There is an unfortunate tendency to present liberty as a means to the end of economic prosperity. We too often hear about liberty as if it is good for what comes out of it rather than what it is.
By turning liberty into just another cog in the machinery of generating material wealth, we risk reducing it to a component that, with some tweaking, could be replaced in the quest for comfort and ease.
Liberty is intrinsically good. It is good because it is good, not because of what it might provide. Liberty is not an economic tool but a moral imperative.
Now, don’t get me wrong: The evidence of history is that as liberty expands, so too does general prosperity.
Does that mean that if someone isn’t prosperous, they should reject liberty? History is full of those who did just that. A horrific, nearly forgotten episode of 20th century life is detailed in “The Forsaken” by Tim Tzouliadis.
Lured by the promise of abundance in the Soviet Union during the Great Depression, thousands of Americans sold everything to move there and live as Joseph Stalin’s comrades. It was pleasant for them… at first. What they eventually found was abject misery. They were prisoners; nearly all of them simply vanished into the totalitarian abyss as slaves of the communist state.
Several thousand years ago, God instructed Moses to lead the captive Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Through a series of miraculous events, not only were the Jews able to leave, but the plague-tormented Egyptians handed them gold and wealth as they left. God Himself protected them from harm and guided them to safety – yet the people immediately complained that, as slaves, they had been provided a variety of foods by their Egyptian masters and wished they had never been set free.
They felt it was easier to be a slave than their own master.
The most ensnaring shackle isn’t necessarily a physical one placed on wrists and ankles but the choice some make to perceive the world as a slave.
As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
One who lives as a well-loved slave in a beautiful mansion with nice meals and comfortable work is still a slave. The condition might seem appealing in a singular moment, but they are always a slave. A slave never has the opportunity to grow beyond the master’s desires, to pursue their passions and interests without the permission of their owner, or to explore who God made them to be.
Yes, liberty can be messy, and it doesn’t guarantee individual success – but it does guarantee individual opportunity. Socialism is just another form of slavery; it can be well-ordered and offer the illusion of comfort – but it is still just a form of slavery. Your choices are reduced to those which your masters deem most appropriate.
Liberty doesn’t ensure people will make good choices, but it allows them to make choices. It is in the choosing, in that pursuit of happiness, where we find our fulfillment, and it is in liberty where we find the freedom to make those choices.
It is for the sake of liberty that we must pursue liberty.