The Importance of Freedom

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The Importance of Freedom

July 4th, 2020

4 minute read

Freedom is America’s foundational principle. Individual liberty is the foundation or principle around which everything else in the American system is structured. It is America’s founding idea. But it’s not simply an old idea that led to starting America as an independent country; it remains today as the organizing concept of America.

Freedom is a foundational principle of America, and one that represents our natural rights.

If we want to understand what makes America what it is, as well as understand what lets people thrive, we need to understand freedom. In this piece, we will explore the meaning of freedom, why it is important as a value, why it is useful in a utilitarian sense and why we should defend it.

What Truly Matters

What is freedom, or liberty? Freedom begins with the fundamental idea of self-determination. In America, this concept is recognized in the Declaration of Independence as inalienable rights — we are born with these freedoms, and they are inherent in our nature.

The Declaration of Independence clearly states the importance of autonomy and freedom. Image: NARA

They are defined in the Declaration as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness; in other words, ownership and control over one’s own life and actions. These rights are inherent in our nature and are not given to us by men or “society” or government — we have them by virtue of our nature as humans. They are the foundational political principle of all legitimate government. The Constitution, the fundamental framework for the government of the United States, is designed around these rights. Every single mention of rights in the Constitution refers to rights of the people, which exist before and independently of government. Governments — federal, state or local — only have powers, which are granted to them by those whom they serve: the people. The Constitution establishes and limits government power, and this idea of limited government is another foundational American principle, one derived from our principle of freedom.

Rights and Responsibilities

What are these individual rights, then? Simply put they are inherent limits on what each of us can legitimately do, without violating each other’s rights. Within these limits, we can do as we choose, and we bear the consequences — good or bad — of our choices. Freedom of thought, to consider ideas and to adopt the views that seem best to us; freedom of speech and press, to express our ideas, whatever they are and regardless of whether others approve or not; freedom of action, including freedom of religion, to do as we choose so long as we don’t violate others’ equal rights; freedom of owning property, material possessions, so long as we have acquired them legitimately, i.e. not through theft via force or fraud. These rights obligate others — individuals and governments — to respect our rights within our proper spheres of action.

Consider what these rights mean. Freedom of thought means every individual has the right to consider whether ideas are true or false, or good or bad, and to adopt them accordingly. And each has the responsibility to bear the consequences of their choices. The same holds for our actions that flow from our thoughts. We as individuals each have the rights to organize our own lives, to think and speak as we each see fit, to work and to exchange with others as we wish, and to spend our time and use our property as they choose — so long as we don’t violate the rights of others. And our rights include the right to defend ourselves and our freedoms. The Right to Keep and Bear Arms is a fundamental part of that freedom.

The Founding Fathers were well aware of the importance of freedom and its role in a modern society. Image: NARA

A Fundamental

Rights, freedom, and liberty, correctly understood, are the basis of what is America. But they are also fundamental to successful, peaceful, prosperous civilization. It is important to understand that freedom is a fundamental value that is worth pursuing for its own sake, freedom is necessary and useful for peace and prosperity, and how important it is that we defend our freedom. It is what this nation was founded upon.

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Dr. Charles N. Steele

Dr. Charles N. Steele

Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics at Hillsdale College, and is also chairman of the Department of Economics, Business, and Accounting.  He has a Ph.D. in Economics from New York University, as well as a Master’s degree in Applied Economics and a Bachelor’s degree in History, both from Montana State University. When not working, he loves shooting, trail running, backpacking, and mountaineering.

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