by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
Yesterday I wrote about the North Carolina State Constitution and truths that it considers self-evident. Some truths are so self-evident that our state constitution infers them, such as this one: “the blessings of liberty.”
It’s Article I, Section 35, and it sounds quite Jeffersonian:
Sec. 35. Recurrence to fundamental principles.
A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty.
Walter Williams, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, used this portion of the North Carolina State Constitution in making his case for “The Intellectual Defense of Liberty.”
Here’s the meat of Williams’ argument:
For individual freedom to be viable, it must be a part of the shared values of a society and there must be an institutional framework to preserve it against encroachments by majoritarian or government will. Constitutions and laws alone cannot guarantee the survival of personal freedom, as is apparent where Western-type constitutions and laws were exported to countries not having a tradition of the values of individual freedom.
The values of freedom are enunciated in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This value statement, serving such an important role in the rebellion against England and later in the establishment of the Constitution of the United States, was the outgrowth of libertarian ideas of thinkers like John Locke, Adam Smith, Wilhelm von Humboldt, William Blackstone, and others.
Societies with a tradition of freedom, such as the United States, have found it an insufficient safeguard against encroachment by the state. Why? Compelling evidence suggests that a general atmosphere of personal freedom does not meet what might be considered its stability conditions. As is often the case, political liberty is used to stifle economic liberty, which in turn reduces political liberty.
If we wish to keep enjoying the blessings of liberty, then we should make it a frequent occurrence to see that individual freedom is a shared value in our society.