“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
— George Bernard Shaw
According to this thought-provoking piece from Personal Liberty Digest, Personal Liberty Requires Personal Responsibility.
It is a misconception that liberty is handed down to us by government. Liberty has to be earned through individuals’ acting responsibly. Government is the thief in the night who takes away our liberty when we, as a society, act irresponsibly. It is then that government feels either the obligation or enticement to steal our personal freedoms.
Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, have certainly had more than enough media coverage. But I wanted to write about something I have seen very little coverage of — not the tragic death of Michael Brown, but something far more harmful to the nation: the abdication of personal responsibility, which has been met with very little criticism by our political leaders and TV personalities.
For progressives who are still reading and who insist on blaming Brown’s death on a racist, white cop, I want you to imagine yourself as a white male. Imagine walking into a 7-Eleven and grabbing a box of cigars. Picture yourself slamming the cashier when he attempts to stop you. Envision walking down the middle of a street as a cop shows up. Then imagine telling the cop something obscene as you approach his squad car. Finally, see yourself inside the vehicle hitting the cop and grabbing his gun. Now let me ask you, can you picture something bad is likely to happen?
I have lived in both Canada and the United States, and I have a pretty good concept what would happen to me in either country if I did the acts I describe. I suspect so does almost every other person over the age of 12 living in North America. They understand that such behavior is not only unacceptable but would put their fate in the hands of a cop with all his human frailties and legitimate concerns for his safety.
A winter day when hell didn’t freeze over
Even as a kid in the country, I always knew it was in my best interest to be polite to the cops.
At 14, I had the family snowmobile wound out more than 60 mph on a flat, snow-packed stretch of highway that I thought was deserted. I found out I wasn’t alone when a Royal Canadian Mounted Police squad car pulled up beside me. I pulled safely to the side of the road, turned off the snowmobile and sat sidesaddle as the Mountie walked up to me with a sour look on his face. I don’t remember what I said, but I am sure there were lots of phrases like, “Sorry, officer,” and “Yes, I should know better,” and “It will never happen again.” After all that, the Mountie followed behind me at a pedestrian speed until I got to our farm gate and he waved me a friendly goodbye. It never occurred to me to yell obscenities at that cop. And while I probably couldn’t articulate it then, I understood that my immediate actions put my personal liberty at risk.
I didn’t have to be gifted to tell my immediate fortune. If I had smart-mouthed the Mountie, I would have been driven to the town precinct. There I would have gotten a lecture from the staff sergeant, whose best friend in the community was my school principal. I could almost guarantee a short stay in a cell as the phone call I always dreaded would be placed — the one to my father, the man who had promised me that if I messed up as a teenager I would be going to a boarding school 700 miles away in Brandon, Manitoba.
So I stayed out of trouble and went to the university I wanted to attend. And a few years later, I was trying to understand the likes of Immanuel Kant and other philosophers who argued that man innately understands right from wrong.
In the 1970s, John Rawls expanded on Kant in his “A Theory of Justice.” Rawls said that all humans have the capacity to make the correct impartial judgments. The fact that this rarely happens is not a flaw of humanity but of society or a subgroup of society.
What I have seen in the aftermath of Ferguson is that progressive liberals have largely held African-Americans harmless. Network media such as MSNBC and CNN, along with civil rights activists such as Al Sharpton, have placed all the guilt for Brown’s death and the resulting riots at the feet of former police officer Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Department. This is mass disregard for the fact that Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury for any crime. In fact, it was stated by an African-American guest being interviewed last week on CNN by anchor Don Lemon that Wilson was 100 percent responsible for Brown’s death. For that to be true, Wilson would have had to walk into Brown’s house and execute him. That is not what happened.
Even more interesting to me is the case of Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, calling in part for the crowd gathered to “burn this bitch down.” It was Head’s repeated urgings for violence that sparked the first wave of riots in Ferguson that night.
Yet Head’s actions have been explained away by his wife, many in the black community and white progressives who argue that they were the words of a man in deep pain who was practicing his 1st Amendment right.
The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that Head did not have that right because it has laid down exceptions to free speech. Restrictions include words used to create an expected reaction by others or speech used to evoke incitement of a crime.
Authorities are investigating whether Head intended to incite a riot when he uttered those words. But chances are he will not face a grand jury for his rant. And while his speech is clearly not protected, he is protected by the special circumstances of his skin color and the racial volatility that has been exacerbated by black community leaders and cable network news. If such exemptions continue, it will lead to only more government intervention and less personal liberty for all Americans.
Such truths are encapsulated in “Liberty and Responsibility: Inseparable Ideals,” an article by Max More published in July 1996 by The Freeman. More explains:
The survival of liberty requires personal responsibility. Without this connection our political institutions become a means for the shifting of blame, for compelling others to fix our problems, and for living off the efforts of others. As responsibility declines, the political system grows increasingly oppressive and burdensome. Politicians pass more laws telling people what to do and how to do it. Tax-funded handouts expand to support those who do not want to produce.
Yours in good times and bad,