December 4th, 2014 // 2:53 pm @ Oliver DeMille
When freedom is reduced for some, it is reduced for all.
American founding father James Otis said in 1764, “The Parliament cannot make two and two, five…. Should an act of Parliament be against any of his [the Creator’s] natural laws, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity and justice, and consequently void.”[i]
One of the great natural laws we most need to understand today is the Law of Liberty, which says that freedom is truly indivisible because if you take it from some, it ultimately reduces the freedom of everyone. This natural law is sometimes ignored for the simple reason that it isn’t always obvious in the short term, just as the reality that the earth is round isn’t always clearly evident to the naked eye.
Because this law isn’t apparent unless a person understands it, generations of human beings have reduced their own freedoms because they hoped that reductions in liberty would only hurt “other” people. In the same way that government often gets away with spending on things that break natural laws because the citizens think it is spending Other People’s Money (OPM), we frequently give away our rights when we think they’ll only impact Other People’s Freedom (OPF).
One of the most famous discussions about this law came from Christian pastor Martin Niemoller in his recollection of how Nazism spread in Germany, and how few people did anything to stop its takeover of society. Pastor Neimoller is credited with saying:
“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
“Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
“Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
“Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”[ii]
This is an excellent description of what happens when we ignorantly violate the law of freedom, allowing others to lose their rights while justifying that they probably deserved it and hoping it will never reach the point where it hurts us or those we love.
Note that Pastor Niemoller eventually became the leader of a group of clergymen opposed to Hitler and that he was arrested and held in Sachsenhausen and Dachau prison camps for the crime of not being “enthusiastic” about Nazism. Good for him! That’s heroism. As Thoreau said, in a truly unjust society the only place for a really just man in jail. Niemoller was later released by the Allies in 1945.
When a person loses freedom because he or she has caused harm to another person, and arrest or imprisonment is needed to keep others safe or demand recompense for the harms to a victim, the loss of liberty is within the bounds of natural law. When a person is deprived of freedom for any other reason, it breaks natural law, and this hurts the entire society that allows such a violation of natural law.
Slavery is an obvious example. So is any kind of caste or class system where the laws and government treat a group of people differently because of their religion, race, gender, country of origin, beliefs, etc.
Those who truly understand freedom will stand up for the inalienable rights of all human beings, from all walks of life, because they realize that: “When others are free, then my own freedom is safer, and when others lose their freedoms my own freedom is always in jeopardy.”
The Law of Maturity
A corollary of the law of freedom could be called the law of maturity, which teaches the levels of understanding freedom. The levels of maturity include (from worst to best):
Extreme Immaturity: The desire not to be free, to leave important decisions to others and not have to live with the consequences of your choices and actions. The desire to be taken care of by someone else.
High Immaturity: The desire to be free when it suits you, but to leave many important decisions and the consequences of your actions to others. To get to do what you want, but have someone else fix any problems that arise from your bad choices and actions.
Immaturity: The desire to be free and for others to be free, as long as the others are like you (religion, race, gender, caste, same nation, or other similarities) or deemed to be “on your side,” and the desire for those unlike you or not “on your side” to not have the same benefits “because they don’t deserve them.” To have the government treat you freely, but treat “others” differently.
Low Maturity: The desire to be free and for all others to be free, and to be given forgiveness when you are asked to account for your failures, while simultaneously wanting justice to be applied to others.
Moderate Maturity: The desire to be free in all situations, to make your own decisions and live with the consequences of your choices and actions, and for others to do the same. To be free and accountable, and hope that others will do likewise.
High Maturity: The desire to be free and accountable and help all others enjoy the same. To take a stand and protect the inalienable rights and freedoms of all, including those who are different than you or even your enemies, and even if this requires great personal sacrifices from you and those you love.
In historical times most governments and nations have violated the law of freedom, which is a major reason that true freedom has been so rare in human experience. Governments and laws have withheld or taken away freedom from people based on their religion, beliefs, gender, race, ethnicity, nation of origin, disability, looks, words, ideas, friends, which books they had in their home, what religion they wanted to teach their children, and a number of other things that violated natural law.
And, through history, very few people have been willing to take an active stand for freedom when they were personally free but others were having their rights violated. This has occurred in too many ways and times to list, from the scared Christians who watched Jews slaughtered in Nazi Germany to the fearful Jews who watched Christians butchered in the Roman games, to otherwise good Americans who did nothing to stop the interment of patriotic Americans in the 1940s simply because they had Japanese ancestors or features.
