Saturday, June 21, 2008

To Be or Not to Be a Patriot

We constantly hear politicians encourage patriotism or summon patriotic duty. They always do this in order to garner support for a government program or initiative, usually resulting in taxation or debt, or they do it to illicit allegiance to our government.

A cursory review of historical evidence will show their version of patriotism to be blatantly wrong.

However, I will say these politicians’ continual erroneous, or rather deceptive, assertions regarding patriotism have been effective, considering the caws and grumbles I hear from so many Americans.

So, let’s give history a cursory review:

First we must agree when we refer to patriots it is with respect to the American colonial revolutionaries who fought in the American War of Independence and further created the United States of America, and this is where we get our notions of patriotism from.

The tides of the revolutionary movement began well before the U.S.A. was invented. The government at the time was the English crown. The insurgency grew from what the American colonists believed were successive and excessive encroachments on their liberties from their own government. Where did these notions of liberty come from? We must consider the era.

This was the era of Enlightenment—the Age of Reason. This era began where the Renaissance era left off, which in turn was birthed after the end of the medieval era. The point is there was a succession of growth or change in human thought regarding philosophy, religion, politics, etc. The Enlightenment was an aggregation of philosophical thoughts regarding the roles of humanity, government and spirituality with successive iterations leaning more and more in favor of natural laws, human freewill, limited government and religious freedom.

These were the philosophical roots that were wide spread among the American colonists as can be attributed to the writings and actions of the leaders of the revolutionary movement and the founding fathers of the United States of America. I would suggest reviewing the writings of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson that were instrumental to the revolutionary movement. Both of these men were influenced by the writings and ideas of John Locke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill.

Those who were sympathetic to the cause of the revolutionary movement were called, or considered themselves as, patriots—loyal to the cause. The cause was the ideas of freedom and autonomy. Those who were sympathetic to the government’s cause were called loyalists.

Let’s consult the dictionary’s definition of patriot:
1. a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.

2. a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, esp. of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government.

3. (initial capital letter ) Military. a U.S. Army antiaircraft missile with a range of 37 mi. (60 km) and a 200-lb. (90 kg) warhead, launched from a tracked vehicle with radar and computer guidance and fire control.

Notice there is no mention of “loyalty to government”. So then, are your country and your government one in the same? Politicians would have you believe they are. However, take a closer look at the second definition. Early American historical evidence supports they are not the same.

The patriots were fighting their own government against encroachments on their freedom. These encroachments came in the form of repeated legally-sanctioned government Acts coercing physical force, restrictive regulations and taxation that the colonists believed impeded their civil and economic liberties. They believed that the actions of the government were not representative of the interests of the colonists, as iterated in the revolutionary slogan “no taxation without representation”. I’m particularly fond of another slogan of the movement, “Don’t Tread on Me!”

I’d like to point out that the taxes the patriots went to war over represented less than 6% of their production. Consider that when a politician talks of patriotism with regard to raising taxes. In fact, consider the percentage of 6% when you pay your annual income tax in the area of 25-38%. It kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

The patriots were essentially Englishmen, but they considered their country to be America. Keep in mind; this was well before the country of America was under the control of the government of the United States of America. The patriots were clearly loyal to their country, or rather what they perceived were the interests of their country; they were clearly not loyal to their government.

Our founding fathers had a very skeptical impression of government and were all too aware of the nature of government and the nature of power. With this understanding, they were quite clear in their devotion to creating a government with severely limited powers as was expressed with the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, their devotion to the ideas of liberty was expressed with a Bill of Rights as Amendments to the Constitution.

Our founding fathers were also skeptical of the power of mob rule or "tyranny of the majority". This is why the United States was formed as a republic and not a democracy. That's right, the United States of America is not a democracy. The word democracy does not appear in any of our founding documents. It's not even in our Pledge of Allegience. The U.S.A is a Constitutional Republic. They did this to protect the people's liberties from enemies both foreign and domestic, including their own government and from shifting currents of conventional wisdom.

