Freedom Is Self-Correcting

By Watts, Gary | The Christian Science Monitor, July 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

Freedom Is Self-Correcting


Watts, Gary, The Christian Science Monitor


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 years:

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. …

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