling, investing, thinking etc. The fact is our freedom does depend on others, otherwise we would see no need to type about liberty."

It's a good question: Where does our freedom come from? I subscribe to the position that (and I wish I could find who said this first) freedom is the default condition of human beings; we are born free, and as time goes on we are taught or coerced to surrender that freedom.

City buses are often equipped with a device called a governor; it's a machine that keeps the bus from going faster than city buses are supposed to go, speeds they would otherwise have the engine power to attain easily. It's the perfect illustration of the meaning of the word "govern" - To govern something is to place limits on it.

To put it in more familiar language: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ... with certain inalienable 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. We free men and women give power to the government; government does not grant us our freedom.

A government by definition is something that places limits on freedom; that's why the Bill of Rights theoretically restrains the government from placing improper limits on our freedom. I say "theoretically" because Gaurav looks at the way the world is and sees that the government, and "others," try to tell us that the Bill of Rights created those freedoms and that government has the power to create liberty.

The reality, however, is you and I are the ones who give the government permission to act this way. You are free to do anything you like, if you are willing to accept responsibility for your actions and if you do not intrude on anyone else's freedom. Authority can only limit your freedom, and then only with your permission; it cannot give you permission to be free anymore than it can give you permission to breathe. Just as breathing comes naturally and automatically, so does freedom.

I'm not saying that insisting on your right to freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom to keep and bear arms, is not a dangerous proposition. We are increasingly assailed by those who would take those freedoms away for various excuses, and many laws that gut the Bill of Rights are seen in contemporary America as right and necessary.

I am saying, however, that governments derive their powers, just or otherwise, from the governed. A government that does not have the consent of the governed can't govern effectively.

Freedom is the default. You hold it in your power to press the reset button anytime you can gather the courage.


Blogger jomama said...

Am putting you in my links.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Gaurav Ahuja said...

Hey I just got your post from Ender's Review again. And I see my name :) mentioned. I was a first time poster, not a reader so I guess you can take a little out of that post. Anyway, the post is correct at the macro/aggregatate level, but I do not see how I can just press reset and voila the government disappears. I do know what you mean in terms of tacit consent is always needed from the people to give government authority, but as an individual who is an anarchist, to preserve the maximum amount of freedom there needs to be some cooperation with the government. That is paying taxes etc. so that I don't get into their gulags and jails. This is pretty elementary but I am not sure if you were really addressing my point so I am attempting to elaborate. Please send a reply to my email address at Thanks!

3:51 AM  

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