February 11, 2002
Optimism or Pessimism for the Future of Liberty?
The dangers facing America in this new era cannot be overstated. Our national security and our economic well-being have been shaken. The prospects for the future of liberty and prosperity seem uncertain.
No one challenges the need to protect American citizens from further terrorist attacks, but we must be very careful before we relinquish more of our personal liberty here at home. We must consider whether our efforts overseas might escalate the crisis and actually precipitate more violence. A growing number of Americans are becoming concerned that the war on terror will have the unintended consequence of permanently damaging our constitutionally protected liberties.
In the area of personal liberty, we face some very real dangers. Throughout our history, starting with the Civil War, our liberties have been threatened and the Constitution has been flaunted. Our government has grown with each national crisis, curtailing many freedoms in the process. The current war on terrorism has no easily defined enemy, and no real end in sight. This means that a return to normalcy with regard to our freedoms is not likely. The implementation of a national ID card, pervasive government surveillance, rubber-stamped search warrants, and the loss of financial and medical privacy will be permanent. If this trend continues, the Constitution will become a much weaker document.
A danger also exists that the United States is becoming a police state. Just a few decades ago, this would have been unimaginable. The American republic was not designed with federal police powers, which should be the sole prerogative of the states. The military should not be used as police. Unfortunately, many Americans now welcome the use of military troops to police our public places, especially airports. Even before September 11th, more than 80,000 armed federal bureaucrats patrolled the countryside, checking for violations of federal laws and regulations. That number since September has increased by nearly 50%- and it will not shrink anytime soon. Meanwhile, a military takeover of homeland security looks certain. Can freedom and prosperity survive if the police state continues to expand? History demonstrates that Congress must not ignore this threat.
The economic ramifications of our war on terrorism are also quite serious. Although the recession certainly cannot be blamed solely on the September 11th attacks, the huge increases in federal spending and the effects of all the new regulations cannot help the recovery. When one adds up the domestic costs, the military costs, and the costs of new regulations, it is certain that deficits will grow significantly. The Federal Reserve will remain under great pressure to continue its dangerous monetary inflation by printing dollars and expanding credit. This policy will result in higher rather than lower interest rates, a weak dollar, and rising prices. The danger of our economy spinning out of control cannot be dismissed.
Given these sober realities, what does the future hold for Americans who care about liberty and prosperity? Should we become increasingly discouraged and defeated in the face of such great leaps forward in the size of the state? Or should we take courage in the knowledge that the basic human desire for freedom cannot be extinguished, and fight for what we know is right?
Many Americans who recognize the dilemma we face in the United States are despondent and pessimistic, believing little can be done to reverse the growing tide of statism. Others who share the same concerns are confident that efforts to preserve the true spirit of the Constitution can be successful. Personally, I remain firmly optimistic about the future of liberty. Maybe next month, maybe next year, maybe ten years from now, the cause of liberty will be rejuvenated. We owe it to the brave revolutionaries who founded this country to remain positive and unwavering in our efforts. After all, we have enjoyed so much prosperity and material affluence, and so little hardship compared to the generations before us.
The Roman poet, Horace, spoke of adversity more than two thousand years ago: "Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in times of prosperity would have lain dormant." It is time for liberty-minded Americans to display their talents in opposing the political trends of the day. Liberty has meaning only if we still believe in it when times are tough and a false government security blanket beckons.
Leonard Read, one of the greatest champions of liberty in the 20th century, advised optimism:
In every society there are persons who have the intelligence to figure out the requirements of liberty, and the character to walk in its ways. This is a scattered fellowship of individuals- mostly unknown to you or me- bound together by a love of ideas and a hunger to know the plain truth of things.
He was convinced that brave people would rise to the occasion and do the things necessary to restore virtue and excellence to a people who had lost their way. Liberty would prevail.
Let us be similarly convinced that there is not enough hate or anger to silence the cries for liberty, or to extinguish the flame of justice and truth.