What Does Liberty Really Mean to You?

By David Galland, Casey Research

For some time now – years actually – I have pondered the nature of liberty. Or more specifically, what liberty actually means to me. And to be extra clear, I am not talking about the meaning in abstract or philosophical terms, but tangibly – in much the same way I might answer if asked what my wife means to me.

The trigger for this entirely personal discourse comes from reading various articles and viewing various YouTube videos and speeches from self-styled champions of liberty (COL). There is even an entire conference, Mark Skousen's FreedomFest, dedicated to the topic.

Invariably, these well-meaning COL rail against "The Man" (something I do myself), accentuating their public angst by sharing stories of being molested by the TSA or otherwise inconvenienced by minions of the state. It is my contention that most of these individuals, and certainly the majority of "freedom-loving" Americans, don't actually understand the meaning of liberty, but rather give the matter little more than lip service.

And again, I don't mean liberty in an abstract way – like, say, "world peace" – but tangibly.

Now, before going on, tripping emotional wires as I do, I feel the need to quickly establish my bona fides on the topic. I start with the simple fact that with age, and 58 years old counts, comes perspective. In addition, unlike most of today's COL, I have actually been jailed for rioting against authority – at the naïve age of 14, as the result of actively participating in the toe-to-toe anti-war confrontations during the Oakland Induction Center Riots of the late 1960s.

In addition, as over-the-top as it now sounds, along with my now-departed friend and colleague of many years, Jim Blanchard, I spent many months assisting the RENAMO-led freedom fighters raise awareness in their fight against Mozambique's vicious dictatorship. The adventure ultimately ended up with us in a very tight spot under house arrest in neighboring Malawi, followed by a high-speed car chase with the Malawian secret police in hot pursuit.

I have been directly involved with prominent members of the freedom movement in the US as part and parcel of my business career since a very young age, including running the 1980 Libertarian Presidential Nominating Convention in Los Angeles at the request of my friend Ed Crane, the founder of the Cato Institute. Furthermore, I have been friends, business associates, or acquaintances with too many well-known COL to recount here, starting with my business partner of many years Doug Casey, but also Harry Browne, Milton Friedman, and even Ayn Rand (I arranged for and hosted her at her last public appearance before she died).

And finally, I would mention my involvement in helping to create La Estancia de Cafayate in a remote wine-growing region of Argentina, without question the largest and most successful community of largely libertarian-minded individuals on the planet.

All of which is to say that I'm not arriving to this discussion fresh off the back of a turnip truck.

So, what does liberty mean to me?

In the simplest and purest terms, it means being free to come and go as I please.

Of course it would be my strong preference to come and go without the charade and indignity of transportation security instituted by most nations these days (ironically, the "Land of the Free" being the worst of the lot). But, unlike some prominent COL, I don't make the mistake of conflating transiting airports with protesting against the inanity of transport security.

That's because if I wanted to mount a protest against TSA, I would do it in an organized fashion. Say, by arranging for a large and loud demonstration at whatever passes for TSA's headquarters, making sure that the media was there to provide coverage. I certainly wouldn't do it ad hoc without media present, on a day when I actually needed to travel from point A to point B.

After all, like trees falling in remote woods, if a protest happens and there's no media to record it, was there a protest?

The polar opposite to being free to come and go as one pleases, the essential tenet to my personal definition of liberty, is to be trapped in a jail cell. Been there, done that – and very much have no interest in doing it again.

Thus, I avoid engaging in activities where one of the possible outcomes is being arrested and jailed. For example, making angry displays when a TSA minion asks me to take off my shoes.

Now, I realize that the degradation of principles and justice in countries such as the US means that pretty much everyone breaks a law or three every day, but miscarriages of justice resulting in an innocent person being sentenced to jail (or gunned down) are statistically very rare. Yes, they happen – but so does getting struck by lightning. Thus, when I talk about acting in a fashion unlikely to lead to being locked up in a cage, I'm talking about playing simple odds.

And no, I don't need to be a cowering sheep to keep the odds of my being jailed near zero. Rather, I just need to take note of the laws of whatever land my feet are currently planted on and avoid tripping over the big stuff.

In the US, for example, walking around with a bag of pot in your pocket could lead to jail time. In Uruguay or Amsterdam or dozens of other countries, it's legal. So, when in the US – again, ironically still called "the Land of the Free" – I can manage without the pot. (Actually, I've done without pot for many decades; I'm just using this as an illustration.)

Failing to pay the legally proscribed amount of taxes is another easy way to end up in jail. As a US citizen, there's no denying I'm trapped in a tax regime I find abhorrent and counterproductive to the building of capital. That's a big disadvantage compared to many countries.

