The concepts of freedom and rights are often not clearly understood by citizens, largely because the concepts have been corrupted by politicians seeking political power. Yet the comprehension of these concepts is central to keeping our free republic intact. The definitions given below are clear, simple and basic. They can and often are explained in fancier, more eloquent ways, but there is a danger in giving definitions of something as basic and necessary to life as freedom in any but the simplest, most easily understood terms. Clarity is vital in any discussion of freedom and human rights, and simplicity of language is essential to clarity. Having said this, the discussion can be expanded far beyond the bounds of this article and this discussion should be encouraged, so long as the basics are always stressed.
In a free society, the rights of each and every individual citizen are unalienable. They cannot be legitimately taken away by government, because they are not conferred by government in the first place. Rights exist by virtue of our nature as human beings. This fact is codified in the Declaration of Independence, which says that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. These rights are supported by the Constitution and its Amendments and our freedom is supposed to be inviolable.
One very clear definition of freedom is “The power of self-determination attributed to the will.” This means that freedom is the lack of encumbrance. In a free society, the greatest encumbrance to freedom is the government. Another definition is “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint” and “The state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily.” From these definitions, we may infer many subcategories of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and others. But these subcategories are for the purpose of analysis only. There are no separate categories of freedom in reality. In fact, we, as American citizens, are free to go anywhere we want, say anything we want, and do anything we choose, providing we do not violate any other citizen’s rights in the process. For example, we cannot commit crimes against anyone or shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, causing people to run riot (unless there really is a fire). All of these subcategories of freedom are enumerated, but they are not separate from freedom itself, which is vastly greater and, because they are protected by our founding documents, they cannot legitimately be restricted.
Notice the word legitimately. This means that those rights can be stolen from us only by illegitimate means, such as passing laws under false pretenses. To do this, politicians deliberately skew the concept of freedom so that we citizens do not realize what is happening to our rights. By subdividing our freedom into many freedoms, the concept can be altered in order to make us think that we only have some “freedoms” and that these are determined by government. This is NOT legitimate.
One corruption of the concept is that we must restrict our speech so as not to offend someone. Thus OUR speech is restricted by their feelings. This is the basis of political correctness, and it is actually forbidden by the First Amendment. In fact, political correctness is currently used on college campuses and elsewhere to restrict freedom of speech. When freedom of speech is restricted, our freedom in general is threatened.
The argument for political correctness is presented as anti-prejudice. But freedom from prejudice does not exist as anyone’s right, because people have the unalienable right to think or feel however they wish, even if it prejudicial. And, so long as no one acts on his or her prejudice by violating another person’s rights, there can be no violation of anyone’s freedom. Likewise, no one has a right to be free from being offended for the same reasons that everyone has the right to think what they want. Government cannot regulate thought or the expression, unless someone commits libel or slander, and his words cause actual injury to another person’s reputation.
The term “Freedom” is so powerful that it is often deliberately used to promote an illegitimate cause. For example, politicians cite “freedom from want” as an excuse to seize vast amounts of wealth from some citizens in order to give that wealth to others. But in reality, there cannot be a legitimate “freedom from want” because wealth is not guaranteed. In a free society the only freedom is to pursue one’s legitimate right to work, to be original or inventive and to exert effort to gain wealth and to provide for one’s own wants. Government does nothing to create wealth. Consequently, it can only redistribute wealth it has seized. This is a violation of the rights of those who produce in favor of those who do not.
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The truth is that politicians always only do whatever they can to get and keep power. Vast welfare is nothing more than an attempt to buy the votes of people to whom something is given by government. The recipients of this false generosity are fooled into believing that it is a benefit, but in fact their dependency is a corruption of their rights, because it weakens their ability to pursue their own interests. Moreover, at some point, the false generosity of government will stop when it runs out of wealth to seize and give away. Only then will welfare recipients realize just how corrupt a government is when it makes promises it cannot eventually keep.
Freedom is a precious thing and must be protected, guarded and never given up. In order to keep it, citizens must be always aware of what it is and must never be willing to give it away. One of the most dangerous and pernicious way freedom is stolen is to convince citizens that there is an imminent danger being posed by some outside force, and trying to convince citizens that they must give up just a little bit of their freedom in exchange for safety and protection by government. But, as Benjamin Franklin said, “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.” Benjamin Franklin was known for his wisdom and his words should be heeded by every American.