Recently, Cuban leader Raul Castro made headlines by granting Cuban citizens the right to make certain purchases, own cell phones and even to stay at certain posh resorts. Some have speculated that these changes will serve to strengthen communism; I would submit it at least highlights the difference in thinking between the communist/socialist and that of the libertarian (by which I’m referring not to a political party, but to a philosophy).
The ability to freely choose how you use your resources, and what you do with your own person, is not a right “granted” by a government — or any other — agency. It is, in point of fact, our “default state.” We are born with liberty: the freedom to speak and to act on our own behalf, and in the manner of our choosing.
This freedom works best when tempered by the most basic morality: to not impose one’s will on another self-sufficient member of society. It is this basic concept which is the basis for true social justice, and for any just law and governance. It is within this one parameter that we find our most fundamental societal laws: don’t kill, rape or otherwise physically harm another human being; don’t steal, damage or demand another’s personal property. It is, very simply, the recognition that freedom which negates the freedom of another is, itself, rendered meaningless. If one person has the freedom to take from another, others, by definition, have that same right to take from the first. The establishment of simple law as described above effectively makes freedom possible.
Liberty, then, is never a thing “granted.” It can only be limited, stolen, given away or — in the best of societies — revered and protected.
Now, in any society, there are scenarios in which liberty (or property) may be justly limited or taken. Such scenarios always involve either just compensation or else punative cause. In other words, it is either freely given, as in the case of employment, in which a man may turn over certain decisions to a supervisor for a period of time, in exchange for money — or it is taken by society as punishment for injustices visited on others.
But the starting point is freedom. When the founders of this country first drafted the Declaration of Independence, it was not merely a declaration of national sovereignty, but of personal will. “All men,” states the Declaration, “are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” These rights — life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness — aren’t “national” rights, but individual. From the beginning, the Founders knew that a nation is made up of people; a free nation created of free people.
This is all — or at least ought to be — academic. A given. Any government not recognizing personal sovereignty over the will is injust. In theory, you may even find a consensus to this idea among Republican, Democrat, Socialist and Liberterian alike. However, what certain of these groups fail to realize is that an integral part of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness includes control over property. What you make, or work, in other words, belongs to you. This includes money, land, material, intellectual property, etc. Unless you are contracted otherwise, nobody owns the work of your mind or body, except you — and such contracts are based upon compensation for work done.
It is for this reason that so-called “entitlement” programs are the very opposite of “social justice” — no matter how they’re billed. Entitlement programs, such as welfare, essentially entail the government deciding that your money would better serve in the possession of somebody else. In a very real sense, the government using tax dollars in this manner constitutes a denial of liberty. It is the freedom of one being allowed to negate the freedom of another.
Enforced collectivization, such as you see in countries like Cuba, or in the Canadian and European healthcare systems, is the same type of thing. It is an across-the-board denial of freedom to everyone in order to serve the percieved needs of a few.
Socialism and liberty do not and cannot coexist. Either you are free or you are not. Populist programs are, called by any other name, still socialism in practice, and still a negation of personal liberty. We remain free only by realizing, as did the Founding Fathers of this nation, that we are free by default. Or freedom may be stolen while we aren’t looking. It may be willingly surrendered to those who would pretend to serve us. But not if we are wary. Not if we are vigilant. In this, we have failed as a society.
There is still time to reclaim and assert our freedom. There is still time to find and route enemies to our liberty. But first we must recognize them. Then we must confront them. We must stop allowing them to steal our freedoms and pass us back the crumbs, all the while pretending they are benificently “granting” us rights.