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by R. Tim Barber, guest columnist [August 28, 2002]




[]  Americans no longer want freedom or liberty.

That's the simple reason why the Libertarian Party is stuck in low percentages at every election -- and why the Greens will probably see increased popularity. The only thing that a Libertarian Party candidate can offer is freedom and liberty. But that's not what most voters want anymore.

What do Americans want?

They want security. They want safety. They want someone to take care of all of their problems. A majority of Americans support random drug testing in schools, random vehicle searches on roads, closing the borders to immigration, regulating the economy and corporate behavior, and restricting travel and trade. Modern Americans will gladly part with freedom in return for the promise of security and/or stability.

Freedom equals responsibility. Freedom means pain and suffering. It means regret and sadness and missed opportunities. It means endless choices and constant change.

Freedom is the chance to fail. It's the painful consequences of bad decisions. Freedom is impending doom and tragedy, living a life staring into the unknown future.

We see the tremendous responsibility that freedom entails, and we get scared. So we surrender our freedom. We have to surrender it, because freedom can only be discouraged or suppressed; it's inherent in our being. It's as natural as a child's first steps.

The child can choose not to walk, but the world beckons, and the child's natural inclination is to explore. In due course, there will be scraped knees and burnt fingers and broken bones, but the child learns that the world is a big place, filled with both danger and wonder.

From those painful lessons, the child alters his behavior and makes better choices. From experience flows wisdom. But only by exercising our freedom to choose can we gain the experience necessary to make prudent choices and minimize the pain, suffering and danger in our lives.

Too many Americans, however, are overwhelmed by life's dangers. Their fear drives their thoughts and actions, leaving only one solution: seek security. This imperative is often sought at all costs, including the abdication of freedom.

The problem is we live in a democracy, and one person's vote impacts all. When one American abandons freedom, every American loses. Each time a new threat is identified, panicked voters scream to their elected representatives, the government legislates away some of our personal liberties, and fearful Americans mutter "well, it's worth the sacrifice."

How many times throughout history have those words been uttered? Do people ever really believe them, or are they a bromide to soothe the soul? Was the Spanish Inquisition "worth the sacrifice"?  Was the French Revolution's Reign of Terror "worth the sacrifice"? How about the Soviet five-year plans or the Nazi's Kristallnacht or our own Congress's HUAC?

Now we find the news filled with an array of dangers. Our politicians promise safety and security, and the content electorate heaves sighs of relief and thinks "well, it's definitely worth the sacrifice."

It's not a libertarian world that most Americans want. Libertarianism is about freedom, and that's too scary.

"De-criminalize drugs? Are you nuts?!? You want the streets to be filled with crazed crack addicts?"

"Open borders? Good God, the country will be overrun by terrorists and shifty-eyed immigrants!"

Ask your average American if they believe in freedom. "Absolutely!" they reply confidently. Then ask them if they should be free to keep their whole paycheck, and they start to waver. "Well, that would be nice, but then how would the government function?" Tell them that it wouldn't, and they wait for the punch line.

This fear of freedom is nothing new. Many American colonists were opposed to declaring independence from the British crown in 1776. History is written by the radical few. The faceless majority is just along for the ride.

Next time you go to the ballot, who will you vote for?


Copyright © 2002 by R. Tim Barber


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