liberty and power

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) … the most improper job of any man…is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien, 1943

Has our government ever done anything well? Some might say welfare programs, or providing law and order, or training an effective military. Even those, though, would be easy to poke holes in. Welfare programs could not be provided without first stealing money from taxpayers or by printing money, thus adding a hidden tax via inflation. Even the welfare programs that seem effective on their face, be they government housing, food stamps, Social Security, etc., are riddled with scandal and are almost always simply a PR move for the current administration (1). In terms of Social Security, it is laughable to think the money stolen from our checks is waiting in some government lock box until we retire. “Law and order,” a Nixonion  PR creation to gain white Southern votes, has in recent years become tumultuous. Whether it is police shootings, riots, or the never-ending war on drugs, I’m not sure how anyone could say the government does a great job at maintaining law and order. The military is usually the golden calf of the Right when it comes to what our government does best. But even if we only consider conflicts within my lifetime, how could a 16 year war in Afghanistan and a 14 year war in Iraq be considered success stories? Could the layman tell me what we’re doing there anymore? It is ironic that the longer these wars last, the more committed our government becomes. I don’t even know what a “win” in the Middle East would look like. Every single terrorist dead? Is that ever going to happen? If terror, in a broader sense, is an idea more-so than a person, how are we ever going to stamp it out? “Ok…the results are in…not a single person in the Middle East believes in the results of terror anymore…let’s bring the troops home.” Not to mention the hypocrisy of “limited government,” “fiscally conservative” Americans who decry domestic welfare programs while supporting the most expensive military in all of human history (2). But I digress. My original point was, what does the government do well?


Why when we see people standing around do we joke that it “looks like government work”? The government and its agencies always seem to be spoken of with mock, contempt and disapproval. And yet when anyone comes along, quietly raises their hand, and proposes that we reduce even a fraction of the government’s power, they’re considered crazy.

You want poor people to starve and not have health care.

You don’t want kids to have an education. 

You want the terrorists to win. 

Among others, I think the quintessential theme throughout history has been liberty versus power. Humans instinctively crave liberty. When kids are young, they start opening doors and getting into things they’re not supposed to. When they become teenagers, they don’t want to be around mom and dad anymore. When they get their license, they want to go anywhere and everywhere. When they’re in college, coming home often seems awkward because they feel like they’re relinquishing their newfound freedom. When you have family stay for an extended period of time, things quickly seem cramped…they’re in your space and impeding your normal range of motion. When we’re stuck in traffic, we go insane because we can’t move…our liberty has been restricted. The force that curtails our liberty is power. Sometimes parents have the power (and that can certainly be a good thing), and sometimes it is forces beyond our control such as government. If we, by nature, want and thrive in liberty, what role does power have in influencing how we use our freedom? When is power, or those in positions of power, justified in limiting our choices?

As Christians, we know that man is sinful and does not always make good choices with our liberty. Even if some of my readers are not Christians, it would be hard to argue that we always make good decisions…or that we should have limitless liberty. For example, liberty does not mean I can do whatever I want without repercussions or consequences. Tom Woods defines a “right” as something I may do for which it would be immoral for someone else to interfere (3). So do I have the right to kill someone with no provocation? No…because that interferes in an obvious way with that person’s right to life. Do I have the liberty or right to steal my neighbor’s car? No…because that car is their property and my desire to have their car does not supersede their right to own property. I don’t want to get lost in the weeds in terms of philosophy and etymology. What I have basically said so far is that humans generally desire as much liberty as possible, that they may use that liberty however they see fit so long as it doesn’t infringe on others’ rights, and, lastly, that there are limits and/or repercussions to how we use our liberty. I’ve never heard someone say “I wish someone would place more limits on my freedom.”

We should not, however, confuse what someone shouldn’t do with that they may not do. Just because someone uses their liberty differently than I would like does not give me the power to regulate their behavior. For example, one may disagree with smoking, but that does not give one the right to go into someone’s home and flush their cigarettes down the toilet. If John Doe uses his liberty to smoke, then so be it, but he should understand there are consequences to this. What I am saying is that each of us choose paths and individual actions in life which we believe will fulfill what economists call “ends.” Namely, we want to satisfy our desires. We utilize “means” to achieve “ends.” If satisfying the end of hunger is my goal, then making a sandwich is the means by which I do so. I have the liberty to buy what I need to make a sandwich, and to eat that sandwich without someone stealing it or passing a law against sandwich making.

