A friend of mine sent me an email a few months back noting that he doesn’t feel like he’s lost his freedoms.
“I feel free,” he said. “I can do what I want, go where I choose, live as I decide.” He said he trusted my passion about the loss of freedom, but wondered why he didn’t feel the loss.
This is a very smart friend, well-read in the classics and modern leadership books, who pays attention to government and is a great citizen.
I was a little surprised by his words, but they made me think. Do most people feel as free as ever? Can’t everyone see how little changes in our government policies have a direct impact on their freedoms?
In the last few weeks I’ve written several articles on the need for regular people to read treaties, government budgets, law cases, and proposed laws.
After the most recent one, this same friend emailed that he often feels too busy making a living, supporting his family and fulfilling his family, church and community responsibilities to read treaties and budgets. “Where can I find the time to read these things — in addition to all the books I should be reading?” he asked.
I noted in the article that the founding generation would have devoured these documents — read them in detail.
“How many of them actually had time to read this stuff?” my friend asked.
My answer is that only about 3 percent of the founding population was actively involved in governance in an ongoing, daily, way, but the regular citizens — farmers, workers, merchants — read the Federalist Papers and important documents and had strong opinions on them.
At any point in history that the masses stop reading what government is doing, freedom is lost. No exceptions.
Note that people in every generation of free society have had busy lives. At least the masses did. If a few elites watch government, the elites stay free. Only when the masses watch government do the masses stay free.
And the way to watch it is to read laws, cases, budgets and treaties. The founding masses did this, and when Americans stopped doing it our freedoms began to decline.
In a way, the two emails from my friend are interesting. He doesn’t feel any loss of freedom, but he feels he doesn’t have time to read treaties and budgets — not because he’d rather be biking or going to movies, but because he is too busy making a living.
I think a lot of people today feel this way — free, but tied down by financial needs.
Is that really free? Which is the chicken and which is the egg? The founders wouldn’t have considered this “free.”
But here’s the difference: In the founders’ day, my friend could hang out a shingle on a new business and become financially prosperous in the coming years. He has the talents to be a fantastic lawyer. In 1795, he could hang out such a shingle tomorrow, start reading more law books, and as long as he won cases, he’d be very successful.
Today, he’d need years of professional training in order to get a government license to practice law. And he’d rack up a $100,000 of debt getting the government’s approval. Then his income would be taxed and insured at rates unimaginable in the 1790s. In other words, he’s less free, whether he feels it or not.
Maybe he doesn’t like law. He has the talents to be a fantastic accountant. Oh, but wait, he’s have to do specialized training and get licensed. Well, he is a great speaker and could be an amazing teacher. But wait, nearly all schools require government certificates for their teachers, so he’d need more training, debt, licensure, etc.
Indeed, list good-paying careers and most of them are highly regulated — you can only practice them if you have a government stamp. When Britain tried to regulate such a stamp in order to be a tea merchant, Americans tossed all the tea into the harbor.
We aren’t free at nearly the same levels the founders were. And most people don’t even know the difference.
We may feel free, but just try making a living without government approvals, licenses, waivers, certificates, impact fees, commission hearings, environmental studies, public notices, etc., etc., etc. And even with all the approvals in place, more regulations are being passed this month.
No wonder we don’t feel we have time to read treaties, cases, or budgets.
But the reality remains. If the masses don’t study government documents, they lose their freedom. Period.
Which means that we have two choices:
- We can read budgets and cases and treaties and laws in addition to making a living and meeting family, church, and other responsibilities, or
- We can lose our freedoms and leave our children and grandchildren to have it much worse than we do.
We get to choose. We can take freedom, or leave it. There is no royal road to freedom. As Thomas Paine put it, Heaven knows how to put a proper price on things — and freedom is expensive.
It takes time to read such things, and more time to do something about them. And to do this while struggling to support a family and make ends meet takes blood, sweat and tears.
The founders knew. They lived it. So did every other group of masses that was ever free. They choose freedom, and they paid the price. It was so worth it. Those who didn’t, well, they lost their freedom.
As for us, are we going to take it or leave it?
*This usually isn’t fun reading. But it is freedom reading. Try:
Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.
Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.