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What is Freedom?

June 17th, 2013 // 10:38 am @

freedomstatue What is Freedom?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.

BigGovernment What is Freedom?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…

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Another Federal Scandal?

May 22nd, 2013 // 3:59 pm @

epa 300x297 Another Federal Scandal?The Obama trifecta of scandals including Benghazi, IRS targeting, and AP phone records is now joined by another potential scandal.

The EPA is accused of ongoing “Sue and Settle” practices, which means that they work with left-leaning environmental groups who file suits against a federal agency and then the attorneys work out settlements that are beneficial to both sides.[i]

All of this, it is alleged, is based on “a prearranged settlement agreement they craft together behind closed doors …. While the environmental group is given a seat at the table, outsiders who are most impacted are excluded, with no opportunity to object to the settlements.”[ii]

And taxpayers foot the bill for millions of dollars in costs.

As the scandals become a mainstream topic of media coverage, other agencies may face further scrutiny.

And as government gets bigger and bigger, the executive branch and its many agencies are less and less accountable.

When government is too big, the number of scandals will predictably increase.

Whether or not the EPA issue becomes a point of mainstream discussion, this new era of scandal has rekindled the question of trust in government.

Historically, governments and officials who truly have nothing to hide urge the citizenry to be generally mistrustful of government.

For example, the American founding generation felt that such mistrust of state and federal institutions was a hallmark of a wise and free people.[iii]

Indeed, the entire Constitutional framework is based on the fundamental assumption that those in power must be mistrusted and closely watched.[iv]

In more recent eras, governments have consistently called for people to give great trust to the government, even as agencies have become less transparent, more secretive, and less trustful of the people.

In short, there is a real trust deficit in our society—but it isn’t what officials and the media usually suggest.

The real problem is that government is lest trustful of its citizens, and the people are less likely than past generations to keep a close eye on potential government abuses.

The natural result is a steady decline in freedom.

This may have sounded alarmist a month ago, but in the wake of current scandals it is mild compared to what many pundits are saying.

How many more federal scandals are waiting in the wings?

More importantly, at what point will enough citizens finally stand up and begin to lead again?

Freedom only lasts when the people are closely involved in overseeing government and serving as the final arbiters of government power.[v]

Until the people refocus on this role, America’s current decline will inevitably continue.





[i] Larry Bell, “EPA’s Secret and Costly ‘Sue and Settle’ Collusion With Environmental Organizations,” Forbes.com, February 17, 2013.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] See Federalist 48-51.

[iv] Federalist 48.

[v] Federalist 46. See also, John Locke, Second Essay Concerning Civil Government, and the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights.



odemille 133x195 custom Another Federal Scandal?Oliver DeMille is the chairman of the Center for Social Leadership and co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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The Silver Lining in The Scandals

May 21st, 2013 // 4:42 pm @

irs 300x217 The Silver Lining in The ScandalsIt’s starting to seem like it was the Obama Administration that made the following saying famous: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

The idea behind this quip was that when a big crisis came, the White House should use it to push its big-government agenda.

In an ironic twist, the current triple scandals (IRS, Benghazi, and Associated Press) are accomplishing exactly the opposite.

The White House and indeed most of the executive branch is spending a great deal of its energy right now dealing with the scandals.

The result is that less money, time and effort are being spent on spreading big government.

At the same time, more Americans are paying attention to what is happening in Washington.

The word “scandal” seems to create more interest in what is happening than business as usual.

The more citizens who pay close attention to what the government does, the better for freedom.

In short, we’re experiencing at least two positive side effects of the current scandals:

  1. The executive branch is doing less, because it is focused on responding to the scandals
  2. More regular citizens are watching their government.

It’s sad that it takes scandal to accomplish such things, but at least they are happening.

Perhaps the most amazing thing in all this has been the Administration’s continued trust in government agencies.

After all the press and firings in the aftermath of government officials enjoying taxpayer-funded trips to Jacuzzis in Hawaii, you’d think the White House would be carefully watching its agencies and officials.

But even though it has asked for resignations from various agency officials, the Administration has emphasized that lone people and/or “isolated” bureaus made mistakes and held fast to the idea that government should be trusted.