In the Tolkien quote at the top, he mentions his inclination toward anarchy. This doesn’t mean Red Scare, burning buildings anarchy, but the literal meaning of an absence of government. Oftentimes people’s knee-jerk reaction to government is “we have to have one because what’s the alternative?” But what does government do for you? More than likely, they have done many things to you, in the guise of doing it for you. My wife got a seatbelt ticket a few years ago, even though she was wearing it under her armpit. Consider the ludicrousness of charging citizens hundreds of dollars for not positioning a strap a few inches higher. Who did my wife commit a crime against? Who did she harm? Who was the victim? Was she her own victim? Or her own potential victim? If she really wasn’t wearing her seatbelt in the right spot, then she was only endangering herself. So the government charged her money…which ostensibly legitimizes the existence of a police force in the first place…to enforce laws she didn’t vote for…which protect an invisible or self-inflicted victim. “We’re trying to protect you! Now pay us money so we can protect you more.”

Most of us, when we get pulled over, think “doesn’t this guy have anything better to do?” We cringe at the inherent violation of our liberty. Power, when unjustly gained or wielded, is an intrinsic threat to our liberty. When governments write and enforce laws that we didn’t vote for, and then make us finance their very existence as a law-making body, while also making us pay for violating these victimless crimes, it violates our personal and otherwise peaceful use of freedoms.

No one enjoys paying taxes. No one enjoys getting speeding tickets on government roads. No one enjoys traffic caused by government construction projects. No one enjoys government regulations on who they may hire, how much they have to pay them, and what kind of benefits they have to offer. No one enjoys money being stolen from their checks every month for some mythical savings account we may or may not have access to when we retire. No one enjoys paying property taxes for property we already own. No one enjoys the myriad products that don’t work “like they used to” as a result of government regulations.

I read an article one time that said in an average day, every person unknowingly breaks a few laws. So it’s not that there are “law-breakers” and “law-abiders,” it’s that we are all law-breakers (oftentimes unknowingly) and hope we don’t get caught.

Do you collect rain water? Criminal. Do you sell raw milk? Criminal. Do you take unapproved medicines or treatments for cancer or sickness? Criminal. Do you fudge the numbers on your income tax? Criminal. Do you ever go a few miles over the speed limit? Criminal. Did you drink alcohol before you were 21? Criminal. Do you feed homeless in certain cities? Criminal. Do you operate a food cart without a license? Criminal.

For much of American history until the Progressive Era that began in the 1890s, Americans enjoyed a high level of personal freedom (4). They could do as they pleased. When the moralist busybodies of the Progressive Era infiltrated levers of power through the government, laws began to surface that were no longer only in pursuit of protection of person and property, but aimed at our moral character as well. This rapid acceleration in power drastically changed how our government operates. Prohibition was just one of many “Progressive” attempts to police not only our actions, but morals as well. As a result of the Progressive Era, the government now intrinsically violates our liberty by the sheer magnitude of its scope. That is the reason we always want to ask “doesn’t he (or she) have anything better to do?” We are insulted at the curtailment of our liberty.

Benjamin Franklin said (albeit in a different context) that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Are we willing to daily give up more and more liberty for the feeling of safety? Are we willing to sacrifice more power to the powerful in exchange for empty promises and laws that impede our daily lives? The colonists fought a war for independence for very specific complaints addressed in the Declaration of Independence. I would argue that were we to write a new declaration of independence, it would take years to compile a full list of grievances.

Once we realize that secular government is, by its nature, an intrusion on our liberty, our entire worldview can never go back to its naive state.

It’s a simple question…do you trust you, or your government to run your life?


(1) Thomas Woods, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. 205-213.

(2) Ron Paul,

(3) YouTube-

(4) The Progressive Era and the Family–