You have been handed freedom. You have been granted Liberty.
You have inherited these things like someone might receive a broken-in sweater or a reliable family car. Many owners before you have been handed these same things, and more or less, have taken care of them so that you too could have them one day. Now, what kind of a steward will you be? Have you ever thought about the people who actually had to earn this freedom? Have you considered the risk they took to seize their Liberty from those who would crush them, if they failed?
Have you considered what they would ask of you to preserve it for future generations? Believe it or not, they wrote a manual of sorts for you and they have already asked you to protect your Liberty with your time, your property and, if necessary, your life.
George Washington answered the question before it was asked when he said “it may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a Free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it.” Thomas Jefferson asked “what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms!” and Patrick Henry directed to “guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force.”
But instead, evidenced by the rapid erosion of our liberties, we have failed to take these prescient warnings seriously. We have become apathetic to the principles for which our founding fathers were willing to sacrifice an established life.
Charles de Montesquieu once said, “The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.” Additionally, Thomas Jefferson warned, “lethargy [is] the forerunner of death to the public liberty.” More recently, Ronald Reagan added, “freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again.” John Dewey knew this when he observed that “the trouble…is that we have taken our democracy for granted; we have thought and acted as if our forefathers had founded it once and for all. We have forgotten that it has to be enacted anew in every generation, in every year and day, in the living relations of person to person in all social forms and institutions.” And Justice Louis Brandeis added, “those who won our independence believed… that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.” This is not just a new concept, because over 2000 years ago Plato observed, “the punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men.” His own student, Aristotle wisely added, “what is common to many is taken least care of, for all men have greater regard for what is their own than for what they possess in common with others.”
Yet despite the sage guidance offered to their fellow Greeks, an English historian, Edward Gibbons, wrote the epitaph: “In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free.” Frederick Douglass predicted the end of freedom to those who did not take an even more lively role in guarding their liberty. Not only does apathy represent a risk to Freedom, but possibly lack of action does as well.
He said, “those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle! Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” More concisely, Edmund Burke stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Do you want freedom for your children without “plowing up the ground”? If the answer is yes, then you too will pass the way of the Athenians. What is worse is that you have failed to be a curator of Liberty for future generations. You have robbed future generations of the gift given to you. If your answer is to them, “Forget it, I’m busy right now,” or, “I can’t help, because I own my own business,” then, if Theodore Roosevelt were alive today, he would probably answer, “people who say that they have not time to attend to politics are simply saying that they are unfit to live in a free community.” Winston Churchill might add, “if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”
Author Cynthia Copeland Lewis wisely observed, “it’s easier to throw sticks on the campfire than to try to restart it when it goes out.” Our generation is witnessing the campfire coals dwindling. But because we still have coals, it may not be too late to throw on some sticks. An initial commitment by you might only require about two hours a month to attend your party’s meetings, about five minutes a day to read emails and educate yourself on current politics, and, most importantly, about one weekend day a year to attend a state conference. Is this too much to ask?