The longer I live, experience and study the world the more I’ve come to accept something that I previously rejected.
There is no liberty without the side effect of chaos.
Now, I’m not talking about the chaos that leads to complete anarchy which ultimately leads to tyranny. I’m talking about something different, something I’ll attempt to explain in this blog post.
Liberty Balances Delicately Between Complete Chaos and Total Government Control
I’ve realized something. Liberty balances delicately between complete chaos—as Hobbes would put it, a state of war with no government control—and the complete “peace” that comes from total and complete government control.
Somewhere in the middle true liberty lives. Because of this, it’s always being pulled in one direction or the other.
Liberty cannot exist in a world of complete chaos and anarchy because everyone’s liberty is always at risk. With no law, there is no liberty. Law and government bring about true liberty.
And yet, with too much law and government, liberty may again be lost. Government may fully extinguish liberty in the guise of good, saying that it is merely bringing peace where there isn’t peace, bringing safety where there may be chaos. All the while, destroying liberty.
This is the tenuous game we are playing here in America. Somehow liberty has managed the tightrope of time, balancing precariously between chaos and tyranny since 1787…sometimes she’s leaned towards chaos and other times towards tyranny but she’s never fallen. She’s somehow managed to stay the course.
The fact that liberty has kept her balance for over 250 years truly is remarkable. The fact that our country, free and therefore fraught with violence, chaos, disease, uprisings, strikes, and even a Civil War, has somehow stayed the course, has never devolved into complete and total anarchy (even amidst a Civil War) nor has it resorted to a total dictatorship—-is truly remarkable.
Because friends, if you think today is the only time in American history that violence, riots, political unrest and the like have existed, you’d be very wrong.
In fact, what we are experiencing today is just a taste of what this country—because it IS free—-has weathered for over 250 years.
Over that 250 years, there’s been one constant in America: spurts of chaos.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s just look at one thing: riots. Here’s a brief, incredibly scaled down, history of riots in America (I’m not including protests, skirmishes, uprisings, gangs, random violence, disease or the “wild west”):
May 1849: 25 people killed and 120 injured in what was known as The Astor Place Riot. Described by Major-General Charles Sanford: “During a period of thirty-five years of military service,” wrote the general, “I have never seen a mob so violent as the one on that evening. I never before had occasion to give the order to fire.” The riot was about which actor best portrayed the Shakespearean Hamlet. Now, there’s more to it than that so I’d encourage you to go read the article I attached above to learn for yourself. It’s rather fascinating.
July 1863: The New York City Draft Riots. 100-120 people killed, with over 2,000 injured. “Rioters destroyed between 1 and 5 million dollars in property, about fifty buildings, including two churches and an orphan asylum for African American children. In today’s dollars, that would be between $20 million and about $96 million in damage.” (http://werehistory.org/riots/) The riots were over being drafted for the Civil War.
March 1884: Cincinnati Courthouse Riot A mob broke out in response to an unjust court system in Cincinnati that charged a murderer with manslaughter rather than murder. The riot lasted three days, killing 50 people, and injuring more than 300. Of course, the convicted murderer got away and a week later “the people of Cincinnati voted to return to office candidates of the same political machine whose corrupt practices had triggered the Cincinnati Courthouse Riot.”
April, 1914: The Ludlow Massacre Colorado national guard and company men attacked a group of striking coal miners and their children, killing between 20-26 of them, including women and children. Riots broke out in the days following, resulting in 69-199 more deaths.
June 1943 and July 1967: Detroit Race Riots of 1943 and The Uprising of 1967: (Again, just look up riots and a city. For Detroit, since 1833, there have been at least sixteen riots, one of those lasting four years from 1855-1859) In 1943, three days of riots broke out after “25,000 white workers walked off their war-related jobs at the Packard Motor Car Company rather than work next to three African Americans who had been promoted to their assembly lines.” After days of rioting, Roosevelt sent in federal troops. At least 34 people were killed. Years later, in 1967, due to a variety of causes (racial tension, tension with an overly antagonistic police department—specifically against blacks in the area, loss of jobs etc), riots broke out against the Detroit police. By the end of the riots, at least 43 people were dead, hundreds injured, close to 1,700 fires started and 7,000 arrests made.
