June 17th, 2013 // 10:38 am @ Oliver DeMille
I frequently get asked something along the lines of, “Oliver, you talk a lot about freedom; but what, exactly, do you mean by the word ‘freedom?’ How do you define it?”
It’s a very good question. To answer it, I first want to define “liberty.” After all, the Declaration of Independence boldly affirms that among our inalienable rights are “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Actually, the key word in this sentence is “inalienable,” and everyone should read the excellent article by Kyle Roberts on what this word really means.
Liberty and freedom are similar, but they are slightly distinct, and understanding them both is essential in a society that is losing its freedoms.
As for “liberty,” I define it as “the right to do whatever a person wants as long as it doesn’t violate the inalienable rights of anyone else.” Of course, in order to exercise liberty, a person needs to know what inalienable rights are—otherwise, he won’t know whether or not he is violating them.
Thus knowledge and wisdom are required to maintain one’s liberty, because a person who violates somebody else’s inalienable rights naturally forfeits his own liberty. The extent of this forfeiture is equivalent to the depth of the violation—when this is applied well, it is called justice.
License, as opposed to liberty, is defined as “the prerogative to do whatever a person wants or is able to do.” Note that this has often been used in history as an excuse to plunder, force or otherwise violate the rights of others. Thus license and tyranny are nearly always connected—the tyrant is tyrannical precisely because he takes license as he wills, and the person who pursues license eventually exerts tyranny of some kind.
Sometimes people pick one of the inalienable rights and use it to define “liberty,” such as: “Liberty is the right to do whatever a person wants as long as it doesn’t violate the property of another. Or … the life of another, etc. The problem with this type of definition is that though it is often accurate, it is also too limited. The violation of any inalienable right takes away one’s liberty.
Now that we have a definition of “liberty,” we can also define and compare the meaning of “freedom”:
Liberty: The right to do whatever a person wants as long as it doesn’t violate the inalienable rights of anyone else.
Freedom: A societal arrangement that guarantees the right of each person to do whatever he/she wants as long as it doesn’t violate the inalienable rights of anyone else.
“Liberty” comes from the Latin root liber though the French liberte, meaning “free will, freedom to do as one chooses … absence of restraint” (Online Etymology Dictionary). In contrast, the word “freedom” was rooted in the Old English freodom, which meant “state of free will; charter, emancipation, deliverance” (ibid). Thus liberty could exist with or also without government, but freedom was usually a widespread societal system that required some authority to maintain it.
In most eras of history, the goal is liberty, but it is almost never maintained without freedom. In other words, it is possible to have liberty without freedom, but in such cases it seldom lasts very long and it is usually only enjoyed by a limited few.
When freedom is present, however, liberty exists for all who don’t violate the inalienable rights of others.
What About Now?
This trip down memory lane has an important current application. A lot of people want liberty; in fact, nearly everyone desires liberty. But the only duty of liberty is to honor the inalienable rights of everyone else, and as a result liberty without freedom is fleeting.
In contrast, freedom requires many more duties, and therefore it musters much more from its people. It only succeeds when the large majority of people in a society voluntarily fulfill many duties that keep the whole civilization free.
To repeat: those who stand for freedom must honor the inalienable rights of all, and they must also take responsibility for standing up and helping ensure that society succeeds. No truly free government directs this free and voluntary behavior, but without it freedom decreases.
For example, one of the duties of those who support freedom is free enterprise—to take action that improves the society and makes it better. No government should penalize a person who does not do this (such penalties would reduce freedom), but overall freedom will decrease if a person has the potential to take great enterprises that improve the world, but doesn’t.
Thus freedom is very demanding. If people don’t voluntarily do good things, and great things, freedom declines. If they don’t exert their will and take risks to improve the world, freedom stagnates and decreases.
Freedom and Morality
Another way that people voluntarily increase freedom is by choosing morality. In societies where a lot of the people don’t choose a moral life, liberty may be maintained by some people but the freedom of all people eventually declines. When more people choose the path of virtuous living, freedom grows.