At the same time, the Administration continues to express major distrust for businesses and pretty much anyone outside of government.

Why the double standard?

The various press briefings from the Administration emphasize a sense of, “Just trust us; after all, we’re the government. Of course we are telling the truth and doing the right thing.”

This flies in the face of the Framers’ view of government.

The American system and Constitution were founded on the idea that government is dangerous and that freedom can only last if the people mistrust the government and keep a close eye on it in order to keep it in line.

As Jefferson put it: “Let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

In Jefferson’s world, the assumption was that government officials should be generally suspected of being involved in “mischief.”

A healthy mistrust of government was a central point to maintaining freedom.

George Washington said: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force! Like a fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

Madison added that government is the most dangerous threat to freedom: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations…”

For Madison, the great danger to freedom was government increasing its power over the people in “gradual and silent” ways.

Government has done this for a long time, and under the leadership of both parties at different times.

When it gets caught, it’s a scandal.

Just as the Johnson Administration is known for Vietnam and the Nixon era for Watergate, many other presidencies are known for their crises: Reagan for Iran-Contra, Bush I for higher taxes after promising it wouldn’t happen, Clinton for the Lewinsky affair, and Bush II for missing weapons of mass destruction.

In all this, why exactly do politicians keep suggesting that trust in government is the solution to America’s problems?

Such situations are basically the only times (under our current system) when the people are likely to make their influence felt and help other citizens see the dangers of big government.

Now is such a time.

In fact, America was founded on the belief that a healthy and active mistrust of government was essential to staying free!

We need more citizens to realize that Washington isn’t going to fix our biggest national problems, that the only real solution is for more Americans to be better citizens.

If we don’t get more involved and help take our nation in the right direction, more scandals will come.

A lot more.

What happens in Washington in the weeks ahead as these three scandals play out is less important than what happens among the regular people.

If we emerge from this crisis as a nation that still basically trusts its government, there will be no silver lining in the scandals.

If we as a people realize that as government grows, these type of crises will increase, we will at least learn something from all this.

If we as a people become more prone to keep a close eye on our government, to wisely and peacefully mistrust it and at the same time get more positively and proactively involved to ensure that it truly does the will of the people, this year can be a helpful turning point in America’s history.

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

And three of them at once is a huge opportunity.

If we ever do turn America back to a path of freedom, away from overreaching big government, it will be during a time like this.


odemille 133x195 custom The Silver Lining in The ScandalsOliver DeMille is the chairman of the Center for Social Leadership and co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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May 21st, 2013 // 12:22 pm @

Vote 12345 ElectionocracyWe now live an Electionocracy. This means that the elections never end.

Once a person is elected to office, especially at the national level, he or she doesn’t get to stop campaigning and focus on governing.

Instead, everyone in office is required to keep campaigning even as they serve.

One the one hand, this is a negative development in a democratic republic because it keeps election politics always in the limelight.

The president is seldom seen as the nation’s chief executive, for example, but as the head of the Democratic or Republican Party.

Thus, even as he tries to govern and lead, he is forced to keep one eye constantly on politics.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that this keeps more of the American people involved and paying attention to the actions of government.

Also, it keeps the executive branch from overextending even more than it already does—because it has to put a lot of resources into politics.

This is actually a positive in a nation where the biggest problem is massive government.

With all that said, people are already lining up to influence the midterm elections of 2014 and even the presidential election of 2016.

Here are a few tidbits:

  • Many pundits feel that the IRS scandal of targeting conservative groups will have more negative impact on the Democrats in the 2014 midterm election than anything else since the Obama Administration took office. It may serve as the Democrat’s Achilles heel.


  • Hillary Clinton is far ahead in polls of possible Democratic candidates, but she is only a few points ahead of some top potential Republican challengers. In contrast, the leading Democratic candidate has been far ahead at this point in recent elections.


  • In early fundraising, Marco Rubio is ahead of Rand Paul. Chris Christie and Paul Ryan are also strong in the polls, but for now Rubio seems to have an edge.

But the biggest shocker in all this is that the central issue of the 2014 and especially 2016 elections will probably be Obamacare.

This is surprising to many progressives, who felt that this issue was over when it passed in 2010, then when the Supreme Court upheld it in 2012, and later once President Obama was reelected.

