Sunday, December 14, 2008

Liberty's Greatest Commandment

Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

– Thomas Jefferson (1816)[1]

The great spiritual movements of history have imparted spiritual truth to those who “had ears to hear.” Inevitably, religions have commandeered those movements and replaced that spiritual truth with authoritarianism. The great spiritual masters (real and legendary), such as Krishna, Paul, Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha (just to name a few), have all offered their followers the chance to live a better life, to become more than they were, and to set themselves free from the physical bonds that limit their mortal lives and spiritual growth. Too often, those who have come after the masters have replaced their sublime wisdom with a myriad of rules, rituals, and mysticism that ultimately confuses or even contradicts the original message.

As just one example, Jesus was able to condense all of the laws and commandments of the Hebrew Scripture into two simple principles, recognizable at once to most Christians,

“The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."[2]

This short passage contains all that Jesus thought necessary in instructing his followers on how to live. Indeed, the scribe that asked him which commandment was the greatest is so impressed by what Jesus says, that he replies that following these two precepts “is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”[3] Unfortunately, the Catholic Church that evolved from this movement did not adhere to this philosophy, as it became one of the most oppressive in history in the ensuing centuries. While the gospels depict small groups of seekers gathered around an enlightened master, the Catholic Church organized itself into an authoritarian hierarchy, often using the threat of eternal damnation to gather earthly wealth or power. While Jesus instructed his followers to break the rules when the rules stood in the way of virtue,[4] the Christian religions, like so many others, have confused the rules with the intentions behind them, and the dogma for the spiritual truth. In fact, the edifice of ritual built up by the various Christian churches arguably impede their followers from finding God, and one need not look far for examples of those churches violating the second great commandment over and over again. Unfortunately, the Christian churches are in no way unique in this respect.

Liberty, too, has suffered this fate. Like the great religions, Liberty was a movement that once set people free. It was founded by an enlightened group of masters, named Locke, Jefferson, Adams, and Paine. Like the great religions, Liberty also had a central principle – a greatest commandment – that could inform its followers in every aspect of their lives. We have come to know this precept as the Non-Aggression Principle, which is the principle that each individual has the right to do whatever he or she wishes, as long as he or she does not violate the equal rights of others. Today we mistakenly associate this principle exclusively with libertarians or objectivists.[5] However, as the quote from the subtitle of this passage demonstrates, the Non Aggression Principle did not originate with either of these 20th century movements. In fact, not only is the Non Aggression Principle explicit in the writings of Jefferson and Locke, it is actually the definition of Liberty itself.

Like Christianity, Judaism, and the ancient spiritual movements that came before them, Liberty was a great spark of light in its infancy. Never before had men in society proclaimed to the world that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights. Never before had people actually put the Non Aggression Principle into practice, and attempted to limit the laws of society to its standard. Never before had people attempted to truly live together as equals, and come so close to true freedom and justice.

Jesus gave two greatest commandments, because he was instructing his followers in living two different lives. His first commandment applies to the inner life – the spiritual life. His second commandment applies to the outer life – life on earth and among men. While Liberty’s great commandment only explicitly speaks to the latter, it is consistent with not only both of Jesus’ two greatest commandments, but with the spiritual and moral teachings of all spiritual movements. In this way, the Non Aggression Principle transcends religion, as it excludes none and supports the moral teachings of all.

Religious freedom is implicit in the Non Aggression Principle. As the thoughts, prayers, and beliefs of one person can of themselves do no harm to anyone else, following the Non Aggression Principle necessarily grants religious freedom to all. As Jefferson put it,

“The legitimate powers of government extend so such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”[6]

Here Jefferson both succinctly restates the Non Aggression Principle and draws its obvious conclusion about religion: no man’s inner life can harm another, and thus is outside the reach of government. Therefore, the Non Aggression Principle allows everyone to follow the spiritual teachings of any religion he wishes, or no religion at all. His inner life belongs to him and to no one else.