The same is true of charity and service. When more people choose it, freedom increases. There are a number of other ways people can voluntarily take actions that have a direct and positive impact on freedom. In the freest societies, a lot of the people choose to engage in many such behaviors.
When we pledge allegiance to the flag, we do so to promote “…liberty and justice for all.” This is the role of government—liberty and justice, or in other words the protection of inalienable rights and the providing of recompense if such rights are violated.
But while in free nations government is limited to this role, the people in a free society must do much more. If they all do their best, fully living up to their potential, freedom greatly increases.
In other words, the real question isn’t “What is freedom?” but rather “What is my role in freedom?”
The answer is different for each person, but the key is to not worry about how other people use their freedom. As long as they aren’t violating inalienable rights, they won’t hurt you. Your focus (and my focus, and each individual’s focus) should be, simply, “Am I living up to my full potential, my great life mission and purpose in this world?”
If your answer to this question is “yes,” you are a promoter of freedom and your efforts and projects will help increase freedom for everyone. If not, now is the time to get started…
March 11th, 2013 // 1:01 pm @ Oliver DeMille
Whether the conflict turns to cooperation or serious difficulty remains to be seen, but keeping abreast of what is happening in China is essential for today’s leaders.
A new book, Is China Buying the World? by Peter Nolan, is an interesting addition to the field and adds several key ideas to the dialogue.
First, it makes the case that no, China is not buying the world any more than Japan bought it in the 1980s (despite widespread fears that this was occurring).
Second, however, China is certainly growing economically and in world influence.
Chinese firms have purchased ownership in a number of companies around the advanced world, as well as tying up access to a lot of natural resources in the developing world.
And numerous multi-national companies have heavily invested in China.
This growth will likely continue, and even expand.
Third, China’s major challenge is restricted access to oil and energy.
As it grows, its thirst for energy will continue to increase and drive its international business expansion.
Fourth, China wants to be a much bigger player on the world scene, and it is following a specific strategy for global influence.
This strategy includes major investments in two key sectors of the world economy, banking and the aerospace industry.
Chinese leaders hope that together, these things—increased investment in the developing world, increased ownership of international resources especially oil, growing global investment in China, increased ownership in multi-national companies, major growth of Chinese influence in the banking and aerospace sectors—will significantly strengthen China’s world role.
Fifth, advances in the aerospace industry are significant because of the close ties between military and business technologies and projects.
As China increases its role in this endeavor, along with banking, it becomes more powerful economically, technologically and, if it chooses, militarily.
This book is a detailed and important read for anyone who cares about the future of the big powers in world relations.
More to the point, more people need to read and think more about the specific issues currently at play in China’s growth.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
September 6th, 2012 // 2:19 pm @ Oliver DeMille
There is a lot of recent chatter about China, even though Iran is the big topic in international affairs.
Recent articles and books on China mostly center around one of two themes.
One side argues that China is a serious and growing threat, the other that China is misunderstood and Washington should do more to cooperate with Beijing.
A third, more relevant, argument is needed, and it goes something like this: China isn’t the problem, Washington is!
Consider the following three trends:
1-Many China experts in the West criticize China because it is becoming a superpower without showing much likelihood of getting involved in world leadership.
But this is actually a normal historical pattern. New superpowers benefit because the older superpowers are overextended around the globe trying to “exert leadership” in every part of the earth.
For example, Britain’s overreach made it simple for the U.S. to become a superpower, just as Spain’s overextension did the same for Britain. Rome did the same thing. Critics say that it was Hitler who weakened the UK, but imagine how strong London would have been if it had stopped trying to police the world for the decades before Hitler and had instead built its wealth and strength. Hitler may well have declined to spread across Europe in the face of such power.
One would think that an old superpower in a battle with a rising new threat would be smart enough to reduce its global overreach and return to the things that once made it competitive. But, historically, logic seldom reigns in superpower decline.