But am I willing to trade my liberty for the money I might be able to hide from the IRS? Hardly. That would be the equivalent of choosing the latter when confronted by a gun-wielding thug demanding my money or my life.

Does this mean I'm powerless against the institutionalized theft of taxation? Not at all.

It just means I have to work harder to uncover legal ways to minimize the tax bite, starting by hiring good counsel. And let's not forget, for the citizens of most countries, minimizing the tax burden is as simple as getting on a plane, as – unlike the Land of the Free – they don't tax non-resident citizens on worldwide income.

As for US citizens, if the issue is important enough to you, there are specific steps you can take to legally avoid the taxes altogether, by replacing the passport you carry in your pocket. It's not particularly quick or easy, but if paying less (no?) taxes is that important to you, then there are clear paths to accomplishing just that objective without risking the loss of your liberty.

I'm not making these comments cavalierly, but rather to point out hard facts about the world we live in.

So, freedom to come and go is the core principle of my personal liberty. What else?

Well, part of that freedom has to do with personal finances. Namely, you can have all the liberty in the world, but if you don't have the money necessary to actually travel, you probably aren't going to get very far… at least not in a fashion you might enjoy.

While there are countries such as North Korea where the government makes accumulating any wealth almost impossible (unless you are part of the dictator's inner circle), in most of the world, this aspect of life – call it "financial freedom" – has far more to do with a person's willingness to work hard than anything else.

That said, I readily acknowledge that governments everywhere are a constant weight on the entrepreneur's back. Yet, simply looking at the facts as they are, I personally know dozens of people, here in the US – and in places like Argentina, where the government makes doing business an order of magnitude more difficult – who, through their own creativity and exertions, are fabulously successful.

As something of a tangent, while generalizations are rarely useful, in my direct experience many individuals who paint themselves as libertarians have trouble coming up with the proverbial two nickels to rub together. Doug Casey and I have discussed this on more than one occasion, and I don't think either of us has a good answer. If pressed to it, I would hypothesize that it has to do with a latent inability to work as part of a team, something libertarians tend not to be very good at but which is often required to launch a successful career. In support of that hypothesis, look no further than the reality that the Libertarian party has never been able to mount an effective national political campaign.

Back to the point, despite the government's meddling, financial freedom is imminently attainable for individuals who focus on their work and who put in steady efforts at increasing their personal knowledge (including learning how to handle your money, once you have some). Of course, succeeding may not be easy... it rarely is, though it can be.

While I'm sure there are additional nuances to my personal definition of liberty that I could mention, the big point is that as long as I am free to come and go as I please and have the capability to build the wealth I need to do so, then I have pretty much all the liberty I need to enjoy my limited lifetime on this planet. After all, with those two conditions in place, if one place becomes too unfree for my taste, I can move on.

"Wait a second!" some of you may find yourselves thinking indignantly.

What about the wholesale trampling of the US Constitution in recent decades? What about the militarization of the domestic police force here in the US? What about the loss of freedom in the Land of the Free?

I might respond with a sad shake of the head and by mouthing words such as "tragic," or "damn shame," or even "it's outrageous, criminal even." And there's no question it's all of those things and more. The idea of America in its youth was amazing, especially considering the era in which it was birthed. But that idea has been so diluted at this point to be almost meaningless… here in the United States.

And therein lies the importance of being able to travel freely. You see, unlike many, I refuse to define myself by the artificial borders that were determined solely by an accident of birth. Why should I?

Do I relate to the idea of America? Of course; what thinking person wouldn't? But during these philosophical Dark Ages for freedom in the United States, what practical purpose does clinging onto that idea serve?

To use an overused comparison, what practical purpose would it have served for the head of a Jewish family during Hitler's Germany to stand on a street corner handing out anti-Nazi pamphlets? The obvious answer is "none." It would have just resulted in the ultimate loss of liberty – his death and likely that of everyone he loved.

Personally, I look at the Americans and I see a people who have been very effectively brainwashed, or who simply have given in to the entirely human tendency to shuffle unquestioningly onto the path of least resistance and let themselves go.

I see a people who, on a wholesale basis, have consciously or unconsciously decided to trade the idea of America for the false security of a totalitarian state.

While there are voices in the woods, such as Ron Paul, that warn of the consequences, I'm trying to focus today on hard realities. And the hard reality is that if you were to assemble all 300 million US citizens in an auditorium to listen to well-presented arguments for less vs. more government and then ask for a show of hands, the vast majority would raise their hands in favor of the current system that has the state deeply involved in pretty much every aspect of the economy and society at large.

