Governments can and do give us freedom from choice and freedom from responsibility for our own lives. But these are false ‘freedoms’ that we must never make the mistake of desiring. If enough of us do then we will all lose our true freedom.
On the fall of ancient Athens famed historian Edward Gibbon concluded:
“In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”
Freedom from choice is a false freedom that can seem appealing to those of us who get anxious or overwhelmed at the plethora of choices available to us in almost every aspect of our lives in free-market capitalist societies. Freedom from responsibility is another false freedom that can seem desirable to those of us who don’t want to or find it particularly difficult to put in the mental and physical effort required to keep themselves reasonably healthy and safe.
Freedom from choice and freedom from responsibility also seem desirable because of the perverse use of the term ‘freedom’. Because we usually use the term ‘freedom’ to mean the state of not being subject to or affected by an undesirable or harmful thing, these two phrases imply that choice and responsibility for our own lives is undesirable and/or harmful to us, and therefore that to be free from these states is preferable.
Words can exert enormous influence over our hearts and minds. Because we so strongly associate words like freedom or love with everything that’s good and joyous about life they can be used to deceive us into believing or desiring almost anything. For example, if I say “freedom from existence”, how does that make you feel? I bet you aren’t primarily feeling sad or scared at the thought of death and that’s because the sheer resonating positivity of the word ‘freedom’ is masking the true meaning of the phrase. Or, at the very least you’re probably feeling a numbing ambivalence that is achieving a similar effect.
Government intervention and regulation into markets creates varying degrees of freedom from choice. In other words it reduces the options we have to choose from as consumers by having the effect of reducing the number of suppliers of and the number of products and services in markets. This affects all areas of our lives to varying degrees, but it is particularly apparent in centralised or heavily regulated markets such as banking, education, medicine and medical care. Worse still where there are fewer options there is also invariably less downward pressure on prices, which means it is either less likely for prices to go down, or if they do it happens more slowly than it otherwise would have.
Freedom from choice is closely related to freedom from responsibility for our own well-being. The only way the government can regulate for me, for example, my eating habits is to reduce the choice of food available to me and the rest of society. The only way it can achieve this is by using coercion (threats of fines and imprisonment) against innocent people to prevent them from producing and selling certain products, or to dictate to them what ingredients they can use or even how they can advertise their products.
If I want the government to regulate my behaviour for me, then it must result in innocent people being harmed. Other people are effectively punished because I am unable or unwilling to regulate my own behaviour, which is an injustice and no foundation for a free and peaceful society.
It harms no one else, however, if I take responsibility for my own well-being and regulate my own behaviour by exercising will-power and refraining from excessively partaking of the many tasty, but so not healthy, options in the market. It’s the same with alcohol, cigarettes and any other product that can be harmful to health. The fact that some people are unable or unwilling to regulate their consumption of alcohol or cigarettes does not justify forcing producers to raise the cost of their products or restricting where they can sell or advertise their products in an attempt to help alcoholics and smokers.
If we let governments take responsibility for our lives, then they must have the power to restrict and make our choices for us. But life is all about choices. We are our choices. The choices we make reflect who we are as individuals and express what we want to be and do. They reflect our values, beliefs and the purpose we have given to our lives. If we allow people in government to determine the options we have and which of those options we can choose, then we cannot be ourselves; the most we can be is a human medium through which those who are controlling us express their choices, values and beliefs – however depraved, botched or evil they are. History, from ancient Athens to Nazi Germany, has shown us as much.
Edward Gibbons wrote that ancient Athenians eventually wanted “…not to give to society, but society to give to them” and in a case of history repeating itself we find the same thing happening in the UK today. A recent study to determine whether immigrants to the UK are taking more from the State than they are putting in revealed just how much UK natives want society to give to them. The study showed that between 1995 and 2011 UK natives made a negative net contribution of £591 billion. The difference between Ancient Athens and modern Britain is that most of this wealth wasn’t produced and given by society, but by virtue of the UK government’s power to borrow money using the future earnings of the unborn as its collateral. It was stolen from the future.
Freedom from choice and freedom from responsibility are no freedoms; they are the signs that our freedom is fading.