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Why Americans Won’t Choose Freedom

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All across the land there is an unusual stirring among the American populace. The American people are sensing that something is severely wrong in our nation. They see the ever-increasing taxation, regulation, bureaucracies, and police intrusions. And they are gradually discovering that, despite their right to vote, they have no effective control over any of this.

Yet, despite this unease on the eve of America’s third century of existence, the American people refuse to choose the only possible solution to America’s woes: freedom — freedom through the constitutional elimination of the welfare state/planned economy way of life.

Why this refusal to choose freedom? One answer lies in the fact that many Americans do not even realize that they are unfree. Having served the required twelve-year sentence in public schools, most Americans believe that income taxation, subsidies, welfare, protectionism, minimum-wage laws, and all of the other aspects of the welfare state, planned economy way of life constitute freedom.

But what about those who have discovered the truth? Are there not many of these who still will not choose freedom? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Although recognizing the basic immorality of the welfare state/planned economy way of life, many freedom devotees have chosen to devote their efforts to reforming it rather than eliminating it. Why? Why do they insist on defending a way of life which they concede is immoral as well as a deprivation of the freedom which they value so highly? Let us examine some of the reasons why these individuals who know better won’t choose freedom.

One reason is the tremendous fear which most Americans have of their own government. The agency of government which Americans fear most of course, is the Internal Revenue Service, the tax-collecting arm of the United States government. A mere letter of inquiry from the IRS is enough to cause Americans to go into a cold sweat. Not that this fear is unjustified. Every American knows that the agents of the IRS have virtually unlimited power to extract, from the pockets of the citizenry, what they consider to be the “rightful” amount owed to the political authorities. As Professor Ebeling, FFF’s vice-president of academic affairs, once put it on a radio talk show in which we were jointly participating, “If you want to know the ways and means of the IRS, simply study the operations of the KGB.”

But the IRS is not the only agency which inspires great fear in the American citizenry. I have a friend who is the executive vice-president of a major American bank. He told me that most bank presidents, although considered by others (and themselves) to be “high-powered” individuals, will quiver and quake like an autumn leaf when confronted by a banking regulator. In fact the mere mention of an impending visit by banking regulators will send most bankers into the same fearful frenzy experienced by an elementary school student who is being sent to the principal’s office.

Why? What is it that causes a grown-up to have such a paralyzing fear of another grown-up? What causes American adults to cower like little children in the face of a bureaucrat?

The answer lies in the strong and powerful government in both domestic and foreign affairs, which Americans of this century have brought into existence. For a strong government will almost always result in a weak citizenry. And a weak and terrified citizenry can rarely be relied upon to resist tyranny by their own government. Instead, they will spend their time “flexing their muscles” vicariously through the “toughness” shown by their government usually in foreign affairs.

A second reason: Too many freedom devotees have lost hope that freedom can actually be achieved. And so, having convinced themselves that slavery in America is inevitable, they devote their efforts to “working within the system” rather than to replacing the system with freedom.

A good example of this involves those church officials who have dedicated themselves to getting prayer into public schools. Few people will deny the tremendous accomplishment of the Founding Fathers when they separated church and state through the First Amendment. They realized that religious zealots with political power are among the most dangerous forces to which a society can ever be exposed. And so, the Founding Fathers fought for and achieved a way of life in which the majority could not impose, through the coercive power of government, religious doctrines on the rest of the populace.

But as every American knows, it is an entirely different situation with secular education. Here, as in the olden days with religion, children are required to be sent to governmentally approved institutions to learn governmentally approved doctrines, with religious doctrine, by virtue of the First Amendment, being the only exception.

What is the reaction of many church leaders to religion being excepted from the teachings in public schools? Having accepted the legitimacy or inevitability of state involvement in the field of education, they wish to empower the state authorities to teach religious doctrine, in addition to secular doctrine, to the nation’s youth. In other words, instead of trying to place education on the same level as religion … instead of fighting for freedom of education as our Founding Fathers fought for freedom of religion … instead of calling or a separation of school and state as our American ancestors did with church and state … instead of rendering to God both religion and education, present-day ministers of God, having “thrown in the towel” with respect to educational liberty, now wish to render to Caesar not only education but through prayer in government schools, religion as well.

A third reason why many freedom devotees won’t choose freedom: they continue to operate under the delusion that the welfare state/planned economy can be made to work. In fact, an examination of much of the literature that emanates from various American freedom think-tanks is absorbed with correcting the “waste, fraud, and abuse” of the system rather than replacing the system itself with freedom. Their solution is always the same: “The system needs reform.”

An example is found in the November 2,1990, issue of The Backgrounder, a newsletter of The Heritage Foundation, a renowned, conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C. Referring to the budget crisis last fall, Scott A. Hodge, a member of The Heritage staff, writes, “Members of Congress did not have the courage to cut one dollar of waste, pork, fraud, or unnecessary spending from the fiscal 1991 budget.” Mr. Hodge follows up with, “There is no need for Congress to dismantle the ‘social safety net'”

Mr. Hodge’s argument then, is that the welfare state — socialism — not only should be kept intact but also that it is capable of being made to operate efficiently. The utopian dream is that if we just elect “better” people to public office … if politicians will just do the “right thing … if people will just give up the “waste” which they have been receiving, it is possible to reform and refine the system so that all of us can live happily ever after in socialist heaven.

This illusion — this pipe dream — that holds so many freedom devotees in its grip is one of the major obstacles to the achievement of freedom. But unfortunately, not only in America. In the Soviet Union, the attitude is exactly the same. If the politicians and bureaucrats will only do the “right” thing, the Soviet officials argue, the socialist system can be kept intact and made to work “correctly.”

Another reason that freedom devotees are inhibited from choosing freedom: They believe that by doing so, they will not have intellectual “respectability” among their fellow Americans. Although privately acknowledging the fundamental evil and immorality of the welfare state/planned economy way of life, they believe that calling for its elimination is too “extreme.” Therefore, they maintain their “respectability” (or so they think) by advocating the continuation of the evil and immorality and, even more shameful, by wrapping their arguments in freedom rhetoric.

It is not difficult, then, to see the stark contrast between the American Founding Fathers and our present-day freedom devotees. Our ancestors refused to permit the terrible, psychological destructiveness of fear to control their actions. Faced with one of the most powerful monarchs in history, and his equally powerful regulatory and tax-collecting minions, they nevertheless chose to pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in the defense of freedom — even though it meant fighting their own government and their fellow British citizens. Devoted to principle, rather than expediency, they had no desire to reform the mercantilist economic system of their own government; recognizing the evil and immorality of such a system, they strived to eliminate it. And knowing that the pursuit of right was more important than popular acceptance, they stood their ground for the whole world to see!

It is that spirit of liberty which moved our American ancestors that is so desperately needed in our time. And when it finally grips the hearts and minds of the American people, which I am certain it will, freedom at last will be chosen.

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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.