In towns and cities across the United States in 2009 and 2010, groups of citizens gathered to peacefully protest against the perceived political overreach of a federal government that has exceeded the bounds of its Constitutional authority. These protests led to Tea Party conservative gains in the US House of Representatives, US Senate, State Legislatures and Governors across the United States in 2010, 2012, and 2014. This political uprising continues to this day.
In 1989, students gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China to peacefully protest against the political overreach of the Chinese government. That authoritarian government sent tanks and soldiers to suppress the student demonstrations, leading to the deaths of up to 400 to 800 dead students, though the Chinese government claimed only 200 to 300 civilians died during a “counterrevolutionary rebellion“, describing the protesters as militants hostile to the Beijing regime. This triggered a harsh crackdown on dissent that eventually brought about a series of political reforms in China.
In January 2016, protesters, from various militia and patriots groups, with disparate political complaints, occupied the empty headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, near Burns, Oregon in a protest against the Federal government. On January 26th, 2016, federal and state law enforcement attempted to ambush Robert “Lavoy” Finicum, age 54, and Ryan C. Bundy, age 43, and several of their friends and relatives on the way to negotiate with the Sheriff of Grant County, Oregon. Mr. Finicum fled in one of two vehicles and, being unable to stop the vehicle on an icy county road, crashed into a snowdrift beside a police roadblock. Law enforcement officers fired upon the truck containing unarmed women and children, even after Mr. Finicum had gotten out of the vehicle, his hands in the air (according to the witnesses in the truck). He was gunned down from behind, apparently trying to draw a gun from his pocket. The law enforcement officers continued to fire upon the truck for two minutes, despite no shots being fired from the vehicle, wounding one of the occupants. None of the occupants, including Finicum himself fired a single shot.
On another cold day in December of 1773, colonists boarded merchant ships and destroyed an entire shipment of tea, in a demonstration against a 1¢ tax. A year and a half later, in the early morning of April 19, 1775, 100 British soldiers sent to seize and destroy supplies and weapons of American rebels in Lexington, Massachusetts found instead 77 American patriots who refused to surrender their arms. Thus began the American Revolution.
Take these events as they are, no more and no less. Their significance can only be known in the fullness of time. Suffice it to say that, to some at least, fundamental liberties are serious enough to die for. To others, they are more than enough reason to kill over. In each instance, it is often a matter of who shoots first.
“A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth,
general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”
– Thomas Jefferson –
Let us continue our discussion on Natural Rights, moving now to the fundamental Right to Liberty. Please recall that the Right to Life both necessitates and depends on the Right to Liberty, because understanding this interdependence is crucial to understanding Liberty. In short, because an individual owns their life, health, and livelihood, he is entitled to the means necessary to defend his life, health, and livelihood, and this is the basis of Liberty.
As was discussed in the previous essay, the rights also impose upon the individual duties to his fellow citizens, respecting all of their liberties via reciprocal rights and the Social Contract. In no way does a Liberty impute a right to subvert or infringe the rights of others, especially via the imposition of state authority. This is fundamental to the principles of Natural Rights and to American Culture.
The first and most basic Liberty is freedom of thought, where the individual is free to employ his reason to the best of his ability to improve his lot, free of coercion by any party, especially the state. This includes religious convictions, as well as the absence thereof. The individual is free to associate with like minded individuals, forming political groups that further the political interests of the group as a whole and the individuals in aggregate.
To enable the individual to defend and enact his rights, he is free to speak his thoughts and opinions in a manner that is consistent with the social contract, avoiding causing harm or physical injury to others (ie: shouting “fire” in a crowded theater). The individual is free to read as well as publish written works consistent with his beliefs. He is free to act in any manner as he sees fit, working or playing, so long as he does not impose upon others against their will. The individual may enter into contracts with others, as benefits his goals of maximizing his well being and that of those he needs to provide for.
Finally, the individual may arm himself in order to protect himself from physical harm and to protect his liberties. He does so against any who may infringe on his Natural Rights, be it another individual with criminal intent or his own government. The interests of the individual, particularly the right to self protection, is held in constant tension in any society, where the authority of the state to maintain rule of law naturally will come into conflict with men and women of varying temperaments acting as they will, most often consistent with the social contract of reciprocal rights. Other times not.
When a faction uses its collective power to enact laws that are inconsistent with these concepts, we naturally expect to see cultural conflict increase, especially between groups with deeply held beliefs. The question that we face, as a society, is whether we are fundamentally a society of Natural Rights or not.
- If a book is published that is offensive to so many that it could inflame individuals from around the world to violence indirectly in protest, does even an offended majority have a right to silence the writer, infringing on his speech Liberties? The answer is no.
- When companies are forced to provide birth control under mandated health insurance plans, despite this being against the owners’ deeply held religious beliefs, can a culture tolerate the infringement of the owners’ religious Liberties? The answer is no.
- If a gunman murders dozens of children in a horrific massacre at a public school, where the government has infringed on the Liberty of self protection by forcing all adults to disarm themselves before entering the building, does this grant the morally outraged of society to demand a state infringement on every lawful citizen’s self protection Liberties? The answer is no.
- When workers in a state decide that they no longer wish to be forced to associate with powerful unions that they may have fundamental political disagreements with, does the state have the power to violate their Liberty and force them into compulsory membership in violation of their freedom of association Liberty? The answer is no.
- If a politically powerful organization specializing in women’s healthcare issues that also participates in the destruction of human life in the womb requires the aid of federal dollars in order to continue their operations, does the state have the power to violate the religious Liberties of those who find abortions to be an aberration, forcing them to continue to support this institution against their wills? The answer is no.
The fundamental Right to Liberty, in whatever form it may take, and in whatever context it may be discussed, is nonnegotiable. If a conflict arises between Liberty and the authority of the state, then, when no imminent harm can be conclusively shown and no systemic infringement of Natural Rights can be demonstrated, Liberty must always win.
Men and women are willing to lay their lives down everyday for the Right to Liberty. Are you?
Next Article: Right to Property.
Liberty is For The Win!