Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why Are Americans Giving Up Their Freedom?

This is a column published in Townhall.com by David Strom, the President of the Minnesota Free Market Institute. Until recently he was President of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, one of the largest and most successful state-based taxpayer advocacy organizations in the country. It's a powerful commentary that we should all heed, which is why I'm reprinting it here.

Are Americans tiring of individual liberty?

It sure seems so. How else can you explain the proliferation of laws that regulate the most mundane aspects of our lives, and the mostly passive reaction of Americans to the ever increasing micromanagement of our lives?

Liberty has always been a tougher sell than many of us assume. We all want the freedom to do as we like, but few of us are as committed to allowing others to act contrary to our notion of right and wrong. Majorities have always sought and often found ways to impose their views upon minorities. The most vocal minorities have often been successful in imposing their will on the majority, at least for a time.

So there is nothing new about threats to Individual liberty being a daily part of our lives. What is new is that the institutional barriers to regulating our daily lives have effectively broken down. It took a Constitutional Amendment to pass prohibition of alcohol (and repeal it). Who today expects a Constitutional fight over smoking, obesity, trans-fats, or any of the myriad personal issues now under the purview of government control?

America was founded on the belief that government power should be strictly limited, because the alternative to limited power was unlimited power. The framers of the Constitution were rightly concerned that without strict institutional barriers to the expansion of government powers there would eventually be no barriers at all. Power, in any form, longs to be absolute.

Unfortunately, the concept of limited government is becoming an anachronism in today’s America.

There are no limits on what government can regulate because we have accepted the notion that there are no limits to the benefits government can and should bestow upon us. Fifty percent of health care is paid for by the government—including universal health care for all of us over 65. Your trans-fat laden donut today could mean higher taxes for me in the future. Ditto for smoking and other risky behavior.

The pervasiveness of government power over our lives is so complete that at times it becomes invisible. Today only the most obvious and egregious violations of our liberty seem to get people riled. For instance, Californians rebelled at the idea of government control over their thermostats, but Americans have in the main meekly submitted to massive social engineering in their daily lives.

Americans have made a bargain with the devil. Dispensing with the idea of limited government in realm of benefits has meant dispensing with the idea of any limits to government power at all. Once we accept the notion that government should ensure that our pursuit of happiness succeeds, we have accepted the notion that government has the right to define what a happy life should look like.

We can call this trend the encroachment of the “nanny state,” which it is, or the spread of “liberal fascism,” which it also is. But it is also the inevitable result of Americans’ increasing desire to have government guarantee that more and more aspects of our lives turn out all right.

Limiting government power requires limiting the benefits that government can bestow upon us, and right now that seems a bridge too far for some Americans. The revival of the conservative movement will not depend upon conservatives making peace with the welfare state, as some are arguing. It will depend, instead, on tapping into Americans’ uneasiness regarding the encroachments of the State into more and more aspects of our private lives.

Can conservatives succeed in convincing Americans that government benefits, and hence power, should be limited? Perhaps. But only if they remind Americans (as Barry Goldwater did) that a government big enough to give you everything you want is one big enough to take away everything you have.


Victoria Kamm said...


I agree completely. The Bush administration has been very successful in using fear to encroach on our civil liberties. Americans are now afraid of everything and when people are afraid they will do whatever they can to feel safe and in control of their own lives. Regrettably people are more afraid of terrorists than the loss of free speech and privacy.

The terrorists hate us for our freedoms? Probably not as much as they used to. We lost too many in the hysterical response to a small group of nuts.

Maggie Thurber said...

Victoria...don't forget Congress, too. They're the ones who pass the laws...

gordon gekko said...

To the previous comments, a question.

What is it today that you're not able to do today that you were able to do prior to the Bush Administration?

In other words, exactly what freedoms have you lost?

As far as the post goes, I'm convinced that as our society has turned into a "flop in front of the TV culture" where we are continually bombarded with messages that we can have it all without a cost to us. Americans will continue to believe they can sit in front of that TV, not do anything , and someone will bail them out.

Tim Higgins said...

Let's not pretend that this began with the Bush Adminstration. I think that we can go back just a bit further to say, oh, the New Deal to begin to find a culprit; but that misses the point.

As disgusted as any of us might be with some of the recent laws passed, it is the regulations of government bureaucracy, from the FCC to the FDA that have most impacted our lives. It is the edicts imposed by officials never elected to office, and mandated without a popular vote that most constrain our freedom. These self-appointed guardians of what is right and good work their will upon us and the system provides little or no redress from their machinations.

The tragedy is that we are entertained as magician fools us again, while we fail to perceive the misdirection.

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