Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
Here's the RSS feed or subscribe to our FFF Email Update to receive Hornberger’s Blog daily.

Advancing Liberty by Adhering to Principle


The following is a shortened, non-verbatim version of a talk I recently delivered to the Tidewater, Virginia, Libertarian Party:

The great German thinker Johann Goethe lived during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Goethe stated: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

Although those words were expressed back then, they perfectly capture the plight of American Democrats, Republicans, progressives (i.e., liberals), and conservatives today.

The best proof is one of the favorite phrases of both the left and the right: “Let us thank the troops for their service in protecting our freedom.”

There are two things wrong with that sentence.

First, none of the people who U.S. troops have killed for the past 50 years or so were trying to take away our freedom. If we go back to the Korean War, the North Koreans were not trying to take away our freedom. Neither were the North Vietnamese or Vietcong. The same holds true for Panamanians, Grenadians, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Iraqis, Afghanis, Yemenis, Syrians, and people of all other nations where the troops have millions of people. None of those people was ever trying to take away our freedom.

Even the terrorists who attacked the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, were not trying to take away our freedom. They were retaliating for U.S. interventionism in the Middle East.

Second, by stating that the troops are protecting our freedom, statists are expressing their belief that they and other Americans are free. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Americans live in a society that is based on mandatory charity. The government forces people to be good and caring to others. There is no way that people who are forced to care for others can honestly be considered free. Freedom entails the right to make that choice voluntarily, one way or the other. When people are forced to care for others, that is the opposite of freedom.

A good example of this phenomenon is Social Security, which is the crown jewel of what we call the welfare state. Contrary to popular opinion, Social Security is not a retirement fund or a contract. It is instead a straight welfare program, no different from food stamps, farm subsidies, aid to the arts, and foreign aid.

That’s the way it has been since the beginning. No one “puts into the system,” no one has entered into a contract with the state, and the law has never promised anyone that Social Security will be continued into perpetuity. Like any other welfare program, Congress has the authority to repeal the program any time it wants.

Like other welfare programs, Social Security is based on using the force of the state to take money from one group of people to whom it rightly belongs and give it to another group of people to whom it does not belong. In the case of Social Security, the idea is to force young people to be good and caring toward seniors by having their money forcibly taken from them through taxation and handed over to seniors to help with their retirement.

There is one and only one way that the federal government gets the money to make its welfare payments. That way is taxation. Taxation is not voluntary. Everyone is required to pay his taxes, on pain of fine and imprisonment for failure to do so.

Again, there is no way to reconcile coerced charity with freedom. It’s either one or the other. If a society has coerced charity, it is not free, no matter how much people might convince themselves that it is. By the same token, the achievement of a genuinely free society necessarily entails the elimination of Social Security and every other coercive welfare-state program.

Thus, every libertarian and every American, regardless of whether he takes Social Security or any other welfare benefit, must ask himself the critically important question: Do you want security or do you want freedom? You cannot have both because they are opposites. It’s a choice. If you choose security, you reject freedom. If you choose freedom, it necessarily means supporting the dismantling of infringements on freedom, including the welfare-state apparatus that encompasses Social Security.

Whenever libertarians call for the dismantling of America’s welfare state, progressives inevitably accuse us of “hating the poor, needy, and disadvantaged.” What they fail to understand is that libertarians don’t advocate that people turn their backs on the “poor, needy, and disadvantaged.” It simply means that libertarians hold that people should be free to make charitable decisions on a purely private and voluntary basis.

Moreover, it’s impossible to ignore the hypocrisy among the left when it comes to expressing concern for the “poor, needy, and disadvantaged.” For decades, leftists, along with conservatives, have supported immigration controls, a system that punishes illegal immigrants for simply crossing a border in search of a better life. It would be difficult to find a better example of the “poor, needy, and disadvantaged” than illegal immigrants. Yet, leftists have long joined with conservatives in the support of the brutal enforcement of this deadly and destructive system.

Of course, the hypocrisy on immigration is not limited to liberals. Consider the favorite slogan of conservatives: “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.” It’s found on their stationery and websites. It is virtually impossible to listen to a conservative speech where it isn’t mentioned.

Yet, what better example of “free enterprise, private property, and limited government” than the libertarian position favoring open borders? Under principles of free enterprise and private property, everyone, including foreigners, has the fundamental, God-given right to pursue happiness by seeking to improve his economic condition. Moreover, every business owner has the right to hire anyone he wants; it’s his business and his money. Under freedom principles of economic liberty, liberty of contract, free trade, and freedom of association, business owners and foreigners have the right to enter into mutually beneficial economic relationships with each other.

Despite their slogan, conservatives have long supported immigration controls, which are based on the socialist system of central planning. They also favor the enforcement of this system, which is based on a police state rather than “limited government.” That includes warrantless trespasses onto private farms and ranches, highway checkpoints, airport and bus interrogations, roving Border Patrol checkpoints, raids on privately owned businesses, forced deportation, Berlin fences and walls, taking of people’s property against their will, and other police-state measures that are the opposite of “limited government.”

The hypocrisy on both the left and the right extends to the drug war, which is perhaps the most failed and destructive domestic program of both liberals and conservatives. For decades, the war on drugs has ruined the lives of countless people, especially the “poor, needy, and disadvantaged.” Nonetheless, many liberals continue to stand steadfastly against the libertarian idea of legalizing drugs. For their part, conservatives continue to jail people for simply engaging in mutually beneficial exchanges with regard to drugs. They ignore the fact that the drug war violates free-market principles. They also reject the libertarian position that what a person ingests or buys and sells is none of the government’s business.

Moreover, it is ironic that both the left and the right appear so concerned about with issues regarding white supremacy and racism given the fact that the drug war that they continue supporting is the most racist government program since segregation. While it is true that the drug war has adversely impacted people from all walks of life across society, there is no denying that it has fallen disproportionately on African-Americans. The drug war is a dream-come-true for any cop who happens to be bigoted because it provides him with the perfect opportunity to harass, abuse, and humiliate blacks with arbitrary stops, pat-down searches, ridiculous questioning, and even arrest and incarceration, along with denial of voting rights.

And that’s only the welfare-state part of the denial of freedom. There is also the national-security state side of things, which actually involves an even greater destruction of liberty.

The federal government was founded as a limited-government republic. If you had told our American ancestors that the Constitution was instead bringing into existence a national security state, they never would have approved the deal. They would have said no and continued operating under the Articles of Confederation, where the federal government didn’t even have the power to tax.

The big conversion came after World War II, when the federal government was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state.

What is a national-security state? North Korea is a national-security state. So is Cuba. And China. Egypt. Pakistan. And post-World War II America. A national-security state consists of a vast, permanent, all-power military-intelligence establishment, one that wields omnipotent powers, such as the power to round up people, incarcerate them without trial or due process, torture them, spy on them and monitor their activities, and assassinate them. That’s the type of government under which Americans now live.

There is no way to reconcile a national-security state with a free society. They are opposites. Only a limited-government republic is consistent with a free society.

Democrats and Republicans have plunged our nation into a morass of welfarism and warfarism, a morass that has destroyed our freedom and sent our nation down the road to economic destruction.

There is one — and only one — hope for extricating ourselves from this morass. That hope is libertarianism. By adhering to libertarian principles and refusing to settle for mere reform of the welfare-warfare way of life in which we live, we libertarians can yet lead the nation — and the world — out of this statist morass and onto the highest reaches of freedom ever seen by mankind.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.