Monday, March 19, 2012

Money and Freedom

Not only in American history, but in the histories of all different parts of the world, there is a curious connection between the freedom of speech and the right to use your own property as you see fit. It might seem odd that this link between the expression of beliefs on the one hand, and material objects on the other hand, is so pervasive in the human experience. But as unlikely as this bond between immaterial ideas and physical possession may appear, the modern world is based, as Mark Levin writes, on the intellectual heritage of philosophers and scholars, whose work coalesced into our modern outlook, which

is a way of understanding life, society, and governance. The Founders were heavily influenced by certain philosophers, among them Adam Smith (spontaneous order), Charles Montesquieu (separation of powers), and especially John Locke (natural rights); they were also influenced by their faiths, personal experiences, and knowledge of history (including the rise and fall of the Roman Empire). Edmund Burke, who was both a British statesman and thinker, is often said to the father of modern

revolutionary theory: he was able to clearly express the distinction between the American Revolution and the French Revolution, and clearly and accurately predicted the trajectory of the latter before it happened.

He was an early defender of the American Revolution and advocate of representative government. He wrote of the interconnection of liberty, free markets, religion, tradition, and authority.

This bond between freedom of speech and economic freedom lies at the heart of the American Revolution. The Founding Fathers - the Continental Congress, the authors of the Declaration of the Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and The Federalist Papers - believed

in the dignity of the individual; that we, as human beings, have a right to live, live freely, and pursue that which motivates us not because some man or some government says so, but because these are God-given natural rights.

In this way, the more abstract freedoms are joined to the more concrete freedoms. Among the abstract freedoms are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of belief; naturally, these can all be phrased differently - represented by different words - but they all revolve around ideas and the communication of ideas. Among the concrete freedoms we find freedom from "taxation without representation," freedom from being forced to yield property or its use (quartering British troops), and the freedom to buy and sell at freely-agreed-to prices.

It is our task to remove the outdated circumstances which surrounded the ideas of the Founding Fathers, and place those ideas, without corrupting them, into new circumstances. What are the contemporary analogues of The Sugar Act of 1764, The Stamp Act of 1765, The Townshend Acts of 1767, The Tea Act of 1773, The Coercive Act of 1774, and the Quebec Act of 1774? How did these legislations harm us then, and which legislations harm us now in the same way?

When we can free society from government's intrusion, we allow people to speak and act freely, and the ordinary citizen

also recognizes in society a harmony of interests, as Adam Smith put it, and rules of cooperation that have developed through generations of human experience and collective reasoning that promote the betterment of the individual and society. This is characterized as ordered liberty, the social contract, or civil society.

Thomas Paine eloquently distinguished between government and society, as John Locke had done a generation earlier. Although not perfect, the equilibrium toward which a society moves, when unencumbered by government intervention, is continuously self-correcting, and the best achievable in this world.