Defending the interests of your country, in America, means to defend the ideas of freedom and autonomy; this is patriotic. Defending the interests of your government, which by its nature is a mechanism of force and control with an unyielding tendency to grow its power, is wholly unpatriotic.

Consider history when you claim to be or not to be a patriot. If you truly wish to honor the patriotic men and women who fought and died for their country, remember that your country and your government are not the same thing.

"Liberty or Death"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Liberty versus Human Nature

Human nature is a topic of debate stemming back to ancient philosophers and has been disputed by just about every school of thought since. For that reason, these thoughts, as I must maintain, are focused more on the state of human nature, with the idea that humans are essentially good and with the perception that humans have freewill, while holding there exist moral codes regardless of human opinion. Otherwise, it's a Lockean /libertarian /moral objectivist viewpoint. The intent of this essay is not to debate the merit of these philosophical foundations, but rather the clarification provides the framework from which these views are expressed.

Freedom versus Control
A dichotomy exists within humans as it pertains to freedom. From my understandings of human nature, coming from the viewpoint of the above mentioned philosophical underpinnings, humans want to be free to do as they please, even though they may feel a sense of social obligation. Humans also have the desire to control, whether it is themselves, their possessions, their surroundings or environment, their families, their communities or societies at large.

When it comes to control, it can be good for humans to control themselves, their possessions and to a limited extent their families, as long as the morally objective value of not initiating harm is respected. The dichotomy arises, as it pertains to freedom, when the desire to control extends beyond the personality to environment, other individuals, communities or societies. To put it simply, the conflict rears its head with the assertion, "I love my freedom. It's just yours I'm not too fond of." When force is used to exert control, as opposed to persuasion, it becomes a question of morality.

So how does one balance that dichotomy? Half the battle is just being cognizant of the values themselves. When an individual takes time and dedicates some brain cells to understanding the concept of freedom, one will inevitably question how the interplay with others affects his or her freedom, as well as how his or her actions affect others' freedom. Action is the exercise of control.

The nature of freedom is a negative concept. A negative concept is measured by the absence of an opposing positive concept. For example, cold is measured by the degree of heat that is absent, and dark is measured by the absence of light. Conversely, control and force are a positive concepts. The positive concept is actually what is quantifiable or measured against. Freedom is measured by the absence of coercion, or control forced by others. However, a negative concept does not imply it is a negative value, nor does a positive concept imply a positive value.

By this definition, freedom can’t be given; it can only be taken away. Liberating a man from captivity is not making him free; it is removing a level of control that impeded the freedom he had before that state of control. Freedom is restored by removing control. This, of course, does not consider whether or not the man ought to be in captivity or controlled. But it does propose freedom is the natural state existing in the absence of an opposing force. This lends to the notion that humans are born free, until they are forced or persuaded not to be.

As creatures possessing freewill, humans have to make choices. With regard to freedom and control, a human must choose which value will dominate. The extent one is valued will have a converse effect on the opposing value. If freedom is valued more, then control must be valued less and vice versa.

Humans must make a choice, whether or not they are cognizant of it. This personal choice invariably has implications on the personal choices of others. This is to say, if one chooses control over others, one must accept other's control, and if one chooses freedom from others, one must accept other's freedom. Moreover, if one values freedom, he or she must give up a level of control over others, and if one values control, he or she must give up a level of freedom from others. Due to the negative nature of freedom, it cannot be forced upon others, though it can be defended from force of control from others.

Which is the better value: freedom or control? Are these values constant, or is there some fluidity depending on circumstance? If one chooses freedom as the dominant value, are there not times when control must be exerted and freedom must recede? This is where morality comes into play.

