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How Bad Do You Want to Be Free?

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Ever since I was a small child, I have been intrigued by the Battle of the Alamo. For a time, the defenders of the Alamo were expecting reinforcements to arrive. But once word came that Fannin and his troops had been massacred, it was clear that help would not come. Travis, Bowie, Crockett and their men faced certain death and yet there was still an opportunity to escape.

Why did they stay? Some of them had wives and children. Some undoubtedly had prosperous businesses. Why didn’t they simply cut and run to fight another day? Why did they choose death above all else? The same was true with those who signed the American Declaration of Independence. It is easy today to view their action as patriotic. But we must remember that the signers of the Declaration were British citizens, not Americans. They were traitors in the eyes of their own government. By signing the Declaration, they executed their death warrants. If they would have lost the war, they would have suffered the same fate at the hands of their own government as did Nathan Hale.

Why did they do it? Many of them had families and substantial fortunes. Why did they risk it all? What is this thing called liberty that makes men and women, at various times, want to fight and die for it? What is this thing called liberty that makes people willing to pledge their lives and fortunes in an attempt to attain it? What is this thing called liberty that makes the heart beat a little faster? What is this thing called liberty? Most people have no real objections to living and dying as slaves. While they would prefer freedom, it is not sufficiently valuable to them to cause them to risk their lives and fortunes in an attempt to achieve it. I have a profound revulsion against living and dying as a slave. And no matter how we try to rationalize the situation, that is exactly what you and I are — slaves. Oh, it’s not the traditional type of slavery where the slave is shackled. But it is enslavement none the less. As long as some people have the power to force us to work for them or others, or decide the persons with whom we may trade and on what conditions, or decide where we may travel or not, they are the masters and we are the slaves.

Many Americans today find the welfare state/controlled economy way of life frustrating and exasperating. But that’s about the extent of it. Life is still relatively prosperous for the average American. And so he equates the standard of living which his government permits him to have with freedom. Or, even if he knows better, it’s not worth fighting about. He would just as soon die a slave than risk the comfortable style of living which his government is letting him have.

Is the situation hopeless for us freedom devotees who, on the other hand, find slavery intolerable? Is it time to throw in the towel and simply try to live nicely off of the system? Should we just accept the inevitability of living our one and only life as a slave?

No! No! No! We must first remember that we have to ultimately answer to a Higher Authority for our beliefs and conduct. The welfare state is founded on fundamental violations of God’s sacred commandments against stealing and covetousness. Those of us who see this Truth have a sacred duty to continue speaking out and fighting against this evil and immoral way of life.

Equally important, we must resist, with all our might, the temptation to which so many freedom devotees have succumbed: the temptation to conclude that our cause is hopeless and, therefore, that we should devote our efforts to reforming the welfare state rather than ending it.

If I were asked the distinguishing characteristic of The Future of Freedom Foundation, I would answer: “We’re the ones who believe that the struggle for freedom in America is winnable in our lifetime.” A strong sense of pessimism about freedom’s chances in America appears to hold many freedom devotees in its grip. People everywhere seem prepared to dig in for a decades-long struggle. And the tragedy is that if a person believes that a battle is hopeless, defeat becomes a virtual certainty.

Well, I have no interest in a long, drawn-out struggle. Ever since I was a small child, I wanted to be a lawyer. That dream came true and I loved practicing law. But at some point, it became obvious that, despite my love of the law, freedom was more important to me than being an attorney. Others had made big sacrifices for liberty and so I figured that so could I.

But I have no interest in making this a career. In fact, I see my involvement in the struggle for freedom as a leave of absence from my career. I don’t want to become a professional in this line of work. My greatest desire is instead to put ourselves and other freedom organizations out of business through the achievement of freedom. (There is precedent for this: once the Corn Laws were repealed in 19th century England, the Anti-Corn Law League of Cobden and Bright disbanded soon thereafter.) Freedom — a constitutional separation of trade and state, and education and state — is achievable in our lifetime. Although our own government continues to tax and control us to a greater and greater degree, thousands and thousands Americans are now contemplating monumental change rather than mere reform. And therefore, I have every hope of returning to the practice of law. But if not, so be it. Others have paid bigger prices than that in the attempt to live and die as free men.

The opportunity to achieve such freedom is now presenting itself to the freedom advocates of America. Socialism, and the advocates of socialism, are in total disarray. And socialism in America — characterized by public schools, FSLIC, FDIC, HUD, Medicare, Social Security, the income tax, — has proven to be as fraudulent, corrupt, and bankrupt as it is in the rest of the world. This is the opportunity for which freedom advocates have been waiting decades — the opportunity to conclusively show that the welfare state/controlled economy should be ended and economic and educational liberty begun!