Skeptical? Then ask yourself what percentage of the audience would raise their hands in favor if asked the following:

"How many of you want Social Security to remain intact?"

"How many think the government should subsidize health care?"

"How many think the rich should pay more taxes?"

Or ask your questions in the negative, and watch how few hands stick in the air.

"How many of you think the Food and Drug Administration should be abolished?"

"How many of you think recreational drugs, including cocaine and heroin, should be legalized?"

"How many of you think the Department of Education should be shuttered?"

"How many of you think that the tax credit for mortgages should be canceled?"

At the end of the exercise, the level of support for the very same tangled body of state-controlled handouts, regulations and central economic planning now choking the last gasps of life out of the body politic would be obvious and overwhelming.

The practical point I am trying to make here is that the COL are fighting against a very entrenched and increasingly dangerous public mindset. Some like to hearken back to the days of the revolution when prominent men in the community risked it all to overthrow the British. I would contend that the situation today is totally different. Then it was a foreign enemy daily adding salt to the open wound of what was essentially an occupation by marching troops around and passing highly unpopular and often arbitrarily punitive laws. Today the enemy (of true freedom) is within. In fact, the nation is overrun by them… they dominate in most every community, in most businesses and even in most families.

And your fellow citizens don't want what the COL are selling. Sure, there are a fair number – for instance, members of the Tea Party – who might be sympathetic on a largely abstract level, but drill down into the specifics by asking questions such as those above and you'll quickly find just how far off the grid you are.

So what's the point?

  1. Face the facts – free no more. Contrary to popular delusions, the United States is no longer the Land of the Free – either in terms of its judicial system or its market structure.

    Rather, it is the land of the paranoid, the state-dependent, supporters of Guantanamo and permawar… with the highest incarceration rates in the world, militarized police and… and… and…

    That said, it's also the land of the convenient shopping, relatively inexpensive food and housing and trains that run on time. Provided you pay attention not to trip over the big legal no-nos, you can enjoy a very high standard of living (though, in fairness, that's true of most of the world).

    If, on the other hand, you don't think you can stay out of trouble here or in any country whose government is becoming a danger to residents, then go somewhere else. Or, to quote my friend and partner Doug Casey, "Stop thinking like a serf."

  2. Define what it is you want from your life. And I am speaking about this life, not some promised afterlife. Do you really want to put yourself on the front line of a battle that the vast majority of the populace wouldn't support you in?

    If the answer is "yes," that you are willing to lose your liberty – the ability to travel freely – in support of the cause, then I can only wish you well. I hope at the end of your life, which in the US could come quicker than you'd like, you'll have found satisfaction and purpose in the struggle. Just be sure you are clear on your objectives and are willing to accept the consequences.

Of course, I'll continue to support the champions of liberty here in the US, even though I think they are tilting against windmills for the most part. And I will almost certainly find occasion to speak against the totalitarian tide myself, albeit in terms sufficiently tame to avoid leading to a loss of my liberty.

Far more important, as it relates to my personal liberty, I'll continue the process of diversifying my life between political jurisdictions so that if and when things in my native country become unbearably oppressive – and therefore an active risk to my ability to freely go about my business – I can bid it goodbye.

Call me a coward, but in my view it's far better to switch than to fight, especially when the vast majority of my fellow citizens wouldn't know the true meaning of freedom if you served it to them on a silver plate.

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15 thoughts on “What Does Liberty Really Mean to You?

  1. I would like to say that I really enjoy all the comments you all seem to really get it when it comes to freedoms and liberties. I am voting for Romeny because I am voting for a slower death to freedom and liberty. I can't vote for Obama because it would be a very fast track to socialism given his last 3 1/2 year record. I would love to vote for Ron Paul but unfortunetly he has no chance against the establishments.

  2. There is litle to add to this article.America this days is simply corporative fashist state where former liberty has died.I´d recoment to go through Chri Duane "Sons of Liberty Academy".Belive in God and keep your powder dry(O.Cromwell),now I mean finances,especially cash and true money-gold and silver.DON´T LET YOURSELF BRAINWASHED.....Martin

  3. Liberty is a statue in NY harbor. The USPS pictured it on many of its stamps. The public buys the stamps. The government run post office delivers the mail. The post office is something like 50B in debt it can't pay. Go scratch your head.

  4. Glenn, I enjoyed your comment.

    This third rate country which fancies itself as the "GREATEST" is going down pretty fast. There are many countries in which to live where freedom exists, and I am exploring those options. Argentina, Costa Rica and Paraguay are 3 that I am exploring , but Thailand also sounds appealing.

