Sometime during the late 80’s or early 90’s, George H.W. Bush delivered a speech in which he waxed eloquent about what is generally called the fall of communism, the wave of revolution that swept Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War. In this allocution he said that tyranny fell “not to the force of arms, but to the force of an idea: Freedom works.”
Freedom works. This is the line of thinking that has been used by many in the political discourse. Does freedom work? Currently we’re in a time when many claim that it has not worked, and thanks both to the verbal jujitsu of the Republican Party and the stupidity of Boobus, this is widely accepted wisdom. Never mind the fact that what the GOP calls a free economy is riddled with aspects of Fascism. Our current situation, despite the popular perception, is not proof of the failure of freedom, and we should not feel obligated to give in to the Keynesian orgy presently taking place. Wherever freedom has been tried, it has worked.
But we need not belabor the point, for this utilitarian angle is not only useless, it is dangerous. More on the danger in a bit.
If the “freedom works” argument is irrelevant, what is? I would argue that the argument for freedom is found in the concept of natural rights—the right of self-determination, the right not to be robbed or shot by anyone, including the State. From this perspective, it really doesn’t matter if freedom “works.” The salient point is that freedom—a system of voluntary mutual exchange, one that respects individual rights and private property rights—preserves each man’s natural rights. Period. End of story.
Now let us return to this “Freedom works” utilitarian claptrap. The contemporary Right, and even figures like Ludwig von Mises, have enthroned so many of their arguments on this premise. Its danger lies not in its untruth; indeed the truth of the matter is not what I intend to dispute. The problem is that this line of thought presents a beautifully engraved invitation to those who are unfriendly to laissez-faire capitalism: The minute something goes wrong, they can blame freedom (they usually say “capitalism” to try to make it sound evil, a la Karl Marx) and say that we can no longer tolerate this irresponsible freedom.
And so it’s time for the real friends of laissez-faire capitalism to stand up and say that this is truly the system that best preserves the rights that belong to us and cannot be taken away.
This is an age-old battle, really, one that started during the Exodus, when the wandering Israelites begged for a return to slavery because it was so much easier than their new-found freedom. But nothing in life that’s worth a damn is easy, and some things are worth any price. Freedom—from violence, theft, coercion, and other hobbies of the State—is one of them.