President Bush’s most recent raison du jour, I mean reason of the day (sorry!), for invading Iraq is to “liberate” the Iraqi people. That’s why the Pentagon ultimately decided to name the invasion “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The terminology perfectly encapsulates how far we have strayed from the true principles of freedom on which our nation was founded.
Throughout most of 19th-century America, there was little or no: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, public schooling, IRS and income tax, drug laws, gun control, occupational licensure, economic regulations, trade restrictions, or immigration controls.
The reason that our ancestors chose to live without those types of government interventions was the nature of their philosophy — a philosophy grounded in individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government.
They believed that a person had the right to live his life any way he chose, so long as his conduct was peaceful. That he had the right to pursue any occupation without seeking the permission of public officials. The right to enter into mutually beneficial exchanges with anyone in the world without governmental interference. The right to travel freely to any country in the world without being punished by his own government for doing so. The right to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth and to do whatever he wanted with it — save, spend, invest, donate, hoard, or even destroy it.
That is what it once meant to be an American. This is what it once meant to be free. That is the freedom that our Founders and ancestors celebrated every Fourth of July.
There was more. While recognizing that government was necessary to protect them from murderers, thieves, invaders, rapists, and the like, our Founders nevertheless understood that the greatest threat to their freedom and well-being was their own federal government. That’s why they used the Constitution to bring the government into existence — as a way to control its power once it did come into existence. That’s why the words “no” and “not” appear so often in the original document. It’s also why the first several amendments to the Constitution specifically refer to restrictions on the power of the Congress and the executive branch of the government.
Our Founders and ancestors feared the federal government. They feared for their liberty. They feared for their well-being. That’s why they sometimes referred to government as a “necessary evil.”
There was more. The people of America refused to permit their government to involve our nation in Europe’s endless conflicts. John Quincy Adams’s observation that America “does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy” perfectly encapsulates the foreign-policy philosophy of our ancestors.
There was more. Our Founders and ancestors understood that war always — without exception — provided the government with the biggest opportunity to take away their liberty and their fortunes. That’s why Virginian James Madison said,
Of all the enemies to liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.
There was more. The vision of our Founders was that America would be a model of freedom — a beacon — for people all over the world. Thus, rather than trying to solve the problems of other nations all over the globe, our ancestors instead devoted their energies to improving American society.
But at the same time, they sent a powerful message to people everywhere: “If you are suffering from economic or political oppression, we won’t come to help you; but if you are able to escape you have a place to come to — America — because unlike others around the world, we won’t turn you away.”
That unusual vision of freedom of our American Founders and ancestors is what motivated the people of France to give us what is perhaps the most marvelous gift we have ever received from another nation since our founding — a gift in which most of us still take so much pride — our Statue of Liberty which overlooks New York Harbor.
The central problem facing our nation today is one that all too many Americans, however, refuse to confront: that we have abandoned the philosophy and principles of freedom on which our nation was founded and have adopted a new perverse concept of freedom that operates like a cancer threatening to destroy us from within.
What does freedom mean to the American people of today? It means government welfare and paternalism — the idea that the primary purpose of government is to take care of people. “Freedom” is now defined as a “social safety net” of Social Security, national health care, public schooling, welfare, drug laws, economic regulations, and occupational-licensure laws — all the things our predecessors rejected as being violations and deprivations of freedom.
In the words of the 19th-century French (sorry again) free-market thinker Frederic Bastiat, the American people have converted the federal government into a “great fiction by which everyone is trying to live at the expense of everyone else.” American translation: The federal government has become a giant political whorehouse in which the president and the Congress buy allegiance and votes from both Americans and foreigners, thanks to the omnipotent taxing and spending powers they now exercise.
Personal goodness is now defined by the extent to which the IRS taxes the American people and federal departments redistribute the loot to the poor, needy, and disadvantaged. That’s what the president’s government aid to “faith-based organizations” is all about — the more the IRS taxes, the more the president gives, and the more caring are the American taxpayers.
It is that socialistic, welfare-state concept of freedom that underlies not only domestic policy in America but foreign policy as well. That, in fact, is what the invasion of Iraq is all about — not true freedom as our ancestors understood it, but rather U.S. government imperial welfare for the people of Iraq.
In essence, the president’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom” can be summed up in the following message to the Iraqi people: “You are too dumb, ignorant, and incapable of handling your own affairs. There can be no better proof of this than the fact that you have permitted a cruel and brutal dictator to rule over you for so many years. You could have chosen freedom — as we have in America — but instead you chose tyranny. We are here to correct the problem for you at the least cost possible. We know that in the end you will be grateful for what we have done for you.”
