Commonwealth Journal

Columns

July 5, 2012

Reflections on Freedom

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We like to talk a lot about freedom, especially on the Fourth of July. We’re not always so good at practicing it.
This big, heavy notion of “freedom” is about more than waving flags, setting off fireworks and singing patriotic songs. It’s about having the bravery to sacrifice some of your own peace of mind in order that anyone and everyone may have the right to chase their own ideas of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” whether or not you find their ideas about these things wholesome or offensive.
There’s probably no more recognizable Fourth of July figure than founding father Benjamin Franklin. He’s the one who gave us the quote, “Those who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither.”
Hard to argue with Ben Franklin on Independence Day. I sure wouldn’t — I think he’s absolutely right.
More than anything, I’m glad that Somerset voters embraced this same truism last Tuesday. The “wet/dry” debate ultimately came down to a simple dichotomy of thought: Whether or not you most value freedom of choice and behavior, or you most value whatever protection is granted to home and family by not introducing a potential catalyst for harm into the environment.
Somerset voters chose the always risky path, the road less traveled — the path of freedom. It’s less traveled especially in this day and age, when cities enact smoking bans, when New York limits the size of soft drinks, when the president wants to dictate how you obtain health insurance. We happily toss away our freedoms in exchange for authoritative-sounding claims and comforting promises, made by politicians and activists and any other charlatan who comes down the path promising a little bit of added security, if only we’d give up this or that (or better yet, force the other guy to give up something — and there’s always an “other guy”). The stereotypical American indulgence has turned into a mentality of asceticism.

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