As long as human beings are imperfect, there will always be arguments for extending the power of government to deal with these imperfections. The only logical stopping place is totalitarianism — unless we realize that tolerating imperfections is the price of freedom.Thomas Sowell
We had a chance to see Top Gun: Maverick the other night. Very entertaining. The movie is well done. The storyline blends nicely with the 1986 Top Gun movie and incorporates all that a summer blockbuster should: action, drama, struggle, and redemption. The movie also offers a refreshing visit to the themes of loyalty, responsibility, patriotism, duty, integrity, and the “we’re in it togetherness” of shared mission. For those who grew up with the original, Maverick offers plenty of nostalgia with great connection-points to the original while also touching on the very real dynamics of what we all must face as we reach the end of pathways in our lives and look toward new horizons. Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack, and it’s worth the journey.
The United States just celebrated 246 years of independence and watching this movie reminded me of how we often characterize the costs associated with our military as the “price of freedom.” From the very beginning, our soldiers have sacrificed their time, youth, and lives in the name of freedom as they fought to protect our American way of life. Maverick offered plenty to reinforce the notion of military sacrifice as the price for freedom from a macro perspective, but the story also took that concept to the highly personal, individual level. We may collectively pay some of the costs, but the ultimate price is paid at the individual level.
When Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, he drew from centuries of thinking around individual rights and summarized it with “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The radicalness of his claim elevated the individual relative to the state, and affirmed basic human dignity as a “right,” asserting that God, not the state, gave human beings the right to live and to be free to pursue happiness in that existence. This became, and remains, the creed of the United States of America.
Of course, ever since those words were penned, the battle over the details has raged. Which men? How much liberty? What is happiness? The role of government remains the sorting, affirming, and defending of these details and it has succeeded, and failed, to varying degrees from the start. But what of the price of these freedoms? Well, we’re still paying it and the tab will never be closed.
The Most Dangerous Power
Certainly, there is a price to be paid in the sense mentioned above as we protect our nation from the powers and principalities that oppose our way of life or want to impose their interests upon us. Our military and those serving within it will continue to pay big to maintain the security that affords American citizens their individual liberties. But there is another price to be paid for the freedoms we enjoy. There are other costs to our adoption of our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that enumerates the powers of government while protecting the rights of individuals.
Affirmed in those famous words, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” is the notion of free-will. In the founding structure of our nation, we memorialized the individual liberty to pursue happiness and institutionalized the most dangerous power we could possibly give to a human being: the right to make his or her own choices. Our decision to honor individual liberty opened Pandora’s box and set up the eternal conflict between individual, state, and other individual: where does my right to make choices end and yours begin, as well as, who gets to decide?
The Founder’s obsession with individual liberty created the most intensely individualistic country in the world and a nation of human beings hyper-obsessed with their rights. “Don’t Tread on Me” was a rallying cry during the American Revolution, and it never really went away. The fight to restrain those rights in various fashions has been raging ever since as has been the furious resistance to those restraints, and the bare-knuckle politics that all of it has engendered. There is, and has always been, huge stakes in this game, and everyone knows it.
Along the way, we, as individual Americans, have enjoyed unrivaled freedom, even if sometimes unevenly and imperfectly. The work-in-progress that is America has progressed and today, our ability to move about, speak our mind, worship as we choose, protect ourselves, protect our ideas, pursue commerce, vote for representation, enjoy relative safety, access basic needs, and chase our dreams remains unrivaled. For the most part, our liberty is intact, and the fact that we can argue publicly over it confirms that fact. We continue to agree that free-will and individual liberty are very, very important things.
In as much as those serving in our military over the years have paid the “ultimate” price for freedom, there is another side to their sacrifices and the price of freedom goes far deeper. When we decided that human beings have certain unalienable rights, we affirmed and protected the most basic as free-will. We decided that individuals get to choose how they live. When we did that, we decided that individual liberty was worth the potential costs of that freedom.
Granted, we have gone to great lengths to define how they shouldn’t live, as we’ve worked to protect those same individuals from each other, and even from themselves. But individual choice comes first. By first, I mean that our system reacts to the choices people make, after they’ve made them. Our system gives us the opportunity to make our choices freely and that freedom comes at a cost.
With all of that freedom, we get to choose how we eat, how we work, or don’t work, who we hang out with, how we entertain ourselves, what fulfills us, what we tolerate, what we don’t tolerate, and how we react to those around us. With this first choice option, individuals may choose to steal, to lie, to kill, to gossip, to slander, to drive fast, to run red lights, to undermine, to destroy the property of others, or create any other potential mayhem they can conceive. Pair individual free-will with massive freedom and the sky is the limit when it comes to the good and the bad we can do as individuals.
The sacrifice of our service men and women in the name of freedom may be the most noble sacrifice we can imagine for our freedoms, but our freedoms also come at a very high price on the home front, as certain individuals choose to abuse those freedoms to the detriment of their fellow citizens.
Neither Angels Nor Saints
Our Founders knew that many among us would be neither angels nor saints. They knew that certain men would work to dominate others, take advantage of their freedoms, and betray any notion of honor and integrity envisaged in the noble work of our founding. They knew that certain men would work to use the political system to their advantage, and to the disadvantage of others. They knew that men with guns would steal and kill. They knew that we, as human beings, were flawed and broken in many ways, would often be incapable of doing the right thing, and would likely fail time and again in many of those choices. They knew all of this because they were equally imperfect to any who lived before or since.
Despite all of the potential risks, they fought and died, for the liberties we now have. Why? Because they also knew that without such liberties, such inalienable rights, no human being could attain, and share, their massive potential for goodness that also lies within. Without the dark price of freedom, the bright light of its potential fruits could never be realized; never realized for its citizens or for the world that might benefit from such a nation.
Still Worth It
The price for our freedom continues to be paid today. Fortunately, we are not in any wars and the sacrifice of our servicemen and women remains low from a lives lost perspective. However, our freedom comes at the price of many of the poor choices our fellow citizens make. And our freedom is still worth the price. For all of the bad choices, there remain many more good choices. For all of the sacrifices and the costs, we also see acts of charity, love, healing, and honor brought forth by those we call fellow citizens. For all of the bad, there is still far more good.
Let’s continue to work to improve our country. Let’s fight to reduce the bad and increase the good. Let’s honor the sacrifices made by those who protect and serve us. Let’s also remember that without the chance for people to let us down, there can be no opportunity for us the goodness that counters it. We are not all angels or saints and the struggle to restrain the enemy within goes on. Remember that there is a high price for our freedoms and our decision to allow citizens to make their own choices. It’s still worth it.
Beautiful construct and delivery, top shelf, nice piece Phillip.
Another thoughtful piece. I wish all the world was reading your blogs. Might help them to keep things in perspective.