It’s just a question though of how bad we want it. It’s a question of how bad you want to be free before you die. The achievement of freedom in America in our lifetime turns on how determined we are to succeed.

But more is needed to achieve freedom than the necessary resolve among freedom devotees. One of the greatest impediments to the achievement of freedom is the lack of respectful tolerance for differing points of view among freedom devotees. People sometimes ask us why FFF promotes other freedom organizations in our literature. After all, many of these do not take the same uncompromising approach toward liberty that we do.

The reason we promote different organizations, despite philosophical, and sometimes even personal, differences is that we want to achieve freedom in our lifetime, and we know that these organizations, in their own way, are helping in that struggle. When people are able to consider a different perspective on liberty, even though it might not be our own, overall understanding of freedom is improved. Does this mean that freedom devotees should not address philosophical differences of perspective? Of course not. But it does mean that we don’t have to engage in personal attacks on one another or dissociate ourselves with others simply because they are unable to buy “our complete package” on liberty. After all, there is nothing the advocates of government control love more than to see freedom devotees tearing each other apart with vicious personal assaults on each other. Freedom can never be achieved as long as freedom devotees engage in this type of conduct against each other.

A Freedom Daily subscriber recently asked to be removed from our mailing list because I periodically use religious arguments to advance liberty. He suggested that if I stopped mentioning God in our literature, he would consider remaining as a subscriber. I stated that yes, I believed in God and yes, I was a follower of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that I would never apologize for that to anyone.

But I also said that what was important was not that everyone accept my arguments but that each freedom devotee consider, and then accept or reject, different approaches to freedom. I also said that it was important that each freedom advocate be totally honest about his own perspective of Truth. One of the reasons that Ayn Rand had such a powerful impact on me was that she was so honest about her convictions. Should I have stopped reading her literature because she was an atheist? Not as far as I am concerned. I simply disregarded those arguments which did not appeal to me and accepted those that did.

Atheists, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Moslems and whoever can all work together to advance liberty, each in his own way. By maintaining a respectful tolerance for each other’s different perspectives, we can cooperate to achieve what we want: a free society in which each individual can live his life, with or without God, as he sees fit. Another matter of great importance: every person has problems in his everyday life. And so the question becomes, “Why should I devote much of my life to achieving freedom in society when my personal life needs so much attention?” I want you to know that when you ask that type of question, I relate very well. The last couple of months have provided some rocky roads in my life. In May my mother passed away after a bout with cancer. (God should have given us more than one mother because it sure hurts to lose the only one you have!) Three weeks later, my brother’s two-month old baby died from a heart defect. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so much pain. Have you ever cried so much that no tears are even left? And how do you stay upbeat about freedom when all you feel like doing is running away from all of the personal anguish?

But nobody is spared difficulty or sorrow in life, whether it’s marital, financial, health, emotional, or other. At my mother’s funeral, I ran into a high school girlfriend who has a five-year old son with leukemia. And I recently learned that the wife of my best friend from my hometown (and with whom I discovered Mises, Bastiat,etc.) has a malignant brain tumor.

And so why take on more — a struggle for liberty — when life brings so many other things with which to deal. Why? Because life calls us to these challenges despite our personal circumstances. Man was born to be free no matter how difficult the struggle. And that was what the defenders of the Alamo and the signers of the Declaration knew — that despite their families, businesses, and everyday problems, these were all secondary to the idea of liberty. And the terrible and shameful irony is that the control and taxation which they resisted were tiny compared to that imposed on us by our own government. Why do some people in history resist tyranny with all of their might while others quietly and meekly submit to it?

The rest of the world are looking to the Americans for leadership in the area of freedom. The achievement of freedom in our time – in our country and around the world — is possible. But it depends on you — the person in 20th-century America to whom Truth has been revealed and in whom a spark of liberty burns.

All great movements in history have been led by an infinitesimally small minority of people. But the success of such movements, even a peaceful one such has ours, has always turned on the determination and resolve of the individuals within that minority.

You must ultimately decide within yourself how bad you want to be free before you die. You must search deep within yourself to see whether your determination and resolve are steeled or mushy. Because if they are of the latter variety, then you might as well give it up and resign yourself to never seeing freedom in your lifetime. Never has liberty been achieved through half-hearted efforts. Freedom has only been achieved by individuals who believed with all of their hearts, minds, and souls that nothing mattered more than the chance to be free during the one life they were given.

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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.