“Liberty Means Responsibility. That Is Why Most Men Dread It.” Have We Lost Our Ability To Be Free?

My life has been a little upside down with a family member in the ER most of the week. As a result, I’ve personally experienced something I already knew but didn’t want to believe: everyone loves power, and liberty has more to do with the citizenry than government itself.

I’ve seen first hand just how much the coronavirus has changed American culture and American’s understanding of liberty. Private institutions can choose to do what they want as they handle the coronavirus. I stand by their right to do so, but I’m also aware that the way in which private industry handles the coronavirus speaks volumes about how willing Americans are to live in an autocratic society.


What does “autocratic” mean and why do I pick that word? Autocratic doesn’t have to be political. Should I use the word tyrannical, I’d be referring to the U.S. governmental structure, but I’m not. I’m not referring to government in this post. I’m referring to society. (Aside: autocracy is a term used for government but it can also be used in other contexts as well).

Here’s one definition of autocratic: “taking no account of other people’s wishes or opinions; domineering.”

Interesting. Sound a bit like our society today? Remind you of videos you’ve seen of people breaking up individuals consoling one another at a funeral because such consoling violates “social distancing” norms?

Slavery versus Liberty

I prefer to stay away from any commentary on the actual coronavirus sickness itself because I’m not qualified to make claims about one’s physical health and/or sickness. And, I am not a sociologist either…but as a political scientist, I can look at and consider the political culture prevalent in a country.

You see, there is hard evidence, research and statistics to support the claim that the type of people who exist under a tyrannical (unlimited) government are different than the type of people who exist under a free government (If there is such a thing. Perhaps I should say a limited government.)

This is not to say that people who live under an unlimited government cannot learn freedom or that people who live under a limited government cannot learn slavery, but that it is difficult to take one society, conditioned and raised under one type of government, and expect them to easily adapt to the opposite type of government.

Put simply: Slaves don’t know how to be free and the free don’t know how to be slaves.

There’s a culture of slavery and a culture of liberty. There’s a mindset to slavery and a mindset to liberty.

Slavery requires little to no personal responsibility. Liberty requires complete personal responsibility. Slavery oppresses, liberty elevates. Slavery stagnates, liberty creates. Slavery is a requirement, liberty is an art. Slavery is mindless, liberty must be learned.

As a slave, there are the controlled and those who control. Those who are controlled must merely do as they are told, while those who control need no reason or justification for their control—-other than the fact that they are in control. They dominate by virtue of being dominant over the dominated.

Many times, when the dominated are no longer dominated, they are aimless. Without someone telling them what to do, they don’t know what to do. Being dominated is all they know.

The free are not so. They are not told what to do, they must choose what to do. And with that ability to choose comes all the weight of responsibility and consequence of those choices.

And should someone hinder or inhibit their ability to choose, the free naturally resist. It is not natural to be controlled or dominated by an unlimited force. Limited government with laws and authority is respected and appreciated because it allows the freed to more freely choose. Unlimited government is rejected and unwelcome.

Do you see the difference between the two?

The Art of Being Free

While I am talking in the abstract, I am not talking about something that is abstract. Political scientists puzzle and consternate over the many citizens of despotic countries throughout history, who, once freed from their tyrannical governments, in little time, overthrew the new government and replaced it with yet another tyrannical government.

Why is it that some people want a dictator or a tyrant? Why is it that some people demand for more government control?

Perhaps, it is because, between the two, slavery and liberty, liberty is harder. Tyrants and freemen alike, throughout history can attest to this.

  • “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

  • “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” -Thomas Paine

  • “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” -William Faulkner

  • “Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves.” -Nietzsche

  • “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” -George Bernard Shaw

  • “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” -Ronald Reagan

  • “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry is own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

  • “One cannot say it too often: there is nothing more prolific in marvels than the art of being free; but there is nothing harder than the apprenticeship of freedom.” -Tocqueville

Liberty is an art. It is a responsibility and one not easily learned, earned or kept. For the United States, her people have earned, learned and kept liberty—more so than any other country in world history.

The famous Marquis de Lafayette said of the United States: “Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.”

