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Liberty Defined

• Gordon

Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect American Freedom. By Ron Paul. Grand Central Publishing, 2011. xviii + 328 pages.

This brilliant book collects fifty short essays by Ron Paul on issues that range from abortion and assassination to unions and Zionism. It is no disparate assemblage, though; rather it is unified around a central theme, the vital importance of liberty. Paul’s defense of liberty and opposition to its contemporary enemies put him at odds with all establishment politicians, both Republican and Democratic.

As he puts the point with characteristic force: "For more than 100 years, the dominant views that have influenced our politicians have undermined the principles of personal liberty and private property, The tragedy is these bad policies have had strong bipartisan support. There has been no real opposition to the steady increase in the size and scope of government. Democrats are largely and openly for government expansion, and if we were to judge the Republicans by their actions and not their rhetoric, we would come to much the same conclusion about them."(p.20)

What exactly is the liberty that Paul favors? He makes clear at the book’s start what he has in mind: "Liberty means to exercise human rights in any manner a person chooses so long as it does not interfere with the exercise of the rights of others. This means, above all else, keeping government out of our lives." (p.xi) And of course the liberties in question include property rights: a free society rests on a free market economy.

Few if any in American politics will openly avow total opposition to liberty and property, but the mainstream approach toward these values differs entirely from Paul’s. As conventional politicians see matters, liberty and property, whatever their importance, must be balanced against other values, such as social justice and security. Is it not reasonable, they say, that the rich should surrender a little of their wealth to help the destitute? Again, does not an absolutist conception of civil liberties ignore the peril of terrorism? Even if we must submit to bothersome surveillance and intrusions, is not the price worth paying if these measures reduce the dangers of a terrorist assault?