The Moral Distinction
There are two camps of philosophical thought regarding morality; one is subjective and the other is objective. Subjective morality holds that morality exists as a condition of conscious thought, and that morality would not exist with the absence of conscious beings. Thus, all morality is of human opinion, for which ideas of morality cannot be judged as more right or more wrong since there is no objective criteria to make assessments against.

Objective morality holds that there is a natural moral code or law, much like gravity, that exists independent of conscience beings, and that morality is not a human fabrication; morality merely awaits detection from conscious beings. Thus, human attempts to approximate the reality of morality are subjective, and the rightness or wrongness of that approximation can be valued since objective criteria exist to make assessments against.

Either camp makes strong arguments, but the point of this essay is not to debate the philosophical nature of morality. By addressing the viewpoints of these different approaches, I am simply including a frame of reference to the view of morality expressed herein, which is in favor of objective morality. By that standpoint, the objective moral view articulated in this essay is that initiation of harmful force upon others, whether it is murder, rape, theft or fraud is inherently bad, and that freedom from the initiation of harmful force from others is inherently good. By stating “harmful” as a condition of “force”, I am conceding that there may by instances where initiating force is morally appropriate, so long as that force is not harmful.

In terms of the freedom versus control dichotomy of human nature, moral objectivity dictates that freedom is ultimately the better value. Regardless of religious views, whether theistic or atheistic, reason and rational self-interest brings one to the same self-evident conclusion that freedom is the ultimate morality to contend with.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What does it mean to be American?

Have you ever thought about what it means to be American? Is it citizenship? Is it loyalty to a piece of land or to the government that controls it? With so many cultures and languages expressed in this country, what does it mean to be American?

It's a question I have wrestled with for some time. Living in Miami has afforded me the opportunity to have this discussion with a variety of people from very diverse cultures and backgrounds. And I have found people's understanding of what it means are equally diverse. Even among multi-generational Americans, their definitions can be quite different.

I would argue the being American is the allegiance to a certain set of ideas. To fully understand the idea of America, one would have to dig back in history to the creation of this country. What were the ideas of the men who created this country? What were the ideas of the minds who inspired them. What were the ideas of the patriots who risked their lives and fortunes to make those ideas a reality?

America was an experiment created, or invented, at the height of the Enlightenment, otherwise known as the Age of Reason. Inspired by the likes John Locke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, a group of American men expressed the culmination of the ideas of freedom for the first time with a Declaration of Independence, which gave birth to a nation. Many of those human rights were later codified in the Bill of Rights as Amendments to the law of our land, the U.S. Constitution.

For the first time in history, a nation was founded on the idea that all men are created equal and free and have the right to that freedom and the right to pursue happiness as he sees fit. This not to say that we as individual Americans or as a government have lived up to these ideas, nor have we done such a fantastic job defending them. Our history is riddled with events that exemplify our failures in personifying freedom. However, the extent that we have not lived up to the principles of freedom does not discount the impact or morality of those ideas.

The ideas of freedom, individualism and self-government moved men, women and children to create this country and these ideas became the foundation of American culture. To be American is to say that these are the ideas you value, and you don't have to be a citizen to live by them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Welcome to Cresco Libertas

The Freedom Blog

Welcome and thank you for dropping in to read, ponder, comment and perhaps, expand your mind.

What is Cresco Libertas? Its direct translation from Latin to English is "expand freedom". It's a statement--a call to action! And that pretty much sums up the purpose of this blog.

Cresco Libertas is created to examine, critique and ultimately expand the ideas of freedom, individualism and personal responsibility. It often takes a critical look at how the interplay of politics, religion and society either constricts or expands liberty, and more importantly, why it matters.

Life is cluttered with political and religious affirmations, family and societal pressures, internal and external conflicts, subjective morality and personal ethics--often creating a mixed bag of philosophies within in individual or a society at large. Cresco Libertas looks at how these different factors effect liberty and argues freedom is the ultimate morality.

Cresco Libertas: is not just an idea; it's a calling!

--Daniel Fuller, Founder