This I Believe

Michael - Palos Verdes, California
Entered on March 6, 2007

The creator of this program, Edward R. Murrow, risked his reputation and maybe even his life when he publicly challenged Senator Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare. Today, it is equally important to speak out against governments that continue to obliterate civil liberties under the guise of public interest.

For me, the Constitution lies at the center of my moral code because it defends the most powerful idea in the world: liberty. Liberty encompasses everything that I love. It is an ideal that I would die to protect. Liberty has created prosperity wherever it has spread. It is synonymous with religious freedom, economic growth, and peace. A society has never collapsed by being too free. War has never been waged between two nations as a result of their having too much freedom. A man has never perished in vain when empowered through liberty to make his own decisions. Liberty always triumphs. As Clarence Darrow observed, “You can be free only if I am free.” The plantation owner failed to understand this when enslaving his fellow man. The Nazis ignored this reality when committing acts of genocide. Eventually, they both met their downfall. Liberty can only thrive in universal terms. It must be applied indiscriminately to all situations. The individual must always have any freedom that does not tread upon the liberties of another.

Do you ever question the merit of government television advertisements urging you to not smoke? Do you ever ask, “Why should they have any say in the matter?” Hugo Grotius reflected, “Liberty is the power that we have over ourselves.” I wholly subscribe to the notion that only the individual should decide what is best for his life. He should be free to consume, say, or do anything he wants in any case where he alone reaps the rewards or suffers the consequences of his actions. A nation whose citizens use their own judgment will always prevail over a nation whose government makes choices for them. No matter how harmful a decision may be to the individual, the dangers posed by an authoritarian society that legislates morality and eradicates individual thought are far worse. Government exists to protect liberty, not to impede its blossom.

Unfortunately, as Thomas Jefferson warned, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” The Constitution has slowed this malignant process, but the next day always seems to bring the destruction of another freedom. Today, the government may campaign against smoking, but will it be Big Macs, soda, or candy tomorrow? A man may make decisions that harm his own health or offend others, but what crime is that if his choices do not affect my ability to live as I wish? The fundamental idea of individual sovereignty must be guarded against infringement, or eventually, rights that we consider basic will disappear. A United States without free speech or freedom of the press might seem impossible, but if we continue to erase seemingly unimportant liberties, it may be closer than you think.