It is that exact same arrogant, pretentious mindset that guides the modern-day socialistic welfare state within America: “You are too dumb, ignorant, and incapable of handling your own personal affairs. There can be no better proof of this than the fact that you can’t take care of your own retirement, handle your own charitable decisions, make your own health-care decisions, and choose the best education for your children. You can’t even keep from becoming drug addicts. It’s not an easy job but we in the federal government must protect you from yourselves, make your decisions for you, and take care of you.”
What underlies the welfare state, both domestic and military, is the incredible arrogance that guides it. The phenomenon was described by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek as “the pretense of knowledge” — the conviction of government central planners that they have the requisite knowledge to plan and order not only their own lives but also the lives of millions of people beneath them.
Why do millions of Americans believe that socialism is freedom, so long as it’s run by Americans and falsely termed “freedom” or “free enterprise”? Herein lies the great success of one of the biggest socialistic enterprises in history — public schooling — and that success is manifesting itself perfectly in the context of the current crisis.
If you were to ask average Americans whether public schooling is an element of free enterprise or socialism, most would answer, “Why, public schooling is the backbone of America’s free-enterprise system. It’s run by Americans, and it’s what protects us from adopting socialism.”
That answer reflects how successful public schooling has been, because it would be impossible to find a better model of socialism than public schooling. Whether at the national, state, or local level, public schooling is based on a top-down, command-and-control process by which government officials decide what is to be taught to students, what textbooks are to be used, and what the curriculum will be. Moreover, the participants are there by virtue of coercion in the form of compulsory-attendance laws, and the whole process is funded by coerced exactions from the citizenry.
Ask yourself: How many government schools in America teach that the welfare state (including public schooling) is socialism? Instead, all too often the teaching is that people’s rights come from the Constitution and that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, drug laws, and public schooling — indeed, the entire American welfare state — constitute freedom and free enterprise.
But it’s not only state indoctrination on the concept of freedom that is the problem in government schools. What is also taught is something equally important, and which is also manifesting itself in the current crisis: the importance of conformity. That in fact is what Ritalin is all about. Any kid who starts to see through the ridiculous and boring system of being in class with only people of his own age group, having to change classes at the ring of the bell, and having to listen to boring government employees drone on about subjects they oftentimes know little about — well, in the mind of the statist, that’s one sick kid: he’s distracted — he’s abnormal — he has Attention Deficit Disorder. Give him drugs until he conforms. Make him ready to fall into lockstep. Prepare him to march to the beat of the government drum rather than his own. Cause him to abandon all conscience, choice, morality, and individuality. Make him feel the need and the desire to conform. Make him one of us.
As a direct consequence of decades of public schooling, the American people are now living what might be called “the life of the lie” — the life that says that government paternalism and control is genuine freedom — the life that says that illegal and unconstitutional wars of aggression, in which our nation’s young people are ordered to kill or be killed, are moral so long as they are waged by our government and done in the name of freedom — and that life under military rule is freedom if the person at the top is either an American army general or a Washington-approved foreign dictator.
The plight of the American people of our time can easily be summed up with the words of the great German thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
This life of the lie was illustrated a couple of years ago by Colin Powell, the U.S. army general currently serving as U.S. secretary of state. Returning from a trip to Cuba, Powell complimented Fidel Castro for his education and health-care system, which of course are government-provided. In Powell’s mind — indeed in the minds of most Americans — the Cuban people are free in the sense that their government is taking care of their educational and health-care needs.
In fact, Cuba provides a good analytical model for other reasons. Most everyone would agree that Fidel Castro is a cruel and brutal dictator who has tortured, killed, and mistreated his own people. He’s what might be termed a Latin American version of Saddam Hussein, especially given that he too has refused to do the bidding of Washington officials.
The complaint that Colin Powell and millions of Americans have with the situation in Cuba is not with Cuba’s socialist system but rather with the fact that Fidel Castro is in charge of the system. After all, ask yourself: What do Powell and other Americans say about the following aspects of Cuba’s socialist system: old-age assistance, national health care, welfare, public schooling, trade restrictions, IRS and income tax, trade and immigration controls, and drug laws?
I’ll tell you what they say. They say that these (socialist) aspects of the Cuban system would constitute freedom for the Cuban people if only a Washington-approved lackey was in charge of them. All that’s necessary is to invade Cuba in order to liberate the Cuban people from Castro’s control in favor of a ruler who — like Fulgencio Batista, the cruel, brutal, and corrupt Cuban dictator who preceded Castro — will do Washington’s bidding.
