4th of July and the True Nature of Independence

Sumerian symbol which many believe to be the first written expression of liberty.

Sumerian symbol which many believe to be the first written expression of liberty.



Independence is autonomy. It’s the freedom to govern yourself and to rely upon your own independent judgment.

Independence is freedom.

But what, finally, is freedom?

Freedom, in its most fundamental form, really has only one meaning: it is the omission of force.

Freedom is the absence of compulsion.

It simply means that you are left alone.

The thing that distinguishes the free person from the unfree person is voluntary action versus action that is compelled.

Freedom is one of those things that virtually everyone believes in — that is, until everyone finds out what freedom actually means. And then almost no one believes in it.

The hard thing for people to accept about freedom is that it doesn’t actually guarantee much of anything. It doesn’t guarantee success or happiness, or shelter, or a certain income, or food, or healthcare, or a level playing field or a level training field, or anything else that must ultimately derive from the production or labor of others. Freedom means only that you are free to pursue these things and that if you achieve them, they are yours unalienably, which in turns means: they cannot be taken, transferred, revoked, or made alien.

“The legitimate functions of government extend only to such acts as are injurious to others,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia (1785). Here, he’s speaking of — and against — the initiation of force.

Around the same time Thomas Jefferson was writing those words, another erudite fellow, a German named Wilhelm von Humboldt, independently came to much the same conclusion:

“Any state interference into private affairs, where there is no reference to violence done to individual rights, should be absolutely condemned” (The Limits of State Action, 1791).

That — the absence of violence, the omission of force — is finally what Independence Day is all about.

Happy 4th of July.





2 Comments

  • Dave Zoby

    July 4, 2014

    Hey Ray,

    I hate to interrupt your 4th of July pocket-pool tournament, but I found this quote by full-time, tenured professor Jean-Paul Sartre and I thought it might help with your discussion on freedom: “Freedom is what we do with what is done to us.”

  • Ray

    July 4, 2014

    Like virtually everything he and his ventriloquist dolls wrote or said, that one sucks.

    Just so much more Existential meaninglessness you can stick up your ass.

    Thanks for dropping by.

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