Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog

2.13.2008

The Politics of Freedom

By Shawn Healy
David Boaz spoke to a lively Freedom Museum audience last evening who braved another batch of winter weather to hear about his new book, The Politics of Freedom: Taking on the Left, the Right, and Threats to Our Liberties, and a more general discourse on libertarian principles. Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, is an articulate and principled adherent to a socially liberal and fiscally conservative political philosophy.

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.

2 Comments:

Blogger Taylor Norrish said...

For gun control, or against it, make your voice heard... Connect with your reps on this issue below.

http://www.govit.com/H_R_96/To_require_criminal_background_checks_on_all_firearms_transa/
http://www.govit.com/H_R_203/To_amend_Federal_crime_grant_programs_relating_to_domestic_v/
http://www.govit.com/H_R_256/To_prevent_children's_access_to_firearms/

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Chrissy said...

I read a book today that helped me cope with some of the anxiety i have. The book called Anchor in the Spirit has lifted my spirits and let me gain the freedom i thought i had forever lost. In this book you will find some self-help tips that will help you.
Check it out!

7:19 PM  

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SHAWN HEALY

Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project


Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.



Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.


First Amendment journalism initiative


The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at



Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project


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