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American Values: Individual Rights

After September 11, 2001, Americans face a dangerous crossroad. Will we realize, once again, the reason this country has become the longest lived, most stable government form in the world today and has grown to become the greatest power on earth -- respect for the individual, as opposed to control by and for the collective -- or will the tragic events drive us to restrict and weaken the foundation of our freedom by willingly accepting inroads against the individual's rights in the guise of greater security?

It is tempting to feel that we are lashing out at evil when we impose more restrictions on ourselves in the name of a national emergency. But it is important to consider which restrictions actually undermine our own ability to function as a free nation, and which are truely necessary to prevent those who are jealous of the accomplishments which individual freedom allows, from striking again.

If the constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure, for freedom of speech, for the right to keep and bear arms, are weakened or removed, then we have done the work ourselves that the evil-minded try to accomplish with acts of terrorism. If our economic greatness comes from capitalism, and capitalism is the economic extension of individual freedom to try, to fail or to succeed on the merits of one's thinking, with as little intervention from government as possible, then anything which diminishes the ability of individuals to attempt to achieve their dreams (as eloquently stated in the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness") is a strike at the heart of our national essence.

While we can and should be motivated to seek out and destroy those who have dealt a deadly blow against American lives and property, at the same time we need to be acutely aware that the philosophy we hold is under attack not only by crude strikes at its physical symbols, but also by more insidious attacks against the premises upon which it is built. The collective is nothing more or less than a group of individuals, and has no greater or lesser rights than the individuals of which it is comprised. Statism...the belief that certain anointed individuals, working beneath the aegis of a religion or political or social precept, know what is better for us than we can decide for ourselves, is the antithesis of the American way.

Yet, we see constant subtle and not so subtle reminders from some politicians, much of the mass media and most of academia, suggesting that some form of statism is superior to the chaotic functioning of our limited democracy and the capitalistic economic system that our political freedom encourages.

How can it not be obvious from recent history that a society run by the iron fist of socialism, communism, or any other form of statism, will by its very nature deteriorate into a dictatorship? ...that it will stagnate the progress that freedom allows, and eventually devolve into its own quagmire of fear? Why is it that some feel there is more security in giving our freedoms away to a central government, when in the long run it has been amply demonstrated that this path leads to subjugation and insecurity in one's own right to life, liberty, or the possibility of pursuit of happiness?

Can it be that the same jealousy of accomplishment infects the minds of those who have, for whatever reason, failed to achieve as much as they might wish under this freedom we enjoy? After all, this is a freedom that allows for both failure and success on one's merits. Can it be that those who yearn for more government control, more statism, feel that perhaps under those conditions, they might become powerful and if not respected, at least feared? Can jealousy of the fruits of success under capitalism be at the heart of the sophism that points to the failed statist governments and holds them up as some kind of model, while at the same time sneering at the greatest nation on the face of the earth because it encourages success?

If you page through most contemporary social science texts, the treatment of capitalism and, by inference, the individual freedoms that makes it possible, is perverted, brief, and negative. Hardly any serious discussion of its merits is ever seen, but instead, college students are subjected to sneers about the lack of control and harangues about its harshness. This, of course, comes from academic sources: professors who in most cases have never been outside of the educational system, except for perhaps brief forays into menial work during pre-graduate years. There are some seasoned business veterans teaching history, economics, and social sciences, but far too few. Most education about capitalism is presented in the same tones and terms as it might be by the terrorists who hate our way of life.

As long as colleges turn out more college professors who survive in a microcosm of statism, repeating outmoded concepts from the 1920's (when Marxism was the philosophical darling of academia and capitalism was equated with thugs smashing the heads of striking workers), then we can expect liberal arts students to marinate in the juices of jealousy, constantly poured over them by people who have never known success in the capitalist system. Naturally, they find capitalism alien. Is it any wonder that journalists and actors more often than not are saturated with the flavor of statism by the time they are old enough to graduate into the world and begin to act on what they have been taught?

At this important crossroad, it is important to stop and consider what is being said on the news and in the schools, what is going to be said in movies and plays, and who is saying it...and why. Do we really want to turn more of our freedoms away in a doomed attempt to gain more security? Certainly we don't mind being more heavily inspected at the airport. Even more benefit would come from tighter restrictions at our borders. But it is not we, the freedom-loving American citizens, who pose the threat: it is those who hate our way of life, both within and without the borders of this country. Does it make more sense to take away all our forks and pocket knives, or to give our pilots training and weapons to defend themselves against the very few who would pose any threat?

Would it not be better to see proper safety training and armed citizens everywhere, rather than taking away any opportunity to become proficient and to learn the austere responsibilities of being armed? The right to bear arms, like any grave and important right, carries with it an awesome responsibility. So long as there is reasonable assurance that the responsibility will be assumed, the right is, itself, the ultimate protection.

Fear of the unknown can invoke inappropriate responses against those who might be the best protection. Demanding and extracting justice, even at the cost of war, is not the same as imposing draconian restrictions on our own freedoms. We can recover from the former, but the latter leads to the destruction of the thing we wish to preserve.

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