  5. It’s amazing how people given over to extreme positions always view themselves as reasonable and insightful, yet find themselves at odds with those of a similar orientation but of different locale or antecedents.

    For example Nationalists agitate their country towards military adventurism abroad in contest with foreigners similarly motivated. Each expresses similar traits and adjurations of patriotic fervour but lavishes it upon different national objects, according to birth and geographical happenstance.

    They can glorify their revolutionary past while simultaneously suppressing such in other nations, because theirs was exceptional, as are they, but that of others destabilising, because as ideological narcissist they are disturbed when they can't see themselves in its reflection.

    They are not content to allow others the liberty of experimentation and risk of failure; a course ironically heralded as a positive trait in their own and to be emulated, but not without due deference.

    The can subscribe to national myths, such as that they are a people distinct and detached from their colonial antecedents, all to mask the fact that their founders were revolutionary insurgents against the legitimate government of the day, only successful.

    Hence the necessity to portray the struggle as a purely against a foreign and tyrannical oppression, while all the while being the actual incumbent foreign cultural entity in the land that went on to extinguish the rights and liberties of the true indigenous peoples and to eliminate their culture, without relent.

    Religious fundamentalism is another curious example. Christian, Hindu, Jew and Muslim strains have more in common than each give credit to. They have equally conservative outlooks on family, society and duty of observances, yet they contest for exclusive dominance to enforce their only differences; the idiosyncratic nuances of the divinity.

    They equally despise secularism and its offspring, liberalism; the corruption within.

    This brings me to my final example, Anarchists.

    Those given over to political studies are probably familiar with the notion of Left wing Anarchists so I'll forgo belabouring that. I'm far more interested in those of the right, the anarchists in business suits. Who, as with the religious, hold similar beliefs yet still find themselves in a contest to eliminate their ideological competition, in pursuit of monopoly.

    The left wing Anarchist believes that the states order is undesirable, oppressive and deserving of elimination as it is a threat to individual and economic expresion; that it has no place in the conduct of human interactions. They believe that in a dis-ordered society true human nature will flourish and create a non hierarchical lineal society based on individual or collective social interactions, founded upon mutual advantage and free exchange, or, distribution.

    What a remarkable contrast with Libertarians. It seems that as with religious fervours, the societal goals are similar, yet they still seek to eliminate each other based on a difference over the theocratic idiosyncrasies of the seminal Fountainhead.

    With religion it centres on the nature of Gods host, or, as with Christianity, the degrees of divinity. With Anarchists it’s over the place of property in relation to possessive exclusivity, or alienation, where that falls on the selfish/selfless spectrum and which end of that is the desirable or moral one.

    Whether the Anarchist wears a cloth cap or an Armani suit, they equally despise liberalism as an accommodation of the people to the state. Much akin to how their fellow anti-statists, communists, despise socialists for accommodating the working class to the bourgeoisie state.

    They all desire to exist in a purest extreme, but are more than a little bit vague on how to prevent unbelievers from reverting to a centerist compromise by either reinvigorating or reinventing the state, without employing the very organs of compulsion that is its purpose.

  6. A quote from Benjamin Franklin:
    "He who would accept an offer of security in exchange for a measure of freedom deserves neither one".

    A quote from departing President, ex-General and World War II Commanding Officer of European Theater Operations, Dwight D. Eisenhower:
    “…beware The Military-Industrial Complex”.

    And a quote from the subject article: '...and trains that run on time." [So…?]
    Last year we were confronted with a trip from Florida to New Jersey to attend my wife's mother's funeral. We REFUSE to subject ourselves to the presently paranoid, irrational, ignominious and demeaning “security” scrutiny at the airport, so we chose to travel by train. We had not traveled by train since the late 1940s. We endured a 27-hour ride each way in a 1950s type train, traveling by bouncing, sometimes violently, along a poorly aligned and ballasted track, reminiscent of a Third World Country train, not an advanced, industrialized country. I guess that one half (or two thirds) of the money WASTED rebuilding Iraq could have modernized the entire railroad system and given the U. S. citizens a decent, optional mode of travel besides having to drive, which is very difficult at our age. We would have gladly accepted 30 minutes to one hour late on a modern, comfortable train. I am a WWII veteran and I feel that we (veterans and civilians who endured the hardships and sacrifices of WWII) are getting what we DON'T deserve!
    P. S, We arrived 15 minutes late any way.

  7. Liberty means to me health, above all else, requiring as needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, protection from violence and ability to travel about as I see fit and speak my mind in public, as well as private, to learn and grow. All else is smoke and mirrors, priest-craft, corrupted politics, ...

