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The Standard of Liberty

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The concept of a standard is as old as man himself. It has been expressed in man’s earliest writings. Moses understood its principles; so did the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the ancient dynasties of China and Japan — in every society, there have been those who have understood its principles.

Standards are so powerful that adherence to their principles can cause the rise of a civilization, while disregard can cause a civilization’s collapse. Adherence to standards is as vital to the life of any culture as it is to any manufacturing operation.

In a manufacturing setting, it is crucial to hold measurements to their ideal. We use standards to calibrate the tools of manufacture. From the dawn of civilization, standards have been used to minimize error and prevent bias. In their book Quality Planning and Analysis , Juran and Gryna write that in ancient Egypt, the pharaohs kept in their palace a black granite master cubit (a primary reference standard). Each full moon the engineers of the pyramids would bring their wooden cubits (the working standards) to the palace for calibration. In calibration, they would compare their wooden cubits to the black granite master cubit where discrepancies between the two would be readily apparent and thus corrected. After calibration, the engineers could be certain that when each referred to the “cubit” in the construction of the pyramid, they were using “identical” measurements. The precision displayed in the construction of the pyramids is testimony to the power of the standard. Without standards and calibration, quality is impossible. The disregard of a standard always results in drift.

The importance of standards

Why is a standard so important? Every child who has played the game “rumors” knows. You know rumors, the game where each child tells one of his classmates the “secret” that was told to him. After a while, the “secret” transforms itself into something very much different from the original. Every adult, who repeatedly loses his key and has another set cut from the spare, knows that if the new keys are always made from the newest spare and not from the original — the standard — eventually the key won’t fit the lock. Every machinist knows that if he always fabricates the new piece from the worn, just as surely as the sun will rise, over time, the piece stops fitting.

Without standards, the car that we drive wouldn’t exist; the telephone wouldn’t exist; the refrigerator, the stove, the dryer, any of our modern conveniences wouldn’t exist. Mass production would be impossible. Our very lives would cease to exist if DNA (the standard) was disregarded in cell division. Any process, be it reproduction, manufacturing or government, is subject to nature’s law of entropy. The natural state of nature and man always moves towards disorder and chaos . . . unless we purpose to remedy this steady march of degradation by correction back to a reference point, a standard .

A standard of liberty

The early Americans who founded this country understood the nature of man very well. These men understood with perfect clarity that government and freedom are potential opposites. Liberty is required to fully maximize man’s happiness and creative potential; yet, liberty, being a fragile state, cannot exist in anarchy.

Government, on the other hand, must include men; and men, being of ambition, will always push for more power and more control over the lives of their fellow men. The ideal of America’s Founding Fathers was a government whose function was to protect and defend the liberty of its citizens. Such a government would be unlike any other in history.

But how would a government based upon the protection of individual freedom withstand the perpetual assaults by men of ambition? The Founders knew that if liberty were to have a chance — if it were to survive at all — the only hope would be to apply the concept of a standard.

The Founders concluded that government had to be constrained by a higher law to ensure that it complied with its function — to protect the freedom of the individual. The design of a limited government, that is, one whose powers were limited to preserving man’s liberty , would be embodied in the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution would call the government into existence; but the powers of that government would be limited to those enumerated in the Constitution.

Our history has shown that this system of limited government, designed to protect and defend the ideals of individual freedom, but held in check by the Constitution, was the best form of government that has ever existed in all of history.

Living with double standards

But, over the years, we have drifted from the original standards of liberty.

How can we Americans not perceive the bias? There can be only two reasons. Either the standard of freedom to which each of us refers has changed, or the interpretation of these standards has changed. We either believe our standard of liberty to be accurate; or we incorrectly perceive that the Founding Fathers’ ideal of freedom is one and the same with our own.

The words of Abraham Lincoln summarize the nature of the problem we face: The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing . With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny.

Most of us Americans have forgotten what the words freedom and liberty once meant. We live by double standards. We believe ourselves to be “free” because that’s what we’ve been taught. But the standard of liberty that early Americans had in their mind’s eye was very much different than it is today. If these early Americans, who knew and understood the fundamental standards upon which this country were founded, were to discover our current standard of liberty, they would be appalled at the difference.

The greatest difference between the standard of liberty in early America and at present is in the freedom of the individual. Early Americans held their destiny in their own hands. Indeed, they demanded the freedom to do as they pleased with their lives and fortunes. The Virginia Bill of Rights provides insight into this premise:

All men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity, namely the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

Early Americans were independent and self-reliant. After living 150 years in the wilderness of the New World, they had learned the lessons of survival — do for yourself or starve. They neither expected nor desired charity. Indeed, some would have rather starved than accept a handout. Liberty burned in their hearts.

Contrast the modern-day welfare state. The welfare state’s definition of liberty is the latter part of Lincoln’s contrast: “for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor.” Such a definition is a glaring discrepancy from the ideals of liberty that early Americans held “interwoven with every ligament of their hearts.”

The corruption of the standard

The original, fundamental standard of liberty has been corrupted. Government’s role has become: to do what’s good for the people and not to allow the people the freedom to do what they believe to be good for themselves. The welfare state’s standard of liberty is the very antithesis of the original. The citizens of the welfare state have become addicted to the opium of the “possibilities of government.” These citizens expect government handouts. They expect “their fair share.” They expect something for nothing. They care not for posterity, but only for themselves. When warned of the consequences on their children of their insatiable demands on their Uncle Sam, it is not unusual to hear them reply, “In fifty years, we’ll be dead.”

And what is the price for “our fair share”? Not simply our prosperity. The real price is our liberty ! Liberty is a prerequisite for self-reliance and independence; serfdom is the consequence of the welfare state.

Moving toward the standard

What is the solution? The premise of a standard is to recognize bias when it exists. And bias demands correction. The proper maintenance of liberty becomes impossible if the standards that define it drift. Like the “secret” in a game of rumors, the secret of freedom becomes twisted and malformed. The original concepts of individual liberty and freedom must be kept in the forefront of our minds, lest their meanings fade from our awareness, making the recognition of bias elusive.

A discrepancy from the standard warrants the return to the standard. Bias demands correction. George Mason recognized the concept of the standard of liberty when he wrote in the Virginia Bill of Rights, “The blessings of liberty [cannot] be preserved to any people but by firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles . [Emphasis added.]”

I repeat: Bias demands correction ! The solution requires recurrence to fundamental principles — a return to limited government whose primary function is to preserve the liberty of its citizens; and this requires each American to compare his understanding of the word “liberty” with its original meaning.

The consequences of continued drift are severe. For as Judge Learned Hand said, “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”

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    Mr. Lewis, a Freedom Daily subscriber, is an assistant plant manager of a manufacturing operation located in Frederick, Maryland, and is an American Society for Quality Control (ASQC) Certified Quality Engineer.