And who can doubt that there are many people in Washington who would love to make Cuba the target of an “Operation Cuban Freedom” in order to liberate the Cuban people from more than 40 years of Castro’s rule? Who can doubt that there would be many Americans who would ardently support the sacrifice of even more American troops (in the name of supporting them of course) and the slaughter of thousands of Cuban people, including ordinary Cuban soldiers, as a necessary part of that “liberation”?
There’s one big problem, however. Despite their dislike of socialism, not only would most Cubans not support a U.S. invasion to “liberate” them, they would fight and be willing to die in resistance to such an invasion. In other words, invading U.S. troops with the mission of “liberating” and “freeing” the Cuban people from Castro’s control would encounter the same reaction among the Cuban people that they are now encountering among the Iraqi people.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend about 10 days in Cuba. (Note to Homeland Security monitors: Don’t bother turning me into the FBI for breaking U.S. law — I had a license from the Treasury Department to do research there.) Since I speak fluent Spanish, I had lots of opportunities to visit with people on the street.
Overwhelmingly, the Cuban people on the streets told me that they hate their socialist system. They know that the world has passed them by, and they are waiting desperately for Fidel Castro to die in the hope that that will bring the end of socialism in Cuba.
At the same time, however, most everyone to whom I spoke reveres and respects Fidel Castro for one big reason: he had the courage to stand up against the U.S. government and resist its long-time, obsessive quest to rule the Cuban people. Equally important, he was successful.
You see, not surprisingly the Cuban government uses its public schools to teach a different version of history than the U.S. and state governments teach Americans in their public schools. This is especially true with respect to the Spanish-American War, a war that I’m willing to bet 98 percent of U.S. public-school graduates know nothing about. It was the war that began the abandonment of the non-empire and non-interventionist heritage of our ancestors.
In 1898, the U.S. government went to war against the Spanish Empire, ostensibly to liberate the people suffering under Spanish imperial rule, including the Cuban people and the Philippine people. All the pro-war media hype that we’re seeing today with respect to the war in Iraq inflamed and fanned war fever among Americans at that time, led principally by the Hearst newspaper chain, which was the Fox News of its time.
The Spanish Empire was defeated, and the Cubans and Filipinos were “liberated” and “freed” … well, except for one minor detail. In the minds of Cubans and Filipinos, “liberated” and “freed” meant self-rule, while in the minds of U.S. officials “liberated” and “freed” meant substituting U.S. control for Spanish control over them.
That conflict over the meaning of “liberation” and “freedom” resulted in the U.S. government slaughter of thousands of Filipinos and the endless, obsessive quest by Washington officials to rule Cuba.
Unfortunately, what all too many Americans can’t understand or fathom is the degree of hatred and animosity that Latin Americans and other Third-World people have toward the arrogance and pretentiousness of U.S. officials.
Consider, for example, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Most Americans look at Rumsfeld and think, “What a nice, wonderful man he is. I’m so happy he is one of our rulers.”
Not me. At the risk of being somewhat judgmental, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more arrogant and obnoxious loudmouth in all the years I’ve been living on this good earth. In fact, Rumsfeld embodies every trait that Latin Americans hate about U.S. foreign policy: “You people are too ignorant to handle your own affairs. We smart gringos are here to straighten things out for you.”
That’s also the way that people in the Middle East feel about the U.S. government and especially the British government, which sent thousands of British versions of Donald Rumsfeld (with British accents) to the Middle East during the British imperial age.
The arrogance and hubris of Washington officials was manifested long before the president even gave the order to invade Iraq to “liberate” and “free” the Iraqi people. Expecting to be showered by rose petals and rice, Washington planners were already proudly displaying their plan for the military occupation and rebuilding of Iraq, at least for those who survived the bombs, missiles, and bullets that come as part and parcel of the war to “liberate” and “free” them. Unfortunately, it’s America’s fighting men and women, rather than Washington officials, who are once again paying the price for that arrogance, hubris, and misjudgment.
At the end of this war, the whole world would be better off if the U.S. government were to leave Iraq to the Iraqi people and if Americans devoted themselves to rebuilding America. A good place to start would be with a study of the moral and constitutional principles of freedom on which our nation was founded.
The Future of Freedom Foundation has published the following books:
The Dangers of Socialized Medicine, edited by Jacob G. Hornberger and Richard M. Ebeling
The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration, edited by Richard Ebeling and Jacob G. Hornberger
The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars, edited by Richard Ebeling and Jacob G. Hornberger
Separating School and State: How to Liberate America’s Families, by Sheldon Richman
Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax, by Sheldon Richman
Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, by Sheldon Richman
The Tyranny of Gun Control, edited by Jacob G. Hornberger and Richard M. Ebeling
Liberty, Security, and the War on Terrorism, edited by Richard Ebeling and Jacob G. Hornberger (forthcoming)