The Patriot Act that was rammed through after the September 2011 attacks was one of the more egregious blows against liberty in our lifetimes. It shredded core rights and liberties that had been taken for granted for centuries. Liberties are never lost all at once, but the Patriot Act, as disgusting in its details as in its name and the rhetoric that surrounded it, was for the United States the turning point, the law that best exemplifies a full-scale embrace of statism as a national ideology. It is a law so severe, so outlandish, as to cause people to forget what it means to be free.
This is why I believe Ron Paul’s book Liberty Defined to be one of the most important statements of our time. He defines liberty clearly and cleanly as freedom from coercive interference from the state. That is how the liberal tradition from Aquinas to Jefferson to Rothbard understood it, too, for there is no greater threat to liberty than the state. Its powers must be crushed if we are to revisit what liberty means.
Ron goes further to apply the principle of liberty in many of the most controversial areas of modern life. The purpose here is not to detail some governing blueprint. What Ron seeks to do is much more important. He seeks to fire up the human imagination in ways that permit people to think outside the prevailing statist norms.
In 1945, Ludwig von Mises wrote a similar book called Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War. It is probably the most blistering and thorough attack on National Socialism ever written. He details the peculiar characteristics of Nazi-style statism (its nationalism rooted in the worship of bloodlines). Just as importantly – and very unusually for this genre of writing – Mises sought to explain how Nazism is only a symptom of a larger problem, which is statism itself. He regarded statism as a special doctrine that people come to embrace often without entirely understanding its teaching and claims. It emerges within a context of economic or security emergency.
There is always some great excuse for the trashing of the human freedom that built civilization as we know it. If the state cannot find one, it is glad to invent one. A population that is ideologically gullible or afraid for its security can permit government to run roughshod over people’s rights and liberties, and a government that gains such power never gives it back on its own. Rights and liberties must be reclaimed by the people themselves, and the spark that makes this happen is reversing the conditions that permitted the rise of statism. The people must lose their gullibility through ideological enlightenment, and they must lose their sense of fear that the world will fall apart if the tyrant is not in control.
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