America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbears, and true to our founding documents. - Barack Obama
Liberty was the vision for America and the charge of our political philosophy. It was not given to us by our forbears or by the government they created, rather it was defended and advocated. Liberty is a universal intrinsic property and Right of all men that can only be taken away by injustice or by indifference.
Where there is independence, choice, and consciousness there is also liberty.
Independence is the first aspect of liberty.
Thomas Hobbes would have categorized "independence" among the same pile of nonsense words inhabited by "free will." He would probably point out that universal independence is an absurdity and cannot be demonstrated anywhere. Perhaps early theologians sensed this uncomfortable fact when they re-invented their god sans parts or passions, without substance and without being, but finally independent! I suspect that if you were to order a cheeseburger without parts or passions, you would end up with exactly the same thing as our third and fourth-century churchmen: Nothing.
Let us admit that there is little room for "pure independence" within our universe. Being itself demands a hierarchy of dependencies before creation is possible. Existence depends on matter, energy, properties, and laws. Outside of these boundaries, ontology, epistemology, and philosophy all become paradoxical, self-contradictory, and illogical.
However, if we place the idea of independence within a certain context, it becomes a very useful and natural concept. The independence upon which liberty is predicated belongs to a natural human domain. It is not infinite and absolute.
For example, Free people enjoy healthy bodies unhampered by sickness or addiction. Dead or sick people are less free to choose and to act than healthy living people. Thus, freedom itself depends in part upon health and wholeness.
A healthy body requires clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, wholesome food to eat, and adequate exercise. A healthy body also depends on property, such as clothing and shelter. Physical property requires skill, knowledge, and tools to cultivate and create.
Infants depend upon parents to care for them; children and parents require family relationships in order to thrive. Local community and professional associations are important to secure stability and prosperity for all. To all of this, we must add a sense of spiritual fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and a sense of calling that humans need in order to be genuinely happy.
This web of dependence, far from being the enemy of liberty, is a natural and organic phenomenon. Indeed, wherever these fundamental and natural dependencies are infringed, it is liberty that suffers.
But it is possible for dependence to become artificial and complex, extending beyond or replacing the natural dependencies found wherever artifice is not imposed.
Instead of healthy food and exercise, a person may become dependent upon synthetic drugs and medical procedures.
Instead of depending on his own property for comfort and shelter, a person may come to depend on abstract money and the property of other distant and unknown people.
One may depend on virtual friends, committees, and political parties instead of parents, families, and communities.
Instead of relying on self-command, rely instead on the moral hazard of "technologically preempted" consequences. Choose results instead of actions.
Instead of personal skills, require the skills of impoverished aliens or invisible foreigners.
Unions replace local guilds, power and hierarchy replace common interest; sinecure and management replace actual productive work.
In the place of spiritual fulfillment, put insatiable consumerism and recreation.
Where there was once purpose and calling, there are now citizens ready-made by their government, not to follow their own dreams, but "to meet the demands of a new age."1
The test for independence is simple. Do individuals and local communities have all that they need to be self-sufficient? If not, then they are not Free. Where artificial, distant, and abstract dependencies have been introduced, the individual's influence and capacity for working out his own good and directing his own destiny is greatly reduced or eliminated.
Imagine if some or all of our artificial infrastructure were to disappear, including long-haul trucking, fossil fuels, synthetic drugs and contraceptives, artificial foods and materials; utilities, transportation, and so forth. If we were left thus, only to ourselves, to the care and skill of our neighbors, and to our own productive property, would we live or die? And if we live, could we thrive and progress on our own? This is what independence is all about. It exists at a national, local and individual level.
Our forbears envisioned an independent people, not a people dependent on distant strangers, complex processes, abstract systems, or bureaucracies.
Have we been faithful to this ideal?
In the next essay, some words about choice.
1. From Barack Obama's inaugural speech, January 20, 2009