Liberty cannot be defined without also defining government because each is the polar opposite of the other. Of course both can and do exist at the same time, but each is diminished to the extent the other exists.
Someone rushes to point out that government makes liberty safe. In fact government may sometimes protect us from some harm, but government’s presence with the power of force and coercion threatens liberty.
Our federal government today is the living example and primary proof of that statement. We began under a written constitution providing for a limited government with enumerated powers. The noble purpose of that experiment in government was to provide protection for the individual to enjoy nearly unlimited rights, but with complete control of, and responsibility for, themselves while always respecting the equal rights of others. In those ancient days rights were understood as freedoms of action within which anyone could act as they pleased so long as they respected the equal rights of others. That Constitution provided not only those rights specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights but the unlimited rights referred to in the 9th amendment.
Over time, at the expense of our liberty and individual rights, our protector government grew in size and power. The executive and the legislative each increased their powers beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. The politically appointed Supreme Court repaid the favor of their appointments by agreeing to the gradual, then rapid, dismemberment of the Constitution that limited government power and protected liberty.
Since 1787, slavery has been ended, blacks and other races and ethnic groups are far better off than in earlier periods, but with those exceptions, government power anf liberty have changed places. We have become individuals with enumerated and gradually diminishing limited rights under a government of increasingly unlimited powers.
Our Supreme Court Justices are now part of the federal political aristocracy that rules us.
An yet, if I could travel back in time knowing what I know today, what could I advise the Constitutional Convention that might insure the long lasting liberty and limited government that they sought to leave us. I doubt they could do better than what they did.
I have a long list of candidates for changes to the Constitution. Term limits is on that list of course. But recently I have come to doubt that any government possessing the police power, taxation and other means of coercion can be limited. Not over an extended period of time.
Jefferson said as much: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, & government to gain ground.”
In fact Jefferson is the perfect example: those who wrote the Constitution were more able and better prepared to construct that document than we are today. Which is why I wonder if there is any change that would have prevented government from discovering a way to increase its power. The use of force and coercion defines government. That is why it is the opposite of liberty. And that makes government too fearful an institution to invite into any society that wishes to be free.
Economic Freedom of the World as ranked by the Fraser Institute reports the average economic freedom of all 152 nations has risen in recent years. That’s wonderful. However, in the period from 2000 to 2013 the United States has fallen from #3 position to #17. Now examine the graph below remembering that for the first 100 years Federal spending growth averaged less than 2 % per year. (Unfortunately I cannot find usable information for national economic growth in the 1800s. I believe it to be in excess of 6% per year.