… If You Can Keep It

It’s a truism that’s become so trite it hardly rises to the level of a bumper sticker: Freedom isn’t free. You see it slapped across the back of SUVs, taped to the windows in Circle-K’s. Some days, it seems everyone can mouth the words but nobody understands them. Freedom isn’t free. It has always carried a cost, demanded a sacrifice. In any society that claims to be free, that liberty must be purchased.

Here I am not talking about, say, taxes. Taxes are not the price of liberty. I am not an anti-tax nut. I recognize, as Justice Holmes did, that “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society”. Taxes pay for the police and the courts, the schools and the hospitals, for sanitation and water and roads. But that’s true for any civilization. Taxes make the modern American civilization possible. They do not make it free. One of the staggering lessons of history, quite unwelcome at the moment of triumph of global capitalism, is that the price of freedom is not set in dollars, or in yuan, or in barrels of petroleum, or in bullion.

The price of freedom is blood.


The price of empire is also blood. But they differ in character. An empire is measured by the blood it is willing to shed of others. A free society is compassed by the blood its citizens are willing to shed of themselves. Freedom must be a good so highly valued, so thoroughly prized, that one would give up everything else — even life itself — rather than see liberty denied. If you’re not willing to die for your freedom, then you haven’t got it anyway: Any scoundrel can enslave you merely by willing to risk a little bit more.

Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be watered periodically with the blood of tyrants and patriots alike.” Note that “and”. It is not enough that we shed the blood of tyrants. The vast scape of human history is littered with the tales of oppressed peoples who suffered indignity and chains until it could be endured no more, who then rose up and smashed the yoke of their oppressors… and then give in to their baser instinct and became oppressors themselves. The fall of tyrants is a necessary precursor to the flowering of liberty — but it is not liberty. Freedom cannot be secured until the common citizen is willing to risk death to see it secured.

And you can’t hire a substitute.

You can’t pick a small subset of the citizenry, hand them weapons and money, and say, “Be free for me.” You can’t pluck them from an economy designed to fail them, offer them training and a job and a career, then ship them off to foreign sands and say, “Keep me free.” The men and women of the American armed forces are perhaps the most professional fighting force ever assembled, wielding a military might unprecedented in human history and unthinkable even a century ago. For the most part they are upstanding and impeccable. They can safeguard the physical property of the United States and they can protect the lives of its citizens. They cannot make us free.

You can’t hire a substitute.

If you wish to be free, you must run the risk, you must pony up the ante, you must be willing to pay the price. Does that mean that everyone should enlist in the Army or the National Guard? Does it mean our only hope of freedom lies, perversely, in universal militarization? Of course not. It means that to protect the freedoms on which this country is built, you must accept risk. An open society welcomes everyone — including, potentially, its attackers. A free press must function without governmental restraint — even if that risks undermining sensitive operations. Free citizens must be willing to debate, to question, to probe, and to ponder — they must be encouraged to doubt the party line, to look under, through, and beyond the official story. In a free society, an open debate must be held sacrosanct without reckless resort to smears such as “traitor” and “sinner”.

Josh: What do you say about a government that goes out of its way to protect even citizens that try to destroy it?

Toby:God bless America.

The West Wing, “The Midterms” (Season Two, Episode 3)

In recent years, we have seen the rise of a number of programs that, in more normal times, would have appeared quite odious, even sinister: “extraordinary rendition” to lands of torture; indefinite extranational detainment without hearing or trial; extra-statutory data mining; warrantless domestic spying. In each instance, there has been a chorus of cacklers decrying — not the outrageous acts done in our name by a government recognizing no limits — but instead the free press that has, through tireless research, uncovered these programs. There have been calls for subpoenas, espionage trials, even execution for treason; a discordant cacophony whose clear purpose is to cow and intimidate the journalists of this nation while, at the same time, convincing ordinary citizens that a free press is a luxury that cannot be afforded in the twenty-first century. And the thin thread running through all of these attacks, the weak reed that is offered up, the whine and wheadle is, These articles make us less safe. Now we are more at risk. To which I say:

The price of freedom is blood.

It is riskier to live in a free, open society than a closed, regimented one. In the short term, you probably do face a greater likelihood of suffering a terrorist attack. If that’s the price of a free press, we should pay it — and gladly. If that’s the cost of being free, we should ante up and accept it. Because without the freedom, without the liberty, the whole exercise is pointless. What good is it to save the physical America, if the price is the destruction of the higher America? This is the price demanded by freedom of every citizen. This is the cost of being “the land of the free” — we must also be “the home of the brave”. To be free, you must face death.

Happy Birthday, America. As you turn 230, keep in mind this exchange at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention: A woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “What form of government have you given us?” To which the old wit replied, “A Republic, Madam — if you can keep it.”

(Incidentally, it seems to me that these elevated risks are in fact only short-term; that in the long run, victory over terrorism can only be won by a free and open society. But that’s a topic for a different day.)

