Thinking About Independence

Thomas Jefferson wrote the following regarding the celebration of the 4th of July:

“May [the Declaration of Independence] be to the world… the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of SELF-GOVERNMENT. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has NOT been born with saddles on their backs, NOR a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

How powerful is Jefferson’s idea of a nation which protects as its first principle each man and woman’s right to self determination as defined by their own “unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion”?

On this Independence Day isn’t it prudent to reflect on whether we are living up to this vision of independent people, responsible for, and with right to, their own lives and choices? Does telling people they can’t drink unpasteurized milk, can’t work internships for experience alone, must go to a school assigned by zip code, can’t play a game of blackjack or any of the other more intrusive elements of law, meet this standard? Maybe does it sound like we’ve somewhat given the boots and spurs back to rulers who presume to tell us how to live our lives, spend our money, invest our time and efforts?

Many can and will, make grounded, persuasive arguments for every new restriction government officials and bureaucrats deem appropriate. Arguments often supported by the need to “protect” people, or to ensure “equity” amongst citizens, or because some economist has assured them the math says we’ll all be better off with just this one little reduction of freedom. But can a society which accepts this incremental layering of restrictions truly claim “an undiminished devotion” to personal choice and opinion?

Individual freedom can look messy, true. But most often that is because we on the outside simply don’t see all that an individual sees in the process of making decisions for themselves. We don’t have their perspective, their history, their individual wants and desires and needs.

My prayer on Independence Day 2013 is that government fiat doesn’t get in the way of your choices this upcoming year. My hope is that, even if we don’t understand the choices, that each of us would help make more choice available in this upcoming year. If an action is voluntary and doesn’t harm you, even if it isn’t a choice you would make for yourself, I hope we all will help to make these choices, each individual’s exercise of reason and opinion, as unbounded by law or regulation as possible… Reducing the sphere of government mandates and increasing the purview of individual choice and free association.

Jefferson laid out a shining dream of a pluralistic, voluntary society. It would be pretty neat if we could live up to that.

Happy Independence Day!

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