The Politics of Freedom
Boaz's book is a collection of brief essays that offer equal opportunity attacks on liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. He opposes smoking bans and gun control, but also preemptive war and a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In his mind, nanny state liberalism is as big of a threat to freedom as is big government conservatism. At its heart, Boaz argues that the United States is the freest society in the history of civilization, and that our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and fundamentally rooted in libertarianism.
His talk began with lamentation about how the left and right selectively celebrate the Bill of Rights. While the ACLU trumpets the magic of the five freedoms of the First Amendment, it largely ignores and can be outright hostile to the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. The conservative Heritage Foundation is apt to promote a similarly bipolar arrangement, only turned upside-down.
Boaz payed homage to the legacy of Robert R. McCormick and the publishing empire he helped build while standing in the Tribune Tower. He pleaded that the First Amendment is not self-executing, but instead requires the daily tutelage of journalists.
He then dove into a discourse on the principles of libertarianism. Defined as "the application of science and reason to politics and policy," libertarianism is premised on private property, rule of law, and tolerance. The latter are the "rules of the world," and are discovered through the reality of the ways the world works.
With this in mind, are we less free than we used to be? Boaz suggests that in many ways we are better off than we were even 30 years ago, although we have strayed significantly from our founding principles. That said, slavery is no longer legal, women now vote, and society as a whole has become increasingly tolerant of diversity.
At the same time, we are apt to confuse wealth and openness with actual political freedom. Wealth, although widespread, is not liberty. Similarly, we are a society of merit, not status, as social barriers have declined across time. Our political freedoms are increasingly encroached upon, yet we are more free today than in the past, and as suggested above, perhaps more free than any people in human history!
Moving from soaring philosophical platitudes to practical politics on the ground, Boaz quoted widely-syndicated journalist Robert Novak, who often addresses college graduates in commencement addresses with the advice: "Always love your country, but never trust your government."
In this light, Boaz proceeded to rail against the Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress that accompanied him through 2006. Bush was the first president to submit both a $2 and $3 trillion budget to Congress, expanding the size of government by more than 50% over the course of his presidency.
The Bush White House suspended the writ of habeas corpus for "enemy combatants," and contributed to the stationing of American troops in more than 130 countries worldwide. The mother of all evils from the perspective of a libertarian, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, contributed to the largest expansion in the size of the federal government since the days of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.
American voters rejected the Republican record of ballooning budget deficits and a protracted war in Iraq by handing the reigns of Congress to the Democratic Party in the fall of 2006. The Democrats have proceeded to load spending bills with excessive earmarks, have failed beyond belief in their ability to end the war in Iraq, and thus have offered much of the same as their GOP predecessors.
What is a libertarian to do in the wake of concurrent failures by both parties to live up to the ideals of our founding creed? Boaz counseled his sympathizers to speak up in defense of freedom without fear of the repercussions. When someone suggests that "there ought to be a law..." or "the government should help those people," respond with a resounding "NO," and suggest more plausible alternatives to address the underlying problems. Write letters to public officials and to newspaper editors. Donate to like-minded political candidates and think tanks. Lend a book (wink, wink) to a comrade in arms.
The Politics of Freedom is certainly a worthy candidate for the latter, for it promises plenty more nuggets of wisdom from Boaz.