One thought on “… If You Can Keep It”

  1. This is good. Actually, very well thought. It was a breath of fresh air for me to read this that actually has logic to it — logic is dying in the age of internet.
    I assume this refers to the war in Iraq.
    It is true that people cannot handle a democracy after so many years of oppression. And, as I will cite below, their religion and culture forbids democracy of any kind which is why there are really none in the Mideast (there is a reason for it!). Their culture is mutually exclusive to the Western concept of liberty and democracy. It was a bad decision to invade — not because it is always bad to go to war (it is always undesirable but sometimes necessary) or because we are not doing anything for freedom for ourselves, but because they cannot handle freedom or Western style Democracy. They have had no assimilation and no cultural background for a democracy. Saddam knew this which is why he was so brutal. I’m against what he did. But he did keep the throat cutters from doing what they now do daily (it’s the way they use freedom – they use it to cut throats). Saddam knew this brutal truth. The only thing they respond to is a hard boot. Let up and you die. He knew how to control it the only way they would respond to.
    America can’t become apathetic in response while a culture that is mutually exclusive to liberty (by its doxy and more. That is what Franklin meant. He was concerned that our Democracy is too easy to exploit by those who would turn it into a tyrannical state in the name of democracy — that dictators and more could easily use it to weaken it (which is exactly what is happening now). Look beyond the 2nd level of politics (the Demicans and Republicrats) and see who their masters are and you will see what is actually motivating the death of liberty in the USA (Globalist movement — globalist corporations — where the very few own almost everything! That’s another argument though. I personally believe the goal of Hillary and George W is a manorial system of government with the facade of a democracy like the ever corrupt Mexico we are importing here — diseases, foreign language and all. A dumbed down peasantry is the greatest consumer group any government-media-corporate world can dream of).
    The concept of global unity and maintaining American democracy is, at present, impossible. A mere feelgood thought lacking sophistication, true knowledge of culture(s) and a dangerous naiveté. And that’s only one level. On the greedy corporate level, it’s all about consumerism. Why sell to only 230 million? The USA is a small consumer group comparatively. There’s more $$$$ to be made by those who have no religion, no culture, no nation and no language (except sterile corporatespeak). They will force people together as
    There are DNA differences within ethnicities. People evolved with what made their cultures move. Only the United States, from the Holy Bible to the Magna Carta to the Constitution have evolved into this unique style of freedom.
    That explains well why the 3rd world is what it is. For example, read the Koran (the real one — not the censored ones that colleges hand out to brainwash kids). You will see why there is terrorism in the mideast no matter how many concessions you make to terrorists (In fact, concessions has increased terrorism on a global scale because people make a mistake of cultural narcissism: they think just like I do — when they don’t! They see kindness as weakness). It’s in their doctrine from it’s inception. It’s inherent to a culture that forbids any type of freedom (the women are forced to wear burkas and not allowed to vote).
    Allowing people who have no restraint, no moral compass and are prescribed to murder all who do not belong to their terrorist doxy, amounts to suicide. Historical precedence: they only respect fear. 1500 years of terrorism to other cultures and within their own. Precept evidence: It is their written doctrine to convert by the “fire or sword” and to cut the throat of the infidel. The infidel is defined as anyone who is not them.
    On top of all of this, is the reward they believe they will get for the most murders they can commit.
    Now how do you stop it? Social programs? Midnight basketball? They don’t believe in that. Do you fight? They attacked us at least 3 times — each time worse — the USA did nothing and the last attack was planes laden with fuel into the World Trade towers.
    Freedom is truly not free. It means there are certain responsibilities that come with freedom that only a certain sophisticated culture can handle. Unchecked total freedom is anarchy. It’s impossible. It leads to slavery. Why? The “strongest” survive. The absolute powerfully corrupt can take over and the “nice” are finished.
    Just because George W is treating Iraq as a police action and not taking care of business, and messing the whole thing up, allowing greedy no bid contracts dictate whether our soldiers live or die. And he is contradicting himself saying that we need to fight them over there when he keeps importing them here. The violence from his feelgood “refugees” has already escalated in the USA malls, etc. So we will have to fight them here eventually as he imports them. And yes, we will have to fight. There are times when a citizenry is faced with fight or die. No other culture is so black and white as what we are “fighting.” Unfortunately, the media and the government has blinded us and hushed up what we are fighting. So it’s foggy to most people who don’t really study these cultures. And they assume that Islam is like us by another name. It is not. But that too, is another argument.
    Franklin believed that when most of the voters are the poorest, they would vote a dictator in. It’s paradoxical. That people without sophistication are easy to exploit for votes (see illegal alien invasion and why both parties want them here: easy to exploit for votes. And they are doing this against the will of the American people).
    The hardest blow to liberty at present is on an intellectual level. For example, I’m risking writing the truth about Islam here. The risk is being branded “hate speech” and “racist” — the groupthink, one-size fits all answer to all problems for those who cannot reason, are intellectually dishonest, are the antitheses of freedom, and are doing exactly what Franklin feared: exploiting liberty to end liberty whether they know it or not.
    Start with free speech and the ability to criticize across the cultural board in the USA. That’s where it’s being lost the most. It is why art is dead. After the social PC agents give the stamp to any script or artwork, you have sterilized thought. I am not talking about the freedom to teach gay sex to kindergarten children. I’m talking about the ability to criticize the very people who are ending free speech. The real free speech. The ones who say they are for it as long as it agrees with them. And have an Orwellien “Fairness doctrine” to enforce it. (Shut down talk radio but PBS does not have to have an alternative view. A way to end all criticism of leftist thought in America – where the sheeple can be told what to think without criticism!)