2-China is currently involved in aggressive currency competition. It seems to want the U.S. currency to be weakened, and for the U.S. credit rating to be downgraded again. It is also pushing for the dollar to lose its world reserve currency status (which allows Washington to print money at will without metal backing).
When this same thing occurred to Britain in the 1970s, the British economy was deeply hurt and still hasn’t fully recovered. In fact, the average net worth of most people in the UK was decreased by more than 30% overnight when this happened.
Such a circumstance in the current U.S. would be a major boost for Chinese power in the world, and the American economy is presently vulnerable. The natural consequence of such a development would likely come in two stages. First, a new reserve currency would be an IMF or other international tender backed by currencies from several top nations including the U.S., EU and China. Second, eventually China’s currency would be adopted as the world reserve.
This is not a far-fetched possibility. As mentioned above, it happened to Britain as recently as the 1970s.
Shockingly, while China is actively promoting this scenario, Washington is basically ignoring it and suggesting tax increases, increased government spending, and more regulation. This plays right into the Chinese strategy, and is worse than the old clichés of arranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic or fiddling while Rome burns. We have time to turn this around, but Washington is preoccupied with increasing taxes and regulations, both of which actually strengthen the Chinese agenda.
3-Chinese firms (government owned) are buying up many of the world’s natural, mineral and energy resources on all continents—including North America. U.S. firms can’t compete with such purchases because of the regulations and extra costs required by the federal government. Washington is literally refusing to compete with China and forbidding private American companies from doing so either.
Don’t Blame China
As I’ve written before, we shouldn’t blame Beijing for this. It’s natural to try to increase one’s power and place in the world. Good for the Chinese for expanding their influence and wealth! That’s the pursuit of happiness.
But it is amazing that Washington won’t let U.S. free enterprise compete fairly in this contest. If Americans want to compete with the emerging Chinese Century, we should give freedom a chance. Free enterprise is significantly and demonstrably more effective than the kind of centralized state economics used in China.
But a federal government in Washington that is highly bureaucratized and addicted to more regulation isn’t much better. In fact, when a Chinese company with the backing of Beijing competes with an American firm that is highly hampered by Washington, it isn’t surprising that the Chinese win.
The battle for leadership in the 21st Century couldn’t be clearer: China vs. the U.S.
If this were as simple as authoritarian Chinese state capitalism versus American free enterprise, the battle would be short and easily won by the United States.
But the battle is actually authoritarian Chinese state capitalism versus overreaching federal U.S. regulations, higher taxes, bigger government and other policies that dampen American business endeavors.
If this reality remains, Beijing has all the advantages.
Unless something changes, and soon, we are going to lose this battle.
August 13th, 2012 // 12:54 pm @ Oliver DeMille
And the person making the argument isn’t Ron Paul.
This view comes from long-time international relations expert Kenneth Waltz.
His idea, and the case he makes for its implementation, was published in the influential journal Foreign Affairs (July/August 2012).
As such, it has a real chance of gaining support in Washington.
Waltz says that there are four possible outcomes to the Iranian nuclear crisis.
One, diplomacy and sanctions could convince Iran to stop seeking nuclear capability.
Two, Iran might obtain nuclear power but not weaponize, like Japan.
Three, Iran might continue developing a bomb and eventually obtain it despite opposition from the U.S. and Israel.
All of these are unlikely because, as Waltz argues, Iran doesn’t want to give up this project, non-weaponized nuclear power could be quickly converted to weapons, and at some point Israel or the U.S. is likely to use force to stop the Iran bomb project.
A fourth option would be to support the Iranians in gaining nuclear capacity.
Waltz says this would stabilize the Middle East by creating a Cold-War style balance between Israel and Iran.
He points out that China, India and Pakistan all became “more cautious” after going nuclear.
I’m not a fan of this view, but I think a lot more regular Americans need to study the issue and make their opinions felt.
We have left international affairs to the experts for far too long.
Read Waltz’ article, and see what you think.
Then study the topic and start sharing your views.
It’s time for regular people to get much more involved in influencing what America does around the world.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.