Saturday, April 9, 2011


by James Craig Green

Part 1 - Introduction

Builders are people who get things done. They speak when others are silent, act when others speak and build when others destroy. They include the producers and thinkers of society, from whom all wealth and prosperity flow. They don’t expect bailouts, trade restrictions against competitors or other government subsidies. Instead, they want to be left alone to do what they do best - support their friends and families and serve customers willing to pay for their products and services. They can accomplish anything imaginable, but are increasingly reviled, insulted and persecuted for their notions of self-motivated freedom and productive work. They are frequently outvoted in political elections by their polar opposites.

In this series of articles, I will present the ideas of seven freedom builders who contributed to the spirit of the American Revolution and the republic it created. My magnificent seven made great strides in thinking about freedom; especially the relationships between individuals and their governments. These builders are not as well known as many other contributors to the cause of America, but each made a revolutionary and important contribution.

The unprecedented, liberating success of the American Republic resulted directly from its founding principles, including respect for private property, acceptance of personal responsibility, free markets and their necessary consequence, economic risk. This government, unlike any that came before, was created with limited powers and the foundation of a legal system to protect individuals and their property, but not much else. During the last century however, these elegant ideas have been reversed in a fog of collectivism – regressed back to the ancient idea that individuals exist to serve the state instead of the other way around.

Today, governments are bogged down with the hopeless dependency and despair of the welfare state, the final destruction of dishonest fiat currencies like the dollar, and unprecedented levels of public debt which can never be repaid. Today’s government-dominated societies all promote the insane idea that everybody should be responsible for everybody else, but not themselves. This reversal of the Founders’ American spirit must stop, and will stop, because it cannot sustain itself with such anti-human principles and policies. The present course must be reversed immediately, peacefully and smoothly, or it will be reversed later, violently and catastrophically. Government, now a weapon of mass destruction by citizens against other citizens, must return to its protective and dispute resolution functions only, which have become diluted and trivialized by its unmanageable size, complexity and unending contradictions. Most of what government does today is driven by the opposite principles from those upon which the Republic was built.

A first step toward reviving the Republic’s founding principles is to restate them and explain why they were so important. In recent decades, I have been struck by the wide divergence of American governments’ current paradigms from those once considered necessary for prosperity and freedom. Private property has become increasingly regulated, confiscated and restricted. Constitutional limits on government power have been ignored or destroyed while government spending and public debt grow at unsustainable rates. Most Americans have become dependent on government largess at the expense of private property, fiscal responsibility and freedom. This is a recipe for disaster, from which the 2008 financial collapse was only the first, modest installment.

The seven freedom builders discussed in this series demonstrate the American spirit, though only four were Americans and some wrote after the Republic’s founding. Each fought conformity and popular opinion to present principled and courageous views defending freedom and encouraging action against the brutal repression of government. My favorite freedom builders are John Locke, Thomas Paine, James Madison, Frederic Bastiat, Henry David Thoreau, Rose Wilder Lane and Henry Hazlitt. Most were well-known in their time, but not now because their writings don’t support the collectivist groupthink that dominates American schools, media and government, including both major political parties.

Ideas from each of these important authors build upon each other - from Locke’s property to Paine’s fighting words; from Madison’s anti-democracy to Bastiat’s legal and economic theories and Thoreau’s rebellious disobedience. And finally, from Lane’s empowering, self-realized liberty to Hazlitt’s economic public policy. These brave, productive individuals inspired millions of Americans and others to live as free people relying on the free markets that sustain them; with government limited to protection by defending their individual rights. Government cannot be a provider without violating its most sacred trust, which is protection.

I will begin with the Englishman John Locke, the first of my magnificent seven, whose elegant ideas of property and government inspired the Declaration of Independence 85 years before it was a twinkle in Thomas Jefferson’s eye.

The American Republic will endure until Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money - Alexis de Tocqueville

NEXT - John Locke

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