Is freedom a virtue or a vice? That question goes to the heart of
some of the past century's most violent conflicts. And it seems to
be driving much of the criticism against the US today. But as it's
described in the quintessential work on freedom - the US Declaration
of Independence - liberty is worthy of all the world's admiration.
Essentially, the signers declared:
We believe that it is true beyond any doubt that every human
enters the world with the right to live and with the freedom to
pursue happiness. But since it's a jungle out there, few people are
actually able to enjoy these freedoms. The sole purpose of the
people-elected government is to protect these basic rights.
Detractors argue that this government-protected liberty licenses
a lust for the kind of greed responsible for much of the world's
misery. To satisfy this lust, they say, Americans, or their proxies,
kill, steal, and destroy other cultures - and then justify this
behavior on the basis of "freedom."
What rubs those that argue the perils of individual freedom the
wrong way isn't just what the US unfairly takes from other
societies, it's what we force on others - our ways. Profitmakers
peddle Barbie dolls, iPods, cellphones, DVDs, computers, and other
materialistic items too numerous to count in order to create a
market for their goods and trample other societies in the process.
This indictment includes all Americans who work for, own stock
in, buy from, or sell to Big Oil, Big Corn, or "Big" anything
because, to the accusers, such individuals profit from or contribute
to the "predatory practices of American capitalism" - and,
therefore, should be held accountable.
So intimates Osama bin Laden, and so say some radicals of our
own. Former professor Ward Churchill wrote of those killed in the
World Trade Center on 9/11 that "they were civilians of a sort. But
innocent? Gimme a break."
Though not everyone talks in these hyperbolic terms, even the
most patriotic American may have some unease about where the US
stands today on liberty.
But, in the face of these kinds of arguments, there have been
some pretty substantial defenders of individual freedom over the
In 1926 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the signing
of the Declaration of Independence, President Calvin Coolidge spoke
about the virtues of individual freedom and the greatness of the
Declaration: "Man everywhere has an unconquerable desire to be the
master of his own destiny."
President Coolidge reminded us that the Declaration stood out as
a great charter of government not only because it liberated
Americans, "but was everywhere to ennoble humanity. …