In the USA, we too often confuse the various meanings of liberty, freedom, and independence and their myriad expressions in our material, economic, social, and spiritual lives. Our ‘more is more’ mentality often overlooks the importance of using our freedoms to help others instead simply assuming that everyone enjoys the same opportunities we see ourselves having.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his famous four freedoms speech on January 6, 1941, articulated the following four goals, which became the foundation for the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
- Freedom of speech and expression
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom from want
- Freedom from fear
The first two are clearly expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The latter two are not U.S. Constitutional values, which may explain why we see so much of disparity, ambivalence, and apathy in our society.
The most pernicious of all libertarian illusions is the notion that free will coupled with a free market is the antidote to freedom from want. This all too easily leads to an assumption that freedom from want equates to freedom from fear, which together are achievable through the accumulation of wealth.
The natural consequence of this illusion is fear of the government itself. Too many in our society have come to believe that government only serves to constrain or perhaps worse to dilute or undermine free will by placing limitations on the exercise of market choice.
Although fear of government has not always proved irrational, it continues to prove corrosive to our notions of liberty and equity. This dangerous notion borne of a misplaced faith in markets and human choice produces a society in which too many go hungry and unhoused, we pay too much caring for the sick and get far too little health in return, and our standing in the family of nations is diminished by our inability to project the best ideals of our democracy in a fashion consistent with the world’s understanding of them except by force.
On this Independence Day, I look forward to a time when the United States lives up to the ideals of its founders and leading statesmen by abandoning the notion that freedom equates to the liberty to choose a way forward for ourselves that is isolated from and independent of others’ needs. We can and must make government–at every level and in every community–a force for good in our society and the world in which we live.