This is the first chapter of a book I've been working on for several years. I plan to title it Let Freedom Ring: The Moral Foundation and Spiritual Destiny of America.
Government is dangerous. So is fire. This doesn’t mean both aren’t useful, it just means that the potential danger in both needs to be understood and they both need to be handled properly to be useful.
Guns are dangerous, too. Whether you favor private ownership of gun are you don’t, you recognize this fact. Used properly, a gun can defend someone from harm or provide food for a family. Used improperly, guns can aid thieves in committing robbery or take an innocent person’s life.
What is surprising is how many people don’t realize that guns are the reason why government is dangerous. Governments use guns (and even more powerful and dangerous weapons) to impose their authority over people. There’s a famous quote about this from the leader of the communist revolution in China, Mao Zedong, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
No one knows for sure how many millions of people died as Mao implemented his political power, but various estimates range between 30 and 45 million people. Millions were also deprived of their freedom by being sent to Soviet-style gulags.
It’s not just Mao either. If we look at all the various despots who arose in the 20th century in Germany, Russia and elsewhere, it has been estimated that more than 100 million people died at the hands of their own political leaders. That’s more people than died in all the wars of that century.
That’s why I find it ironic that many people fail to see the danger in giving more and more power to the government. Perhaps it’s because they confuse government with leadership. They think that government policies are put in place by voluntary co-operation, not weapons and violence.
A leader inspires people to join a cause and contribute their efforts to achieving it. While people in government can offer leadership, the government itself isn’t based on leadership. It is based on the use of deadly force. It’s based on guns. If you break one of the government’s laws, you won't get a friendly person coming to you and asking you to please comply with it for the good of society. What you will get is an armed officer who will demand your compliance and pull a gun or other weapon on you if you refuse to comply.
Clearly, how we chose to handle this power is important. It can be used to protect us, but it can also be used to destroy us. The Founding Fathers of America understood this and with this understanding, they entered into one of the greatest social experiments ever conducted. They tried to find a way to harness the deadly force of government so that it would serve, rather than subjugate the people.
How Would You Handle Political Power?
Many of us are “armchair” politicians. We talk about what government should or shouldn’t be doing with a great deal of conviction. Some of us even write letters to government officials or perhaps even join a protest. It’s easy to decide what other people should do when there aren’t any real consequences to your ideas. But, suppose you were handed real political power, how would you handle it?
To answer that question, I’d like you to join me in two little thought experiments. A thought experiment is a logical argument or mental model that one creates by visualizing an imaginary or hypothetical scenario. This is a perfectly valid way to experiment with ideas One of the most brilliant scientists the world has ever known, Albert Einstein, did thought experiments which helped change our entire understanding of the nature of the universe.
If it’s good enough for physics, it’s certainly a good enough approach for politics. For thought experiment number one, I’d like you to imagine that you’ve been given the ultimate in political power. I’d like you to visualize yourself as the dictator of the entire world.
As the world dictator, you have all the military and police powers of the world at your command. These loyal followers are ready to enforce whatever laws you deem necessary for the good of the world. You can now fine, imprison or even kill anyone who resists you and your laws. There is no one above you who punish you for what you decide.
I’m suggesting you do this because, it’s one thing to express how things “ought” to be. It’s quite another thing to actually use force to compel people to obey you. So, if you had this power, what would you do with it?
Perhaps you’re an environmentalist. You believe that mankind is adversely affecting the climate so as to threaten all life on the planet. So, in this thought experiment, you now have the power to force whatever changes you want to stop people from polluting and destroying the world. What are you going to force people to do?
Perhaps you are a compassionate person who sees the poor and underprivileged people of the world and wants to make sure that everyone on the planet has food, shelter, clothing and health care. You can now tax anyone and everyone and use this money you collect to fund your world-wide welfare programs. If someone opposes you and refuses to pay their taxes, you can have them arrested, confiscate their property to fund your effort. Furthermore, if they resist your tax officers, you can have them killed. How do you feel about that?
Maybe you’re concerned about violence and public safety. You decide that only people in the government, who are under your orders should have guns. You feel this will eliminate crime and make the world a more peaceful place. So, you send men and women armed with guns to confiscate the guns of those who own them. If they refuse to surrender their weapons, there will be bloodshed, because if they resist your efforts with their own guns they will be killed, as will some of your officers. Do you feel comfortable with this?
Maybe you’re a very religious person. You feel that society is rampant with immoral behavior—drugs, pornography, alcohol, sexual perversion and abortion. You want to make all of these things illegal. Are you willing to have drug addicts and alcoholics arrested and killed if they oppose your laws? Do you want to put homosexuals or perhaps even execute them (something which happens in some middle eastern countries)? Do you want to imprison women and medical personnel who participate in abortion? Whatever you decide, it’s very possible that people will die while you’re enforcing your laws. Is that right? Is it moral?