Regarding man’s outer life, the Non Aggression Principle is consistent with Jesus’ second commandment, and with the moral teachings of virtually all religions. It is not a very far reach to say that to “love your neighbor as yourself” is substantively the same as “to grant your neighbor the freedom to do what he pleases, as long as he harms no one else.” Nor is this message much different from those of the great masters of the other religions. Despite the outwardly different (and often antagonistic toward each other) institutions that have grown up around the other great spiritual movements, the great masters behind all of them exhorted us to love our neighbors (even our enemies), to do charitable works, and to respect each other’s property.

Unfortunately, Liberty has follwed the same trend as these movements. Those who came after the great masters have forgotten the true meaning of Liberty, and have instead built up a great, authoritarian hierarchy, complete with its own labyrinthine set of rules and dogma that consistently violates Liberty’s central principle. As the Catholic Church of late antiquity and the Dark Ages routinely violated Christianity’s central axioms, the greatest crimes in history are now committed under the sacred name of Liberty. None are more egregious than the current wars of aggression that purport to be “liberating” their victims, just as the Inquisition purported to be “saving” the victims of its sadistic tortures.

At home, the government of the so-called “land of the free” grows more authoritarian each day, routinely violating Liberty’s great commandment by seizing property to protect privileged financiers, to realize its perverse vision of forced economic equality, to punish victimless “crimes” that the members of a small, wealthy oligarchy find distasteful, and to tighten its control over every aspect of our lives.

As has been the case with religions throughout history, the time has come for the true believers in Liberty to reject the false teachings of the established clergy and resurrect the true message of the founding masters. While our own Sadducees and Pharisees (Republicans and Democrats) would have us believe that our problems are terribly complicated, they are not. They can be solved one and all by applying one simple principle: the principle of Liberty. If we were to return our government to the limits set by Jefferson and Locke, every problem we currently consider paramount would disappear. For example:

Legal tender laws force U.S. citizens to accept U.S. dollars as payment, and forbid contracts to be denominated in gold. Using alternative currencies would not represent aggression against anyone, so according to the Non Aggression Principle those laws would have to be repealed. This would immediately break the hold of the Federal Reserve over the economy, and would quickly end the problem of inflation. Prices would begin falling again, as they did throughout the 19th century. 100 years from now, the general price level would be half what it is today, as it was half what it was in 1800 by 1912. Can you imagine a world in which you could tell your grandchildren, “I used to have to pay twice that much for what you just bought?”

The Non Aggression Principle would forbid Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the rest of the welfare programs, because the money is forcibly taken from taxpayers to fund them. This would solve a myriad of problems. First, it would return $1.5 trillion in savings/capital to the economy, taking the United States from a negative savings rate to an over 11% savings rate. In addition, the artificial demand created by government in the healthcare sector would disappear, allowing prices to fall back to their natural levels. Healthcare would be affordable without insurance, as it would be subject to the same market forces that keep the prices of more necessary products like food and shelter affordable (to the extent that they too are not distorted by government).

The Non Aggression Principle would forbid at least 70% of our military expenditures, as we would have no business stationing troops anywhere but at our own borders. Without our military presence antagonizing the dispossessed overseas, the motivation for terrorism would quickly fade. We would add another $400 billion or so in savings/capital to the economy which is currently being devoured by government. Most importantly, hundreds of thousands of people, including over 4,000 of our own brave men and women, would be alive today to celebrate the holidays with us.

The Non Aggression Principle would forbid laws against drug use, freeing about 2/3 of our prison population. Contrary to government propaganda-induced public opinion, this would not set off a crime wave, as the vast majority of these people have never committed a violent crime. In addition, the funding source for most of our criminal gangs would dry up, making it impossible for them to arm themselves the way they currently do. Like the prohibition of the 1920’s, the Drug War has resulted in a huge black market and criminal industry to supply the outlawed contraband. Without the Drug War, drug dealers and criminal gangs would go the way of the bootlegger. Last but not least, add 41 billion more to the savings/capital column.

Similar to not allowing the government to seize property from one person and give it to another, (as it does in the social programs), the Non Aggression Principle would not allow government to use taxpayer money as collateral for loans, as it does with Fannie Mae mortgage loans and student loan programs. This would eliminate two more huge bubbles caused by government-created artificial demand. We have already seen the housing bubble burst. The next big bubble to burst will be student loans.[7] Only because of government distorting the market with artificial demand – and in violation of the Non Aggression Principle – could tuition prices ever have risen so high. Both students and their parents are now going deep into debt in order to finance college tuition, which students at one time could finance with summer and part time jobs. If government was not allowed to guarantee the loans with taxpayer money (by force), the prices would be limited to what the market could bear.

