How to Tell What the Government Fears Most

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By J.B. Shurk

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

I am of the opinion that we are all a part of one of the great epochal shifts in human history and that what we fight to secure today will reverberate through society for generations. We did not ask for this moment — most of us, in fact, have hoped that by quietly enduring the hardships that come our way, our toleration of what is intolerable would somehow be rewarded with comfort and peace. As with all turning points in human history, however, the desire to ignore obvious trespasses in order to forestall conflict has had the effect of encouraging further harm until conflict is all but certain. Like a garden hose tied into a knot, societal pressure has been steadily building, and everybody senses that it could pop at any time.

As with all revolutionary moments, at the root of this conflict is an idea. In one word, that idea is freedom. Now, governments have been manipulating this word for as long as humans have been demanding it. Lenin seized power in Russia while claiming to “free” the proletariat masses. In FDR’s famous Four Freedoms State of the Union address in 1941, the president defended freedom of speech and freedom of religion but also insisted that it is government’s responsibility to ensure “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear.” In the days since the United States Supreme Court refrained from interfering with the State of Texas’s decision to limit abortion after the detection of a baby’s heartbeat, pro-abortion Americans have insisted that a woman’s “freedom” to terminate her pregnancy up to the moment of childbirth supersedes the baby’s freedom to live. So when I say this revolutionary moment is at its heart a conflict over “freedom,” I must be clear that it is an ideological battle pitting human life and free will against the commands of collectivist authorities — namely, that individual liberty is a moral imperative being threatened by an increasingly all-powerful globalized government run by a small handful of decision-makers in the name of the “greater good.”

Every interaction between government and citizen today tests how far individual liberty may be diminished before the public pushes back. Should authorities have had the power to close businesses and prohibit public gatherings in the name of health? What if the risk to the public’s health is less than one percent? What if the risk is merely one-hundredth of one percent? If government can interfere with liberty whenever there is any degree of risk, can there be any degree of liberty?

If government can make you afraid of something — imaginary or not — may it then control your life completely in order to guarantee FDR’s “freedom from fear”? Does depending on government to ensure “freedom from fear” not incentivize government to invent new fears that only additional government powers can vanquish? Does this not subsidize fear with taxpayer dollars and guarantee that government will always strive to make citizens afraid? Can it really be true that individual liberty should be “allowed” to exist only when there is nothing that can hurt us? Isn’t that what a master might tell his slaves?

If truth exists independently from governmental decree, and science is a process in search of truth, then why are governments working with Google, Facebook, and Twitter to censor scientific debates? Is truth so fragile that it will not survive false attacks? Is science so dependent on “official edicts” that it must be regulated and practiced only by a small priestly caste? If scientific consensus depends on government creating a monopoly over information, does this mean that truth is whatever government deems it to be? Since government is incentivized to invest in fear, is it likely that government will ever declare a truth that isn’t also scary?

If government power grows by monopolizing information and weaponizing fear, then isn’t the greatest threat to government an independent citizen unafraid of thinking for himself? Is it not true, then, that every single person is capable of destroying the illusion of total government control? Is it not true that leaders can rise from anywhere — whether at local school board meetings, in football stadiums, or even from spontaneous testimonials during Red Lobster dinners? Is it difficult to imagine “freedom speakeasies” popping up wherever freedom is outlawed? Is it not true that there are more citizens than jail cells and that when enough people choose to disobey unjust laws, government must choose either to change the laws or lose its powers? Is it not true that every fight for freedom throughout history has started with a spark that catches fire? Is it not also true that sometimes the worst brushfires spread, and things get unbearably hot for a while, but then great growth rebounds after that?

I am of the firm opinion that not only does the course of history refuse to follow some linear arrangement dictated by those in positions of power, but that it also often ricochets against the most concerted efforts of those attempting to direct its currents. During these moments of self-inflicted backfire, history is up for grabs, great leaders rise, and even greater ideas emerge. For Americans, the propositions that set our ancestors free beckon once again.

As President Coolidge observed in his timeless 1926 speech celebrating the 150th anniversary of America, some truths are set in stone: “If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.”

We didn’t ask for this moment, but should we have the strength of character to see it for what it is, then we have the power to determine what happens next. All we have to decide is that freedom is worth defending with the time that is given to us.

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