“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
After many years of insisting to anyone who would listen that all I learned in high school was how to type and how to drive, I find some of the lessons of those years burbling up to positions of usefulness.
For example: Galileo explained his shocking new theories in the form of a dialog — like a play — to make them easier to understand. Doing complex physics problems with a calculator is more likely to lead to the wrong answer compared to writing out all the steps on a piece of paper, where you can see the mistakes. When the whites massacred the Indians, it was called a battle. When the Indians won a battle against the whites, it was called a massacre.
If you type up the above bit of Mr. Jefferson’s declaration on a plain piece of paper, unlabeled and unidentified, and ask people to sign it, like a petition, about half the people will. Some will think it Scripture. Some will think it Karl Marx.
And, in trying to balance the interests of different nations, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said we should remember that, “The desire of one power for absolute security means the absolute insecurity for all the others.”
The fact that Kissinger was later determined to be a war criminal of historic proportions does not invalidate this thought. Nor is its usefulness confined to the global stage.
Consider the deeply felt need of far too many Americans to have the right to possess and sometimes to carry, in broad daylight, in normal places, semi-automatic weapons that civilized peoples consider weapons of war. The desire to so behave, and the argument that it is a right granted not just by the Constitution, but by God, is a claim of absolute security which, by definition, places all others in a position of absolute insecurity.
Unless, one supposes, everyone else is also carrying such a weapon. In which case the holder of absolute security becomes the one without any conscience or decency. The one who, in order to maintain his advantage, must open fire first. And who can reasonably expect to impose the final absolute insecurity on maybe dozens of innocent bystanders before anyone else can stop him.
The idea that freedom rises from a situation where government is small, weak and difficult to find has no basis in reality. Or in the American founding document.
Freedom is “secured” by, among other things, a government that seeks to make sure there is no institution, faction or individual that enjoys absolute security. With the consent of the governed, through institutions that seem to us most likely to create safety and happiness, we set and enforce mutual limits on power.
And we create and operate infrastructure and services such as roads, sanitation, police and fire protection and education, which do not weigh us down but provide the real freedom of human beings to move about, remain free of disease and injury, preserve our lives and property and fulfill our greatest potential.
To exist without such things is not freedom. It is misery.
A government that allows people to carry any weapon they want is as useless as a government that allows people to dump their sewage in the street, that allows the strong to steal from the weak, that abandons us to a nasty and brutish state of nature that leaves us so busy just surviving the night that nothing can be created, built or improved.
It is neither difficult nor uncommon for government the securer of freedom to tip over to become government the denier of freedom. But it is in no way inevitable.
Not as long as we remember the charge given us by our founders to see that oppression does not just come from government, but from a lack of it.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, measures freedom by the donut, by the inning, by the binge-watched episode of “Monty Python.”