One could write volumes on government’s violations of the Non Aggression Principle, and the wonders that could be achieved simply by adhering to it. However, solving the problems of inflation, healthcare costs, housing, education, war, terrorism, and recessions is a pretty good start. If you take the time to think it through, you will find that this principle – Liberty – can solve every societal problem we face, no matter how insoluble our politicians try to make them seem. Only our refusal to reason through them allows these problems to persist.

So, as we enter another holiday season, let us look past ritual and custom to the true meaning behind the spiritual movements we follow, and may each of us find our own inner path to salvation. Outwardly, let us revive the true meaning of Liberty. Let us cast the money changers out of our American temple, and put our swords back in their sheaths, both in dealing with our neighbors in other countries and here at home. Let us reject the false teachings of our political priesthood and return to the lessons of Liberty’s great masters, who warned us of the evils that presently afflict us but taught us the secret wisdom that can defeat them all. It is within our ability to make this New Year a rebirth of our American spirit, our freedom, and our prosperity. For this transformation to occur, we merely need to keep one New Year’s resolution: to live by Liberty’s Greatest Commandment, and to demand that our leaders do likewise. Free people need nothing more than this.

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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[1] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Francis Walker Gilmer June 7, 1816
[2] Mark 12:29-31
[3] Mark 12:33
[4] Luke 6:9
[5] Followers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism
[6] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query XVII 1782
[7] With the unemployment that will accompany the coming depression, it is inevitable that a much larger percentage of these loans will begin defaulting, creating a new leg to the crisis. The positive consequence of this would be the necessary adjustment in tuition prices that would take place if the market were left alone by the government. Unfortunately, government has repeatedly shown that it will do everything in its power to fight these necessary price adjustments, which only serves to prolong the crisis.

4 comments:

poulianna said...

Tom, I hope that this very inspirational article you have written becomes a historical piece of literature; one that will be referred to as being reflective and representative of a time of great turmoil for the American people.

Martha said...

There seems to be a voice calling in the wilderness, and the ring of truth stirs the heart. Still, one wonders what chaos would accompany the abrupt halt of so many institutionalized programs and bureaucracies. In a political cartoon, it would look something like a train wreck, with the momentum of such great mass behind so many programs hitting the proverbial immovable object, hurtling the load forward with enormous destructive power. Have you a followup proposing some sort of braking system, or do you suppose anarchy and gradual deconstruction of the mess are inevitable?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"The great spiritual masters (real and legendary), such as Krishna, Paul, Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha (just to name a few), have all offered their followers the chance to live a better life, to become more than they were, and to set themselves free from the physical bonds that limit their mortal lives and spiritual growth. "

Of the above "spiritual masters," Mohammad is the only one who raised an army to kill others and steal property. Not to mention he was the only one of the above to have sex with children. I'm not sure how that qualifies as being a "spiritual master." His followers went on to create an empire, denying countless others of their rights (and often lives).

Certainly Christians and Hindus and Buddhists are all guilty of the same. The difference is that Islam started as a movement to deprive people of life, liberty and property, whereas the other major religions were much later co-opted by any liberty forces.

On the flip side, Islam was later co-opted, partially, by actually spiritual people. But there is no denying that Mohammad actually took up a sword, raised an army and massacred people in his pursuit to personally destroy liberty in the Arabian peninsula. His marriage of a child also isn't really in dispute. It is also hard to make a case that Islam has at any point given its female followers the opportunity to pursue a better life. Depriving, from first principles, half your population of natural rights is not really the beginnings of a spiritual movement.

If you're going to put Mohammed up there with Jesus or Buddha, you ought to include Lenin as well because Islam has much more in common with Leninism than with Buddhism or Christianity. It is worth noting also that Islam is very collectivist, even from the outset, whereas I don't think the same argument could be made, at least initially, of Christianity or Buddhism. Not surprisingly, you cannot find many Islamic countries today that even pay lip service to liberty.