But this issue just won’t go away.

Even though Barack Obama was and is personally popular, his health care policy remains highly unpopular with many Americans.

This disapproval is increasing with the Benghazi, IRS, AP and other scandals. Each time a few more people lose trust in government, they tend to increasingly dislike Obamacare.

So, yes, we now live in what could easily be described as an Electionocracy, and things will probably only heat up in the coming months.

Both parties will blame each other for most of America’s ills, and the number of crises will likely increase.

That’s our current direction, and nothing seems poised to bring real solutions any time soon.

In truth, the future of America is ultimately up to the actions and choices of regular Americans more than those of Washington.

But who we elect will have a drastic influence on the nation’s direction in the years just ahead.

If you want to know how elections are going to turn out, keep a close eye on how most Americans feel about Obamacare—especially as it is further implemented in the next three years.

Any significant changes in approval or disapproval of Obamacare will signal the trajectory of the next two elections.

In an Electionocracy, it appears that one or a few top issues will determine who leads our nation.



odemille 133x195 custom ElectionocracyOliver DeMille is the chairman of the Center for Social Leadership and co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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The Latest Filibuster

March 11th, 2013 // 1:11 pm @

A Giant Step for Mankind…


Rand Paul filibuster 300x224 The Latest FilibusterOkay, the subtitle of this article is a little overblown, but I heard something that I found just plain fascinating the other day.

In fact, it is something I haven’t heard for a long time.

I was researching in a university library, sitting at a table looking for data in a stack of scholarly journals, when I heard the most unlikely thing in such a place.

“Rand Paul’s filibuster is so cool,” a girl’s voice said. My mind was focused on tables of World Bank summaries of currency values in industrial nations, and there were a lot of voices as students walked past and talked.

Most of them talked about classes, romances or roommates, and I tuned out to their words as I researched.

But my ears perked up and my mind tuned in when I heard these words.

I looked up to see a college girl, probably late teens or early twenties walking with three friends. The others nodded in response to her words.

“Really?” I thought, “Somebody thinks a national Republican figure is cool?” When I’ve heard such words before, it was always reserved to President Obama.

I mean, Ronald Reagan gets his share of praise from the older crowd, but the college students I’ve overheard recently saying a politician is cool have all mentioned either Obama or Ron Paul.

But a Republican who really could win the nomination, this was something different.

As a writer, I like to read and research in libraries (‘cause that’s where the books are, to paraphrase Willy Horton), restaurants and other public areas.

People walk by talking about things, and often they say something that helps an author’s thought process.

I went back to my research, and I forgot about the incident until I went to lunch.

As I balanced my attention between a salad and a copies of the World Bank tables, I was shocked to hear a girl from the next table say, “Did you see the filibuster yesterday? Rand Paul is so cool.”

I turned my head, expecting to see the same group of students, but to my surprise a whole different group sat there nodding.

What has happened?

Is it possible that Republicans will come up with a cool candidate in 2016?


It’s a long way off, to be sure.

But the hippest candidate always wins, or at least has in every election since the technicolor media age began in earnest around 1980.

Howard Dean once said that the way to know who won a presidential debate is to turn off the sound and just watch their body language.

On an even bigger scale, just turn off the television and internet and ask college-age students which candidate is really cool.

Jeb Bush suggested recently that he might run, Time magazine called potential candidate Marco Rubio the Savior of the Republican party.

Or did it just ask us if Rubio might redeem a party that can’t seem to get the Latino vote vital to winning the White House.

The whole idea of electing a cool president is frustrating for many on the Right, who see this as shallow popularity contesting in what should be one of the most serious votes anyone makes in an election year.

Still, the cool test wins every time, whether or not it should.

One thing is for sure.

Hillary Clinton is considered way cool, so if Republicans have any desire to take back the presidency in 2016 they need to meet a high standard.

More Mr. Smith Goes to Washington filibusters may be ahead, but Senator Paul’s filibuster seems to have caught many young people’s attention because it was so sincere.

That’s hard to duplicate, but for now Rand Paul’s popularity in the college crowd is worth watching.



odemille 133x195 custom The Latest FilibusterOliver DeMille is the chairman of the Center for Social Leadership and co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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