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Why We Think We’re Free

Summary:
By: Shane J. Coules There is a famous routine by the late, great American comedian George Carlin in which he talks about why he refuses to vote. In less than four minutes, he brilliantly captures the deep flaws of the US political process, and the futility of a system that has become irredeemably corrupt (“I’m sure as soon as the election’s over your country will improve immediately. . . This country was bought, sold, and paid for a long time ago.”). Italian-American lecturer and writer Piero Scaruffi opines that “a comedian is someone who tells the truth. Truth is the set of all jokes, told by all comedians in the world.” There is certainly more than an ounce of veracity in Carlin’s bit. But while that may be the case, the idea of abstaining from voting is seen by many as nothing less

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By: Shane J. Coules

There is a famous routine by the late, great American comedian George Carlin in which he talks about why he refuses to vote. In less than four minutes, he brilliantly captures the deep flaws of the US political process, and the futility of a system that has become irredeemably corrupt (“I’m sure as soon as the election’s over your country will improve immediately. . . This country was bought, sold, and paid for a long time ago.”).

Italian-American lecturer and writer Piero Scaruffi opines that “a comedian is someone who tells the truth. Truth is the set of all jokes, told by all comedians in the world.” There is certainly more than an ounce of veracity in Carlin’s bit. But while that may be the case, the idea of abstaining from voting is seen by many as nothing less than the ultimate mark of disrespect to all those people who fought for “freedom” in the statist wars of the 20th century.

Which prompts the question: What is freedom? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the quality or state of being free, such as . . . the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. If we agree on this definition (and – assuming the individual rights of another aren’t being violated by one’s actions – how could we not?) can we say that the tragic, bloodiest wars in history succeeded in delivering freedom to the citizens of the West?

Invisible force and The Freedom Delusion

Ask most people strolling down a London street, along a New York sidewalk, on the cobblestones of Dublin’s city center, or any other Western nation if they are free, and they will likely reply ‘yes, of course.’ In the New Yorker’s case, he may even snap incredulously that this is the land of the free.

And looking at their surroundings, it may appear that these people are correct. When not in the middle of a pandemic (and the accompanying draconian government measures) they would usually walk around relatively free of physical force from police unless they’re breaking – or suspected of breaking – the law. (And when physical force is used, it is rarely seen as an assault on freedom.) But the apparent absence of physicality does not equate to a lack of coercion or constraint; like the invisible hand that guides the free market, there is an invisible hand of government which quells liberty.

In most if not all Western democracies, this semblance of a free society is in fact a mirage borne of sheer ignorance, effective indoctrination, or a mere misunderstanding of what it means to be free. A nation of denizens who believe they are free without knowing the true meaning of freedom is a nation enrapt in a collective hallucination (or a Bernaysian propagandist trap). This widespread phenomenon can be referred to as The Freedom Delusion.

The “Inviolability” of Democracy

Some argue that the act of voting renders the system “voluntary,” but this is not the case.

To channel Mr. Carlin, those who vote in modern democracies are merely party to a transfer of power from one corrupt or misguided cabal to another (“garbage in, garbage out.”). And the vote which people in the West cast every few years is, flagrantly, a vote to empower the winning coalition to attack the individual rights of citizens.

Yet the legitimacy of democracy is almost universally (in the West at least) considered unquestionable, and any criticism of it taboo.

Yet, in practice, western democracies in their current form amount to the tyranny of the majority, the continual assault on individuals, and the restriction of liberty.

What Genuine Freedom Means

A truly free society allows for some to purchase land and voluntarily attempt a socialist utopia, and for others to purchase land and live in a stateless, free-market, private-law society.

Be it anarcho-capitalism or minarchism, socialism or social democracy, communism or anarcho-syndicalism, or any other social system, genuine freedom in essence means the freedom to choose, so long as no one is compelled to join in. Some may freely choose to enter a “socialist” community and thus voluntarily give up much of their fundamental freedoms, subjugating themselves to the collective; others may freely choose to enter a communal agreement for an anarcho-capitalist society. The Freedom Delusion prevalent in the West today, however, essentially means that these ideas and questions surrounding what it means to be free are rarely – if ever – raised in mainstream debates over what freedom means.

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Mises Institute
The Mises Institute, founded in 1982, teaches the scholarship of Austrian economics, freedom, and peace. The liberal intellectual tradition of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995) guides us. Accordingly, we seek a profound and radical shift in the intellectual climate: away from statism and toward a private property order.

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