And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? (Moses 7:28)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Freedom from...

I was thinking about the famous speech of Franklin Roosevelt, where he speaks of a future where we will all be free from many of the unpredictable pitfalls of life. I realized that this marked a critical transition in the history of the United States, when freedom became replaced by "freedom from."

It represented a shift of focus from the citizenry and the sovereignty of the individual, to the preeminence of the state and its role as caretaker. The principles of natural rights - which weighed heavily with Enlightenment thinkers and America's founders - were eclipsed by the concept of entitlements.

While it's true that the first two of Roosevelt's "four freedoms" are anchored in the Enlightenment and the US Constitution, the intent was to present the 'new freedoms' - or New Deal, if you will - as a natural extension of the constitutional ideals.

Interestingly, property rights receive no mention among the essential freedoms. Instead, the emphasis is on individual thought and expression, and the assurance that everyone have ready access to the necessities of life.

Since then, the concepts of natural rights and public entitlements have become so intertwined in political discourse, that many fail to recognize the difference between them, or question their compatibility.

The obvious problem being that, governments subsist almost entirely on taxes. This means that they cannot give something to one person without taking from someone else.

That's why property ownership and individual sovereignty have lost much of their meaning in our current system. Perhaps Roosevelt, like his successors, recognized that these ideals, held sacred by our for-bearers,  were simply incompatible with the future they envisioned. The perception of private ownership could be preserved, but not the substance.

Freedom, rather than a natural right for which government is instituted to preserve, thus became a curated thing, carefully crafted by a benevolent government to suit the current socioeconomic reality.