September 1962: The Ol’ Miss Riot Riots broke out after the federal government tried to enforce the enrollment of the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Two people were killed and over 300 injured before the federal government stepped in to force order.
August 1965: The Watts Riots Took place in Los Angeles and started with a routine traffic stop done by a white cop pulling over a black man. Read the story I linked for detail. In the end, “The Watts Rebellion lasted for six days, resulting in 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries and 4,000 arrests, involving 34,000 people and ending in the destruction of 1,000 buildings, totaling $40 million in damages.” This was one of many riots that erupted across the United States throughout the 1960s.
April/May 1992: The Rodney King Riots Riots broke out after four white police officers were acquitted for beating a black man, Rodney King after a high speed chase. One such unfortunate victim of these riots was Reginald Denny. Read here about him. “In six days, 53 people were killed, more than 2,000 injured, and more than $1 billion in property was destroyed. The rioting ended when soldiers were deployed to calm the city.”
(If you want to see just how many riots and violence and unrest has occurred in the U.S. over the past 250 years, just look up “riots” and pick a random city. You’ll then have a comprehensive list of riots throughout history for each city. And this list probably won’t be short.)
Human Nature Is Never More Bountifully on Display Than When It’s At Liberty to Do What It Wants
Here’s the thing: chaos and subsequently, violence is the unfortunate side effect of liberty. When people are free, their natures are never more bountifully on display.
See, the problem is never liberty, the problem is human nature. Madison said it best when he said that “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires.” By faction, he meant a grouping of people who will likely oppress others for their own purposes. If people were angels, liberty would merely open the door for a flood of good deeds, diligent work, selflessness and the like.
But, people are not angels.
Liberty gives room for business owners to run businesses as they wish—in which case, many times, means running their business unfairly and with abuse. Liberty also allows those who are abused to respond and revolt against that abuse.
Liberty allows for disagreements, protests, contention and at times, violence. These small outbursts of frustration, keep the pressure from building to a point of explosion. Liberty allows people to pitch a fit when they feel the need to draw attention to something—and if the issue is subsequently addressed, liberty has done its job. The frustration was not unnaturally squelched as it would be in a dictatorial regime and therefore the frustration was given an outlet for expression and the situation allowed to decompress.
This is why we’ve never seen a revolution in America like we would in a country who suppresses their citizenry til the breaking point occurs.
Should violence and law breaking be condoned or allowed to happen with no repercussions? Of course not. But it should never be handled to the point that government becomes the dictator.
There Are Inherent Flaws to Liberty
There are flaws to liberty, inherent abuses, wrongdoings and side effects. Safety cannot be guaranteed—whether that means from someone with a gun or someone with a disease. It’s the risk we take to be free.
Government is in place to protect you from someone who would harm you with a gun, but government is not in place to take away guns in order to do so. Liberty has its consequences, its risks.
In North Korea, the government shot its first coronavirus victim. While this may have stopped or slowed the virus, it most certainly destroyed liberty in the process. In America, we did not shoot our first victim and the coronavirus spread.
The media is free to do and say whatever they want about whoever they want. That means lies and truth. That means mockery and abuse of people in positions of power or visibility. That means the media and the citizenry can hate on their government and each other as much as they want.
That’s what happens when human nature is allowed to have liberty—even within the confines of limited laws.
Perhaps we should take solace in the fact that, somehow our country has weathered storms of equal or even greater strength than what we are experiencing right now. And perhaps we should look to the Father of the Constitution to really understand that liberty comes with a cost.
During President Madison’s terms in office, the citizenry and states were everything the citizenry and the states are today. They were loud, they were opinionated, emotional, distrustful, critical, fickle and at times, violent. And Madison let it happen.
His predecessors caved to power and passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, acts that egregiously violated the Constitution, freedom of speech and the press when they saw how willing the people, with freedom, were to criticize and question government. Madison was subject to the same ridicule, if not worse. Governors and state governments disavowed him and refused to obey his orders while the citizenry was in an uproar about his handling of the War of 1812. Yet Madison did nothing to stop it.
He understood that in a free society, this was the way of things.
Are violence, riots, disease and the like good? No. By no means.
But are they better than total enslavement?
Well, I’ll let you decide.
The Liberty Belle