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Simple Freedom

Simple Freedom

June 21st, 2011 // 9:48 am @

“I left the fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since.”

–G.K. Chesterton

Freedom is not a complex idea. But we do live in a complex world, and only complex government forms have proven able to keep those with power from exerting too much of it. The American founders mixed the simple and the complex. They simply pitted power against power, institution against institution, authority against authority. And they simply put the people in charge of it all.

The details are more complex. The House represents the people. The Senate represents the states, and also, naturally, the wealthy. The President represents the nation. The Court represents the Constitution. The States represent themselves, but also the people. The Constitution represents itself; the people just have to read and apply it. It also represents the people—it is written by them to the government, outlining limits of what the government may and may not do. The electors in the Electoral College, which elects the President, also represent the people. This is the way it stood originally.

In simple terms, the following were represented once: the wealthy and the nation. On the complex side, those which were naturally less powerful than the wealthy and national government were represented twice: the States, and also the Constitution. The least naturally powerful, the regular people, were represented in our Constitutional model four times; this is complex in design, but what could be more simple than a government by, for and of the people?

On the side of complexity, the founders mixed the ideas of Polybius, Montesquieu, Hume, Blackstone, Adam Smith and others in this process. On the side of simplicity, the people simply need to read the Constitution and the great freedom classics to understand freedom.

Another simple reality is this: When we lose our freedoms in such a system, it is always the people, not the system, which has failed. The people have all the power—if they understand freedom, read history and the Constitution, and stay actively involved in maintaining their freedoms, the complex arrangement of Constitutional freedoms will not fail.

But when the people turn to other matters and neglect to maintain their freedoms, when they allow the 17th Amendment or Butler v. the U.S. or the insertion of party politics into the government, for example, to reduce the power of the people, it becomes more difficult for later generations to promote freedom. Still, the Constitution is there and a wise citizenry has the power to reboot American freedom.

When the understanding of the citizens is simple, the actions they must take to be free are complex—even confusing. When the understanding of the citizens is complex, the actions they must take are simple.


odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and 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.

Category : Blog &Constitution &Government &History &Liberty &Politics &Statesmanship

2 Comments → “Simple Freedom”

  1. Blake Elliott

    12 years ago

    Yes, good article Oliver! As a good citizen I’m reading Montesquieu, and Blackstone; though not Polybius, Hume, or Adam Smith yet (I have alot of reading to do). When I finish the first volume of Blackstone should I continue with the next three? Respectfully yours, Blake.

  2. Oliver DeMille

    12 years ago


    Eventually, yes–read all four. But the last 3 volumes are more for historical context than freedom philosophy. I’d read vol. I right away, then come back to 2-4 in a few years. Much more to read first.


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