  8. A Romney-Ryan campaign ad cloaked as a rational appeal to our longing for individual freedom. It seems that this website cannot refrain from poking it's own political views on what now seems to be a more frequent, (wonder why) & not so subtle basis. I for one look was for trading tips and related news, not right wing lectures on definitions of liberty and your interpretation of what constitutes social and political justice for individuals. BTY Adam stop the not so subtle political inferences and come out and tell us what you really think politically . You owe your readers and subscribers that much, rather than hiding behind the odd anti Obama jabs that you've unsuccessfully managed to disguise. Anyway I started off reading your columns with some interest & respect. Now however, I've had about enough.

    1. Jas Manak,

      Are you sure your comment is in the right place? This article does not support Romney at all. If anything, it supports Ron Paul who is not even in the race.

  9. David, thank you for a thoughtful and insightful article. I'm with you and Ron Paul on everything, including the tough questions. Yes, abolish social security and medicare, yes, abolish the dept. of Education, the IRS, the Fed, etc. I'm totally serious, like you are, in my love for freedom. The reason is not just because it's better for me personally, but because it is the one that maximizes dignity for humanity. For example, if there were a law being proposed that all tax money should go directly to me, I'd be opposed to it because it's wrong. It doesn't matter if it makes me a trillionaire. I don't want to be a trillionaire if it means committing a crime to do so.

    The most important point you make I believe is this: "You see, unlike many, I refuse to define myself by the artificial borders that were determined solely by an accident of birth. Why should I?"

    National borders today have very little to do with the actual needs of the people as they once did. For the most part, they are only there because of governments jealously guarding their power and position in the world. Take away all world governments and national borders, move people around, give them a bit of amnesia to forget the particulars of where they lived and who they knew, but keep their fundamental skills, knowledge and values in tact, you can be sure the borders would be erected VERY differently. This fact is the sole cause of tension in the world, and as long as governments continue to act as the self-interested, self-centered, jealous, overzealous, lying, incompetent behemoths that they are, the tension will remain.

    The best an astute person such as myself or yourself can do at this point, is to just wait until the inevitable happens, ie. that the system collapses and most big governments go bankrupt, so we can be ready to form a new society based on genuine principles of liberty. And if it figures to happen only after we die, then we should be raising our children to prepare for it in the same way, if by no other means than by having children and passing the wisdom on to them.

    Just wanted to share those thoughts and thank you again for a thoughtful and insightful article.

  10. I'm in American that has been living in Thailand for years. Now, the government here does interfere with farn crop prices, etc, and I don't like it. Should I plant sugar, rice, rubber trees? The choices aren't easy, when the information and prices are being distorted. That being said, Most American are totally unaware of how unfree they are. We have been livng in a fish bowl for far too long and have little knowledge of the freedoms that exist in other Countries. I regrettably must agree with the author. Freedom is nearly dead in the US, and most haven't a clue how close to a police state we have become. Why isn't freedom and free enterprise being encouraged, being celebrated in the US? The possible answers do give me reasons to be concerned

  11. There's just one problem here. The ability to come and go as you please only really matters if there's a better place to go to from here. Globalization seems to work in more than one area - where's that better place now? Used to be you could dream of escape to a place with either a sane government, or one with so many of its own problems they didn't bother with you and you could fly under the radar. Where is that place now?

    If I'm in a cesspit, and free to leave, but everywhere else is also a cesspit, how am I free in any meaningful sense?

    1. Not a problem at all if you have had the opportunity to live abroad. There are many to choose from.

  12. David, I am sure soo many people feel your pain. I would just like to say something. I can appreciate so much and am so thankful for the founding fathers of the USA. The choice they made for many of them to end up with literally nothing after the war is none other then Heroic. Unfortunatly below is the history of any great Civilization and I am sure the USA is at the top of the list and if you think the USA has any other progression thnk again. In my opion we are at either the Complacency to appathy or the appathy to dependance stage of the progression. You can form your own opinion. It's a sad story no matter how you view it.

    "The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years.

    During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

    From bondage to spiritual faith;
    From spiritual faith to great courage;
    From courage to liberty;
    From liberty to abundance;
    From abundance to complacency;
    From complacency to apathy;
    From apathy to dependence;
    From dependence back into bondage

    Be assured that also throughout history there is always a group of idiology (Communisum, Socialism, Fascism, Islamism etc) that will be the conquour that preforms the last stage from dependence back into bondage.

    1. I paraphrase George Washington who said Government is force, like fire, a dangerous servant, and a fearsome master.

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