I’ll say up front that I’m not a Libertarian in the political sense. I really enjoy some things that government provides, including public education for my kids and FDIC coverage for the few dollars in my bank account. I don’t feel like I fit into any political party well. I am registered as a Republican so I can vote in primary elections, but I’m disappointed with Republican congressmen just as frequently as I’m disappointed with Democrats.
Today is July 4th. The distinction of that date as the birthday of our country is debatable, but I’m not one to refuse to celebrate on a technicality. My favorite part of this holiday (when I get to witness it) is the parade. Many small towns in our country have parades with old cars, tractors, fire engines, Shriners in little cars, and marching bands.
But the part of the parade that has always affected me most is when I watch the veterans march by. When I was little, there were still a few World War I veterans walking or riding on trailers in each parade. They are gone, but we have many of the Greatest Generation, the World War II veterans, along with those who served in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and more recent conflicts in places like Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. And of course there are those who have not yet come home, who we also remember.
These veterans remind me of the men and women who were instrumental in our country becoming independent. The core issue was liberty. They wanted to be able to chart their own course, to choose for themselves what they and their country would become.
Personal liberty was the basic principle that allowed some Americans to become great, and others terrible. Liberty is the driving force behind the American Dream, whatever that means to each American. It is the idea that no matter what you were at birth, you can choose what to become.
Liberty is not all about prosperity; with true liberty, a rich man can become poor just as easily as a poor man can become rich. And some people can choose to do terrible things with their freedom. But the essence of freedom is risk. It is risky to give people the freedom to choose, because they may choose the worst things for themselves and others.
But the risks of liberty are worth their potential price. There are many forces in our country that would reduce or eradicate our ability to choose. Clearly, a civil society does need just rules and laws that protect the innocent and keep order so that all may enjoy their right to choose how to live. But when those rules become so cumbersome that even the most honest and upright among us cannot live without breaking some statute, there is no reason and no respect for the laws that are actually important.
The laws that run our country are so complex that we cannot understand, enforce, or even read all of them. To those who respect the law, there is a constant, nagging discomfort as we know that we are always doing something wrong according to some law. To those who have no respect for the law, there is a sense that everything is illegal anyway – why bother trying to obey?
I am certainly not suggesting that we should carelessly discard laws without regard for the consequences. I am simply suggesting that our liberty and sanity might be improved by ditching some of the legal language, by writing laws that the people who are supposed to follow them can understand. When a bill of over one thousand pages becomes law, does that really help any American know what he or she should change in response to it? Clearly not.
I look back to a set of laws that provided a great framework for society but also great room for liberty. The most famous of these? “Thou shalt not kill.” Four very clear words that everyone who heard could understand.
To celebrate our country, let us exercise the liberty we have and uphold the personal virtues and self-control which makes liberty possible. I believe that God ordained this country to exist with liberty and justice. We cannot have justice without liberty, and in order to maintain our liberty, we must act justly.