Freedom: Not Just Good. It’s the Right Thing to Do.

“I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.”  -George Washington September 19th, 1796

The quote above is a portion of the last paragraph from George Washington’s farewell address.  What I find particularly important about this portion, and most especially in our present time in history, are the concepts of freedom, laws, government, and citizenship.  Individually, these are all valuable concepts, but they must all be present to make the type of each that we have taken for granted all of our lives.  In Washington’s youth as a royal subject, three of the four existed, but the lack of what we take for granted as citizenship relegated the other three to an inferior status.  The war to separate us from England’s hold on us as a colony was necessary to give life to our style of these four concepts, and how they work together to give rise to something that had not existed.  

Even here, with these bedrock concepts, our style of freedom was not perfect.  It is not today. But, what we have is a commitment to the basic philosophy of our style of freedom, and with that commitment, we can bring errors, shortcomings, and transgressions into line with our principles. We also invite others to judge our actions by this set of principles. 

Outside of national boundaries, there are no legal authorities.  The only thing that can make order is power and submission.  The only thing that can keep power from being brutal and corrupt is deference to a noble set of principles.  Royalty and the lack of a citizens rights made for a world that allowed for the corrupt power imbalance, by American freedom standards.  The lack of citizenship in our own country allows for a power imbalance that supports economic injustice, denies a free government, and by extension good laws.  This balance is a struggle everywhere that the freedom construct is attempted.  

There is a problem with the erosion of rights domestically, and partitioning of rights of some from rights of others.  The diminution of rights for some creates the imbalance that is the diminution of rights for all.  As Washington put it, the “benign influence of good laws under a free government”, becomes impossible when this balance is lost.  This is also the case with international relations.  Power does not ever work in the interest of justice, or the people.  Power works in its own interest.  Authoritarianism is a power mechanism, not a mechanism of the people. There is no “benign influence”, no “good laws”, and no “freedom” under authoritarianism.  

Even under the best circumstances, it can not be known that an authoritarian leader, like Putin, is acting in the people’ s interest.  It is impossible to discern clearly, even when the causes are parallel. In the case of war, the worst, and most serious and taxing thing a government can do, it must be known that it is the will of the people.  Even when it is the will of the people it can have ethical problems, and with a captive populace, the evil of such government action is unlimited.  There is zero accountability when trying to return to stability when wars end.  And, all wars must end eventually.  When an authoritarian state like Germany went to war in World War I, accountability could not be maintained.  Those forced to account were members of a resultant democracy, and the feelings of the people led to another authoritarian state, and another evil war.  

It has been said that democracy is not the best form of government, but it is the best we have.  I find this analysis to be valid because it allows for choice, and the accountability for those choices.  If you tip the balance that George Washington elucidated in his farewell speech, you give rise to situations like Russia’s current day.  You have people living in what the leader calls a democracy, but does not function like one.  You have a leader committing them to a war, for his purposes, in order to capture another fledgling democracy, and this authoritarian evil is propagated.  Our “mutual cares, labors, and dangers” cease being mutual, and the freedom disintegrates.  They are not mutual in an authoritarian state, and in a democracy like ours that still aspires to being fully free, can never achieve that noble principle as the evil of authoritarianism is allowed to propagate, abroad or home.  Neither citizens, subjects, nor the enslaved of authoritarian states want authoritarianism.  They just don’t have any other choice.