The United States has long been the symbol of liberty to the world. The spirit of liberty resides in the hearts of the men and women here and therefore, domination or autocracy has been rejected and unbearable.

Pat Miller, a local politician and author, said: “The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.”

What she does not mention is that such tiny and imperceptible reductions in liberty also cause tiny and imperceptible reductions in the love of liberty. They are reductions in the responsibility of liberty, in the understanding of liberty, in the art of liberty and in the spirit of liberty. Liberty must be ripped from the hands of the master of liberty, but it can be quietly removed from the hands of the novice of liberty.

The United States Society of Autocracy

My point in today’s post is not to point out that the U.S. government violates such liberty, the Constitution and its limitations…although it does.

My point today is to draw attention to a shift in the United States culture and appreciation of liberty at large.

Notice the simple, benign acceptance of autocratic behaviors in our private organizations. Consider the quiet, timid submission to security guards at hospitals who, puffing their chest out in pride at the power they now wield, prevent family members from going up to see loved ones in need (Need I remind you of the definition of autocratic: “taking no account of other people’s wishes or opinions”). Take note of society’s quick embrace of the ability to domineer over those who are unwilling to go with the newly established social norms of autocracy—both, in society at large and in individual businesses.

As I said before, I stand by a private business’s right to run their business as they see fit, but I dismay at how quickly Americans and their businesses are willing to shift their free and open culture to that of an autocratic culture, preventing individuals from going certain places, checking temperatures, making customers walk in a certain direction, creating an environment that slaves would find customary and freeman find contemptible. I can understand a begrudging willingness to do so in the short term for the sake of health or whatever moral reason is used; what I don’t understand is the thrilling embrace of such a culture.

Why aren’t businesses, hospitals and the like reluctantly forcing their clients or patients to do something they may not want to do—all the while, waiting anxiously for the opportunity to safely do otherwise? Why does it seem like some businesses and hospitals enjoy the extra control and power over their clients and patients they now have?

Since when did unlimited power, even in the hands of a mere security guard or cashier chasing down a customer and forcing them to put on a mask/comply to the store’s regulations, become normal? Why are Americans, presumably masters at the art of liberty, not itching to bring liberty back into all of her society, culture and institutions again?

I’ll restate: the business has right to do what they wish and their customers must either leave or comply—but why is such a culture embraced, promoted and even elevated to that of a “new normal”? Do we want autocratic private institutions?

Have we lost our ability to be free?

For truly, if Americans forget how to be free, the world will forget how to be free.


Friends, liberty must first live in the hearts of the people before it can reside in the chambers of government.

Consider: what if we do re-establish the supremacy of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and liberty at the government level? Does this guarantee liberty?

No. It does nothing if liberty is not firmly established, practiced and embraced at the individual level.

If men want to be free, they will fight to be free. If they want to be slaves, no matter the nature of government, they will establish a society of slaves.

Judge Learned Hand, in a speech in 1944, said it beautifully: “What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.”

We can have the most liberty loving and limited government in the world, but it would be for naught if the citizenry did not love liberty. It’s not the government that promotes and establishes liberty. It is the people.

We should be more afraid of a autocratic citizenry than an autocratic government.

I’ll leave you with Judge Hand’s final words from his speech, “The Spirit of Liberty”:

“I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten – that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side-by-side with the greatest.

And now in that spirit, that spirit of an American which has never been, and which may never be – nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it – yet in the spirit of America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America so prosperous, and safe, and contented, we shall have failed to grasp its meaning, and shall have been truant to its promise, except as we strive to make it a signal, a beacon, a standard to which the best hopes of mankind will ever turn; In confidence that you share that belief, I now ask you to raise your hand and repeat with me this pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands–One nation, Under God, Indivisible, with LIBERTY and justice for all.

The Liberty Belle

1 thought on ““Liberty Means Responsibility. That Is Why Most Men Dread It.” Have We Lost Our Ability To Be Free?”

  1. Christin, By golly you’ve done it again. You’ve gotten to and stated very eloquently the core of what is missing in America these days. I too have noticed over the past few years the seemingly casual relinquishing of liberties in exchange for the reduced responsibilities of having to take care of those liberties.

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