The Biggest Obstacle to Freedom

by Jacob G. Hornberger
Nov. 05, 2014

Expressing their obvious contempt for the overall situation in America, voters played their latest game of musical chairs by putting Republicans back in charge of Congress.

It won't make any difference at all. That's because the Republicans who have been installed into power are as statist as the Democrats they are replacing.

What really matters with respect to a free society is not a new set of statists to replace an old set of statists. That's one of the things that distinguish libertarians from statists. Libertarians understand that the problem in the United States is a structural one, not one involving getting "better" people into public office.

What is that structural problem? Libertarians refer to it as the welfare-warfare state. It involves enormous apparatuses that, many decades ago, statists attached onto our original governmental system in America.

The welfare-state apparatus is based on the concept of mandatory charity. The federal government forces people to be good and caring toward others. The income tax and the IRS are the primary means by which this is accomplished. The federal government taxes people and gives the money to others who the government deems need the money more.

The warfare state apparatus is based on the concept of militarism, empire, and interventionism. It consists of a vast, permanent military and intelligence national-security establishment that is committed to installing and supporting foreign regimes that are compliant and submissive to the dictates of U.S. officials. Regimes that fail to fall into line are considered "rivals" or "enemies" and become the potential targets of invasion, occupation, assassination, sanctions, embargoes, coups, and other devices to bring about regime change. The warfare state is characterized by kidnapping, torture, indefinite detention, assassination, and other practices that normally characterize totalitarian regimes.

Within the welfare-warfare state apparatuses are such programs as the drug war, fiat money, minimum wage laws and other economic regulations, and the Federal Reserve, none of which formed any part of America's original governmental structure.

In order to achieve a peaceful, harmonious, prosperous, and free society, it is necessary to dismantle the welfare-warfare state apparatus rather than "reform" it or elect and appoint "better" people to run the welfare-warfare programs, departments, and agencies.

That would obviously require a monumental shift in the way people think about the role of government. As long as the American people continue to support a welfare-warfare state, nothing fundamental will change. The only thing that will change is the party affiliation of those running welfare-warfare state programs.

One big problem we face is that most Americans have no idea that these two massive apparatuses have been attached to the original government structure. Americans have been inculcated with the false belief that the United States has always had the same type of government.

The biggest problem, however, is that most Americans honestly believe that they are free. Even worse, they are convinced they are free because of the existence of the welfare-warfare state apparatuses (which they don't recognize as apparatuses).

That's why so many mainstream Americans remain befuddled and confused over libertarianism. When they hear us libertarians say that we are fighting for a free society, they don't get it because in their minds, they are living in a free society.

I have personal experience with this phenomenon. I grew up as a Democrat in South Texas. I attended public school from the first grade through the 12th grade. I went to a state-supported college and a state-supported law school. I firmly believed that government should be helping the poor. I never once heard of libertarianism.

One day, in the late 1970s, when I was in my late 20s, a friend gave me a book entitled A Time for Truth by William Simon. I found the book to be interesting but what struck me the most was what I considered a bizarre point that Simon made throughout the book -- about the loss of "liberty" in the United States.

I recall pointing out to my friend how weird that was. I knew we were free. Everyone knew that Americans were free. It's what had been taught to everyone in the public (i.e., government) schools most everyone attended. And yet here was Simon saying that Americans had lost their liberty. How weird was that?

It was about a year later that I discovered a set of books setting forth libertarian principles. All the scales dropped from my eyes. Those essays brought about a breakthrough. I was able to break free of all the indoctrination I had received in those government schools about how free America was. I could now see clearly what Simon was talking about. His concepts about freedom were no longer weird or bizarre to me. Instead, they made total sense.

Notice something important here: If I had never achieved that breakthrough, the notion of achieving a free society would still be considered bizarre to me. That's because a person's quest for freedom necessarily depends on his realization that he isn't free. If he goes through life falsely believing he's free, he will never participate in any movement that purports to achieve freedom. As far as he's concerned, he's already living in a free society.

Thus, the biggest obstacle we face as libertarians is that most American still falsely believe they are free and, even worse, that the welfare-warfare state is the cause of their freedom rather than the means by which their freedom has been destroyed.

While that is a difficult obstacle, fortunately it's not an insurmountable one. After all, consider me. If I could break free of the indoctrination, so can anyone else.

What matters is that we libertarians continue speaking the truth about freedom and what the welfare-warfare state has done to destroy our freedom. What impact such truth will have on people is beyond our control but one thing is for certain: If we fail to speak the truth, Americans will be relegated to continue living in the statist box, expressing gratitude for how "free" they are, and playing musical chairs with Democrat and Republican statists.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News' Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano's show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at and from Full Context. Send him email.

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