“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” – Barry Goldwater
Liberty is defined as free choice, free will, freedom from bondage, and freedom from sin. It derives from the old French word liberte, and is a foundational idea to the United States and the western world. From childhood, we pledge allegiance to the flag with Liberty and justice for all. Our Statue of Liberty has greeted newcomers for more than a century to remind them that we value Liberty above all. In our Declaration, we placed Liberty on par with Life itself.
Over the weekend, there was another mass shooting in California. A seventy-two-year-old Asian man, Huu Can Tran, perpetrated this one. Tran first shot up a dance school in Los Angeles during the Chinese Lunar New Year and then, after fleeing and trying a second location, was disarmed by a bystander, then proceeded to flee the scene and kill himself. As can be expected from the leftist press, the immediate response to such senseless violence is to identify the victims’ race and assume the intent to be hatred toward said race.
Some of the public responses on Twitter mirrored that of the press. The initial reaction was to assume crimes of hate, denounce thoughts and prayers for victims, blame white conservatives, and subsequently call for the disarmament of the public. This response echoes the words of some columnists who believe that liberty means freedom from risk or freedom from fear or discomfort. Liberty is not the absence of discomfort but the assumption of risk in the pursuit of free will.
Similar to gun violence, many equate the risk of exposure to invisible pathogens to actual assault. You may find these types in your circles. Years into a novel disease, they’ve weighed the risk of infection and remain paralyzed by the scant odds of mortality. To this day, they’re driving alone in their vehicles, donning their face masks as magic talismans. To some degree, we’ve all assumed that the overly cautious exist. It is the sheer number of these that nobody could have predicted.
Journalist Chris Bray recently authored an excellent Substack piece in which he drew parallels between Benjamin Franklin as a satirist in imperial England and modern America. According to Bray, when presented with English public ire over colonial pushback to the Stamp Act, Franklin proposed killing all the colonials and burning their villages. Bray points out that Franklin assumed he was operating in the same moral universe as his English audience and did not foresee that they would miss the humor and take to the idea. Few could foresee the scope of modern Americans prepared to trade our most sacred collective inheritance to alleviate their personal fear.
The natural result of paralyzing fear is an aversion to liberty and an inclination to authoritarianism. This inclination to authoritarianism bleeds into public policy, where government bureaucrats are handed a blank check to solve all life’s problems with the stroke of a pen. Gun control, universal basic income, universal healthcare, and food security programs are all schemes of those incapable of tackling the slightest adversity or unwilling to risk failure. They desire that public safety nets be traded for a ban on ladders. If no man can climb, then no man can fall.
As a child, gaining mobility required one to take off one’s training wheels or lifejacket and take a first step toward independence. Many missteps were likely taken, and bumps and bruises were suffered along the way. As with all great rewards, risking nothing gains nothing. Many Americans enjoy the idea of freedom but aren’t prepared to assume the risks necessary to achieve it. They pay lip service to liberty.
Benjamin Franklin famously stated, “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Two hundred and seventy years later, the expression remains true, and an undeserving populace regularly cedes both.