Other examples include otherwise good Americans in the mid-19th century who let women be raped and men killed and children driven into the snow by American troops simply because of their Native American ethnicity, or the otherwise good Americans who allowed slavery and later segregation to flourish in the American south based entirely on the color of one’s skin.
Consequences of Breaking the Law of Liberty
Human history is full of such violations of natural law, and in every case the loss of freedom for the few has eventually decreased the level of freedom for all. When nations imprison their citizens because of their race, the same generation of officials always takes away the freedom of the majority in numerous ways. A government that allows slavery will always allow less freedom for the middle classes as well.
Find any government in history whose soldiers are allowed to rape and pillage with impunity, and you’ll find a central government that is working behind the scenes to increase government power and reduce the freedoms of the people—rich, median and poor alike. There are few, if any, exceptions to this principle in all of written history.
When a government is allowed to be unjust to one group, it establishes a precedent that all of us should carefully consider. Precedent is extremely powerful, either for good or bad. History has proven that even a good policy with a bad precedent will eventually lead to a bad policy.
For example, Caesar Augustus set a limit on taxes, but with this very action he created a precedent that the emperor had the power to establish tax levels. The Senate, which had the power to check this action, did nothing because the tax limit was low. But, naturally, later emperors drastically raised taxes and the Senate couldn’t do anything because they had allowed the precedent of the emperor determining tax rates.
Similarly, in classical Greece the Delian League allowed the great leader Aristides to single-handedly make numerous government decisions and set policies, because they trusted him. He turned out to be worthy of the trust, and the people flourished. A few years later he retired, and his replacements for many years afterwards abused the power of the office. The policy of allowing Aristides to make choices turned out well as long as he was in office, but the precedent of giving one man so much power inevitably backfired. This is one of the examples George Washington looked to when he refused to be king.
No matter how much a nation may think that it is okay to withhold freedom from any group of people (except in the case of crime), the precedent of doing so limits the freedom of everyone. The law of liberty is real. Any government that allows a loss of freedom for some is also planning or implementing additional ways to expand its power over other groups of people (or soon will do so).
In our day, this should bring pause to any caring and wise citizen. A nation that allows the termination of unborn babies and withholds the freedom of opportunity from immigrants (not for defense, but on the basis of “keeping others out of our country”), is, according to the law of liberty, violating natural law in other ways.
This may be occurring in secret labs, the training of troops to go door-to-door and subdue a populace in its own nation, or in various other plans hatched behind closed doors, but the law of liberty guarantees that something like these things is happening. For example, it is natural that a nation that interred its patriotic citizens of Japanese descent was simultaneously establishing the biggest complex of secret government operations in all of history. Indeed, many of the same national leaders were in charge of both.
In fact, to know what level of secrecy is currently being applied by a modern government, those who understand the law of freedom only need to look at how much that government stands for the freedom of all versus withholding freedom from some groups—whatever the reasons.
Liberty and Justice Come From Indivisible Freedom
Freedom is indivisible in the long term, and only societies that are consistently spreading freedom to more people are trustworthy behind the scenes. Even more importantly, the attitude of the people is a clear indicator of the future of freedom. A nation of people that wants to withhold the opportunities of freedom from any group(s)—including immigrants—is likely to elect officials who will perpetuate governments based on secrecy and power rather than transparency and honest freedom for all.
The law of freedom is a wake-up call to all modern nations. When any group is being treated with suspicion by government or allowed to have lesser freedoms than the majority, the government is not to be fully trusted and the people’s freedoms are in jeopardy.
If this uncomfortable reality hits too close to home in your nation, you know that the law of liberty is probably being violated. The most effective and immediate solution is to look around, find a group that is being denied its rights and opportunities, and help take a stand for freedom—even if you aren’t part o this group. When freedom is unjustly lost for some, it is lost for all of us. Any injustice reduces our liberty.
(This article is an excerpt from We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident by Oliver DeMille.)
[i] Cited in Sigmund, p. 102.
[ii] Note that there is disagreement about the way this quote has been quoted and translated over time, and many believe that in the actual quote there were only four stanzas, not five, and that the fourth stanza in the longer quote included here was added later and not part of the original.
Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.
Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah