In 1978, an old high-school friend of mine gave me a book to read entitled A Time for Truth by William Simon, who had served as Secretary of the Treasury from 1974 to 1977. After reading the book, I told my friend that I had found it to be interesting but also that I had found Simon’s preoccupation with restoring liberty to America somewhat weird given that the United States was already a free country.
Like most other Americans, I attended public schools, which, of course, was run by government officials. That was where I was indoctrinated, along with everyone else, into believing that I lived in a free country. I was among millions of other children who were required to stand every morning to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which included the phrase “with liberty and justice for all.”
By the time I graduated high school, my indoctrination was complete. I had absolutely no doubt that I lived in a free country. I’d venture to say that the same is true for 99 percent of other students who attend America’s public schools. They graduate convinced that they live in a free country and oftentimes live the rest of their lives with that mindset.
But it’s a lie, as I learned several months after reading Simon’s book, when I discovered libertarianism in a series of books entitled Essays on Liberty, which The Foundation for Economic Education had published some 20 years before. As I began reading the essays in those books, the scales began falling from my eyes.
I realized that I had been lied to since the first grade. The United States is not a free country and the American people are not a free people. They just believe they are, owing primarily to the indoctrination they receive in public school or, oftentimes, in government-licensed private schools.
That’s one of the distinguishing characteristics of libertarians, as compared to most everyone else. We know that we’re not free. Most everyone else doesn’t. That’s why so many non-libertarians are so befuddled, confused, and even sometimes angry when they hear us libertarians expounding our freedom philosophy. Since they “know” that the United States is a free country and that Americans are a free people, they simply don’t get it when they hear us libertarians fighting to achieve a free society in our land.
The vast majority of Americans continue to live what can be described as the “life of the lie” — a life in which they are not free but in which they are convinced that they are free, one in which they steadfastly do not want to hear the truth from us libertarians. The truth is simply too scary, too life-changing, too dangerous. It’s easier and safer to continue clinging to the lie. They’d rather just keep thanking the troops for protecting their “freedom.”
Let’s example four examples of how this life of the lie is manifested.
1. The welfare state. This type of governmental system is based on the concept of mandatory charity. The government seizes money from people through the coercive apparatus of taxation and gives the money to other people. Examples include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, education grants, farm subsidies, and foreign aid.
There is no way that a system of mandatory charity can be reconciled with the principles of a free society. In a genuinely free society, people have the right to keep everything they earn and decide for themselves what to do with their own money. Freedom necessarily entails the right to say no to any request for donations. When people are not free to say no to such requests, then they are not free. The welfare state has destroyed that freedom of choice. It is not a coincidence that such communist countries as Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea are based on the welfare-state philosophy.
2. The drug war. This governmental program permits the state to punish people for ingesting what might be considered harmful and dangerous substances. There is no way to reconcile drug laws with the principles of a free society. In a genuinely free society, people have the right to ingest whatever they want, no matter how harmful, dangerous, or destructive. If the state can punish people for ingesting substances, there is no way that people in that society can legitimately be considered free. It is not a coincidence that the most totalitarian and tyrannical societies in the world have drug laws.
3. The national-security state. This is a type of governmental structure that consists of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, and, to a certain extent, the FBI. The national-security establishment wields omnipotent power on any matter relating to “national security.” That’s why modern-day Americans live under a regime that wields the omnipotent power to assassinate them, take them into military custody, incarcerate them in military dungeons or concentration camps, and torture them, and to engage in massive secret surveillance schemes across society.
Freedom necessarily entails a limited-government republic, a type of governmental system that is the opposite of a national-security state. Under a limited-government republic, the government’s powers are few and are limited to protecting the citizenry from the violence initiated by others. Under a limited-government republic, the government lacks the power to engage in assassination, indefinite detention, military incarceration of civilians, torture, and secret surveillance.
There is no way that people who live under a national-security state type of governmental system can legitimately be considered free. Freedom can only come under a limited-government republic. It is not a coincidence that Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Vietnam, Russia, Egypt, and China are all national-security states. This type of governmental system is inherent to totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.
4. A managed economy. This is a type of political-economic system in which the government manages economic activity. Examples include immigration controls, sanctions, embargoes, trade wars initiated by the president, the minimum wage, and the Federal Reserve.
There is no way that people who live under a centrally managed economy can legitimately be considered free. Only people who live in a genuine free-market economy — that is, one that is totally free of government management and interference — can legitimately be considered free. It is not a coincidence that Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, China, and Vietnam operate under centrally managed economies.
5. Finally, public schooling or, more accurately, government schooling or government-approved schooling, Herein lies the root of the problem when it comes to the life of the lie, the life in which so many Americans continue to falsely believe is freedom. Public schooling involves compulsory school-attendance laws, government-approved textbooks, teachers, and curricula, and coercive funding through taxation, along with regimentation, conformity, deference to authority, memorization and regurgitation, and, of course, a powerful and effective system of indoctrination.
There is no way that people who live in a society based on public schooling can legitimately be considered free. The horror, of course, is that this is where people are indoctrinated into falsely believing they are free.
Johann Goethe once pointed out that none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. His words capture the plight of the American people.