Maybe you think that believing in God is delusional and want to ban religion outright. Many communist countries held to this idea and millions of religious people were slaughtered or imprisoned or labeled as mentally ill and forced into hospitals for the insane. Are you ready to do that? Are you ready to kill people’s lives just because they believe that there is a power higher than you which requires their obedience to it instead of you?
We could go on and on, citing numerous topics of hot debate in our modern political climate. I’m not arguing for or against these policies. I’m only trying to point out one thing—government uses guns and violence to impose its will. Therefore, whatever you ask government to do, you are saying violence is the way these ends should be achieved.
Maybe you sincerely believe that the end result of enforcing your policies will make the world a better place, and therefore violence is justified. Maybe you don’t. I just want you to think about it.
If you’re a Christian, you should really think about it. The last temptation Satan offered to Jesus was to have full control of all the kingdoms of the earth. He offered him the opportunity to make the world a better place by taking over every government on the planet. All Jesus had to do was worship Satan. Jesus turned him down because his kingdom was not of this world.
How You Do You Exercise Power?
The first thought experiment is a set-up for the second. We’re going to move from the global scale to the personal scale. Governing the world, after all, is a big task. How about governing just your family, friends and neighbors. What would you do if you were given dictatorial power over your immediate circle of influence?
Imagine you’ve been given complete authority to compel anyone within that circle to do anything at the point of a gun. If your wife, your children, your extended family members, your friends and your neighbors don’t do whatever you order them to do, you have the full authority to force them to obey at gunpoint. If they resist you have full authority to shoot them if necessary. No authority is higher than you, so no one can punish you if your compel their obedience.
What are your rules going to be now? Will you threaten to kill one of your neighbors if he doesn’t pay you the taxes you want to feed other neighbors who are poorer? Will you threaten to kill your child or your friend for littering or using too much gas in their car? If one of your neighbors is drinking alcohol or smoking pot, will you strap on your gun and order them to stop? Will they be the same laws as the ones you’d impose on the entire planet?
When it comes to our immediate relationships, most of us don’t see violence as the best solution. There are some very abusive people who do, but I’m guessing that most of us wouldn’t want to have to threaten our wife, children or neighbors with a gun to make them do whatever we thought was right.
Both of these thought experiments are asking you the same question, “What is the moral use of force?” When are we morally justified in using guns to threaten people and compel their obedience?
Morals are the standards we use to determine right from wrong. Our morals dictate how we treat other people, both those close to us, and those who are strangers. Most people have double standards when it comes to morals. They have one set of moral standards for those they perceive are “on their side” and another set of moral standards for those on the “other side.”
People are more likely to lenient and forgiving to someone who is one of the “us,” and more willing to use force with one they perceive as part of the “them.” The “us” versus “them” can be political, religious, national, racial or cultural, but the truth is that most people given dictatorial powers would utilize this double-standard. They would force their policies on the world at large, but be far more tolerant and even indulgent with those they consider to be family or friends, just like all the world’s real dictators have done. Even in America, members of Congress have passed laws to enforce on everyone except themselves.
You don’t need to be a political dictator to have this kind of double-standard in your moral reasoning. Think of all the parents who tell their children either literally or by the discrepancy between their words and their actions, “Do as I say, not as I do!”
Sound Moral Reasoning
I wouldn’t want absolute political power. I’ve never sought to be a dictator, even in my own family and as the boss of my own business. I like freedom, both for myself, and for others. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe there is a moral justification for force. Some amount of government is necessary whether you’re a parent, a boss or a political leader, there are occasions when force is morally justified.
This book is about moral reasoning and government, although I have applied these principles to my family, my business and to organizations in which I’ve held leadership positions. I’ve come to recognize that there is a clear line between political power that protects and enhances freedom and political power that advances tyranny. America is the only country we know of that has at least tried to embrace the principles I’ll be discussing.
America has never fully implemented them, but it is unique in that it is the only country in the world founded on the idea that government was supposed to serve, rather than rule the people. In the words of Abraham Lincoln in the famous Gettysburg address, it is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Lincoln’s phrase may have been adapted from an earlier declaration by Daniel Webster, who said that the American government was “the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.”
This ideal, put forth by the men known as the Founding Fathers of America, has resulted in the great American experiment. Lincoln saw the struggle of the civil war as one that would determine whether this form of government and the moral ideals that fuel it could long endure. Today, we again find ourselves in a struggle to see if the ideals of the Founding Fathers will continue or be lost.
What is unfortunate is that the understanding of the moral principles that laid the framework for the American experiment have nearly been lost. We need to rekindle them in the hearts and minds of the people. We need to help people understand why these principles are vital, not only to our national survival, but to the future of the entire world. My prayer is that my voice will help reawaken people to the great ideal of liberty and its moral foundations.
You may not agree with all of my ideas, but that’s the beauty of freedom. You are free to disagree, and I fully support your right to do so. If we lose the right to disagree, liberty will be destroyed. So, with that in mind, let’s begin.
Click here to read Chapter Two: Liberty is in Danger