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In Chains

February 28, 1999

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

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.

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

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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