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In Chains

Mises Daily: Sunday, February 28, 1999 by

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After the hysterical attack on James Bovard's new book in the Los Angeles Times, the sober Reese column below is a welcome tribute to a courageous journalist.



The Orlando Sentinel
February 28, 1999

James Bovard, the American government's most unfavorite journalist, has done all who value liberty a great service. He has meticulously documented freedom's demise in America and set it all in its proper philosophical framework.

An intelligent reader of Freedom in Chains: The Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen (St. Martin's Press) will have no doubt left that American liberty is now more myth than reality and that the U.S. government is drifting inexorably toward an authoritarian state.

It is the documentation -- the specific cases, the specific rulings, the specific statements -- that create the menacing mosaic of a state with an insatiable appetite for more power.

"To blindly trust government is to automatically vest it with excessive power. To distrust government is simply to trust humanity -- to trust in the ability of average people to peacefully, productively coexist without some official policing their every move. The State is merely another human institution -- less creative than Microsoft, less reliable than Federal Express, less responsible than the average farmer husbanding his land, and less prudent than the average citizen spending his own paycheck." So Bovard writes in his last chapter.

That should give you the flavor of the book. I will leave the rest to you and simply add my own comments to reinforce his theme.

Truly, freedom is the capacity to make decisions in the absence of coercion. Because every law, by its nature and regardless of its subject, commands us to do something or not do something, it follows like a river down a hill that freedom is diminished law by law, regulation by regulation, for each one eliminates a decision we could have made ourselves.

American tyranny has come gradually, like a slowly rising river. Each of us does not realize the danger until the water comes in our door. Until then,it is merely someone else's problem and a problem that we fool ourselves into thinking won't reach us.

The big problem I see for those of us who care about freedom is that we are not organized. Rather we are separate, little groups concerned mainly about one particular subject, whether it's freedom to own firearms or property rights or press rights or religious rights. Half the time we don't even communicate, and in some cases we oppose each other.

Many newspapers, fierce about the First Amendment, actually lead the campaign against the Second Amendment. Urban folks, mostly renters or mortgage payers, tend to be unsympathetic to the encroachment on property rights, which, at the present, mainly hits large property owners such as farmers or developers.

On the other hand, statists -- those ideologically driven to increase the power of the state to the point at which no individual freedom is left -- tend to be united and organized.

I don't know how it will end. Many Americans, it seems to me, prefer security to freedom. There is, after all, a rough and raw side to freedom, for it means assuming personal responsibility for income, home, safety and health. It means the discipline to plan and to forego the immediate pleasure for the more distant payoff. It means hard work and a frugal habit. It means the courage to risk failure, to risk loss and the endurance to survive them. It isn't easy.

You could say freedom is like a wild mustang that is difficult to mount and to ride and that lots of folks prefer the comfort of a carriage drawn by government-broke horses.

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Charley Reese writes a regular column for the Orlando Sentinel that is syndicated nationally.