This is the sixth edition of FJ Rocca‘s series, Civics Lessons.
The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is a stirring reminder that we must always be alert to threats against our freedom. Those threats rarely come from outside the nation. They almost always come from our own government. Therefore, to protect ones liberty, one needs to protect it from government. That is why the US Constitution was drafted as it was, to protect the liberty and rights of The People, not as a collective mass, but as individual American citizens, each and every one of whom has his or her rights guaranteed independently by our founding documents. Please note that there are no other groups specified as having rights in the Constitution or Bill or Rights.
Liberty is not fragile, because, once people experience true freedom they refuse to give it up. But freedom can be stolen from us if we don’t pay attention to what government is doing, what laws it is passing, how competently or incompetently it is handling such vital factors as the economy and defense. Thus, the first duty of every citizen is to guard against this theft by exercising “eternal vigilance” about what politicians do and say.
Think of freedom as a piece of woven cloth. The cloth is very strong, but the threads from which it is woven are each fragile. Therefore, the enemies of freedom never try to tear the cloth, only to cut the threads gradually, stealing individual freedom and rights by cutting the threads one-by-one until the cloth falls in tatters. The cloth is our nation; the threads are the laws that keep our freedom and rights secure.
Defending freedom against its enemies can be a tricky proposition, because it is often difficult to identify those enemies. They often disguise themselves as protectors of freedom, while modifying the laws that guarantee it until those laws are repealed or made ineffective. But it is unwise to put the fox in charge of protecting the hen house. Politicians often are the enemies within and they are far more dangerous than those who would attack us from the outside, because they will lie cleverly to hide their real intentions. This lying is the first danger against which we must be eternally vigilant, and the greatest liars are almost always the politicians and those who work with them.
These enemies of liberty usually begin by describing grievances that they insist must be addressed. These grievances are always claimed in the interest not of individuals, but of collective groups. Most often these grievances are invented as excuses to pass laws that give government more power and a bigger budget. Political power is always power over people. Politicians are not entitled to power over us. They are elected ONLY to protect our unalienable rights, not to steal them.
To protect ourselves, we must continually remember that our freedom and rights as individuals are not granted by government and must never come into question, no matter what grievance politicians claim they must address. We must always remember that when politicians seek to limit individual rights in favor of some group, they are not really interested in righting wrongs, but merely in gaining more power for themselves.
It is a fundamental principle of free society that each individual citizen’s rights are unalienable. This means that the assertion of collective rights that infringe on the rights of individual liberty, those rights are not legitimate and laws purporting to protect them are equally illegitimate. It is easy to misinterpret this concept, but an example may clarify it. When Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he did so to free the slaves, not as a collective mass that needed protection, but as individual citizens, each with his own unalienable rights. That is the true meaning of freedom.
Corrupting society’s understanding of rights always comes gradually, so that people do not immediately realize the full negative impact on freedom. Norman Thomas, six times the Presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America, once stated, “The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of ‘liberalism,’ they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”
This is why politicians always introduce their proposed changes stealthily in language that is unclear and ambiguous. Some changes are introduced as benefits at first, and only after they take effect are found to be dangerous liabilities. The obligation of every citizen is to guard and protect our unalienable individual rights by refusing to accept “collective rights.” Any changes that lead us away from our free republic into a liberal socialist oligarchy or dictatorship should be shouted down loudly and those who try to destroy the fabric of our freedom should be driven from office by the most powerful tool of every eligible citizen, the vote at the ballot box.
Every American citizen over eighteen is qualified to vote to elect politicians into office. There are exceptions to this rule, such as when someone is incarcerated for committing crimes. Politicians are elected to office to represent the best interests of citizens in legislatures that make laws either supporting or abrogating the freedom and rights of every individual citizen. But we do not vote for laws. We vote for people to make the laws. Therefore, it is the duty of every qualified citizen to vote wisely and to remember that a bad politician will make bad policies, the worst of which can take away their freedom and rights. We must remember that political power is power OVER people. Citizens must elect politicians who will protect their rights and freedom and not elect those who would take them away.
FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.