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Shenandoah, Liberty, and the State

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I was watching the 1965 movie Shenandoah last night and it reminded me of how differently 19th-century Americans viewed the concept of liberty and the role of the state, compared to today’s Americans.

Keep in mind that our American ancestors lived without such things as income taxation and the IRS, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, gun control, etc. In fact, don’t forget that the big exception on freedom — slavery — was a way of life in which the slave had guaranteed housing, food, and employment — and no freedom.

The star of Shenandoah is Jimmy Stewart, who plays the role of a Virginia farmer who refuses to get involved in the Civil War and discourages his six sons and daughter from doing the same. The family has always been opposed to slavery and has never employed slaves on its farm. Thus, they have no interest in fighting to preserve such an institution. (The issue of secession never arises in the movie.)

One day a Confederate officer arrives at Stewart’s farm with a few men and tells Stewart that he is there to enlist his sons in the Confederate army. Here’s the exchange between the officer and Stewart:

Stewart: “Can you give me one good reason why I should send my family that took me a lifetime to raise down that road like a bunch of damned  fools to do somebody else’s fighting?

Confederate Officer: “Virginia needs all of her sons, Mr. Anderson.”

Stewart: “That might be so, Johnson, but these are my sons. They don’t belong to the state. When they were babies, I never saw the state coming around with a spare teat. We never asked anything of the state and never expected anything. We do our own living and thanks to no man for the right.”

Of course, today all too many American men could not and would not say the same thing, given that they ask everything of the state and have long depended on the government teat for such things as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, drug laws, public schooling, welfare, SBA loans, education grants, protection from competition, and economic regulations. Today’s American man is always expecting more and more government welfare in one form or another, ignoring of course that all these welfare “benefits” are being paid for by their friends, neighbors, and relatives through the coercive apparatus of the state.

Moreover, since most American parents today look upon the federal government as a generous and compassionate parent, albeit at times abusive, they would eagerly claim that their lives and the lives of their children do belong to the state. That’s why unfortunately all too many Americans have no reluctance to letting the state seize their child not only to be indoctrinated for 12 years in the state’s schools but then also to be sent thousands of miles away to die in some worthless foreign war.

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Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.