A State of Perfect Freedom
By Ted Hicks
Two opposing truths helped shape this fine nation in which we live. First, man is born free. Second, man is imperfect. The Founding Fathers knew these two truths and sought to forge a nation that maintained the former while protecting us from the latter.
While John Locke wrote extensively, he is most widely known for his Second Treatise of Government. In these pages in 1689, Locke wrote:
“To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” [emphasis added]
To understand this sentence is to understand why the John Locke Foundation seeks to make North Carolina First in Freedom.
According to Locke, we are born into perfect freedom. We are naturally free. We are free to do what we want, when we want, how we want, within the bounds of the “law of nature.” The problem that most have in understanding this theory of Locke’s is their frame of reference. Imagine being born on the western plains, prior to the official founding of this nation. In that scenario, you are naturally in an environment of almost perfect freedom. “Almost,” because while you are subject to the laws of nature, you are also subject to the laws of your father and mother. In that environment, you are otherwise unencumbered by government. You and your family are free to do as you please, subject only to the law of nature.
The law of nature tells us that, while you are certainly free to pillage the nearby village, you are likely to face retribution from whom you’ve plundered. Therefore, we can say that perfect freedom is the ability to order one’s life as one sees fit, so long as it does not violate another’s natural rights.
In Federalist #51, James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Indeed. In the Second Treatise of Government, Locke expounds on the causes of government’s necessity. Government is naturally formed when people reside in community. If living in the western plains in pre-settled America, with vast spaces between neighbors, no government would exist. However, as soon as people begin residing in community, government naturally forms. At first this may be little more than a neighborhood watch committee, so as to collectively repel rapidly approaching raiders. As our community grows, however, so does our government.
For example, with additional growth, a committee would then be needed to organize where roads or thoroughfares should be placed. In the founding era, once a community’s population reached 60, they were to form a school for public instruction. Now the body politic would require organization to govern that school. This growth of government is a natural extension of the growth of the community.
Herein lies the problem in which we find ourselves today. Our community, now the largest nation on earth (in terms of GDP; not population), is so big and vast it has created a government as equally big and vast. However, let us return to James Madison and Federalist #51 where he continues, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” In other words, government is needed because man is fallen, to borrow the Christian term. However, because government is run by those same fallen creatures, We The People must provide external and internal controls.
Simply put, if the government is not kept in check, freedoms are slowly eroded.
Government regulations are merely rules put in place that We The People are meant to follow. In general, regulations are couched in logic and are formed with good intentions. Every rule is a mandate to do this or avoid doing that. By its very nature, a rule eliminates freedom to choose. That’s not to say that all regulations are inappropriate, but simply to remind the reader that by their very nature, man-made laws move us further from “perfect freedom.” As a result, we need to be sure that We The People are comfortable giving up a particular freedom.
According to Locke, when one voluntarily joins a community, he/she inherently consents to a forfeiture of some degree of freedom. Locke had a fairly simple conclusion: If a community’s rules become too onerous, one has the freedom to leave the community. Unfortunately, this is a bit theoretical in today’s age. The reality is that North Koreans do not have the freedom to move to South Korea. Most of us have similar, if not as Draconian, restrictions. Do you have the freedom to move out of North Carolina? Well, yes, technically. However, this is where your family resides. This is where your dependable job is located. This is where you can enjoy beautiful mountains and sandy beaches all in a day’s drive. So this is where you’d like to remain … if only you could maintain your freedom.
This is why the John Locke Foundation’s mission is to make North Carolina First in Freedom. We want you to stay here in North Carolina. A free society is a prospering society. We also recognize, however, that man is fallen. In order to have protection from those who wish to do us harm, government plays a critical role. But all that government does is not critical. For example, too much regulation hinders a community’s ability to creatively solve problems.
The questions that we, both “we” the John Locke Foundation and “we” the people of North Carolina, must wrestle with are these: Has our government gone too far? Have we eroded too much of our freedom with too many rules and restrictions? If the asnwers are “yes,” can we then rectify unnecessary or unprofitable rules with their elimination? Naturally, we must also question proposed rules by asking ourselves, “Will this rule move us further from ‘perfect freedom’?” Since the answer to this last question is likely “yes,” we must then ask, “is it worth it?”
As a member of the Board of Directors of the John Locke Foundation, I hope you will support us as we continuously strive to make North Carolina First in Freedom.
C. Theodore Hicks II is the owner of Hicks & Associates, an Ameriprise Private Wealth Advisory Practice, former President of the Durham Republican Party, and a member of the Board of Directors of the John Locke Foundation