Friday, 25 May 2012

"Live Free Or Die..." - thoughts on the imperative of freedom

“Live Free or Die!” goes the motto of New Hampshire – not for that place these cute Latin bon mots but a raw, clear and understandable statement of political intent.

The motto became "Live Free Or Die," as once voiced by General John Stark, the state’s most distinguished hero of the Revolutionary War, and the world famous Old Man of the Mountain was voted the official state emblem.

The motto was part of a volunteer toast which General Stark sent to his wartime comrades, in which he declined an invitation to head up a 32nd anniversary reunion of the 1777 Battle of Bennington in Vermont, because of poor health. The toast said in full: "Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst of Evils." The following year, a similar invitation (also declined) said: "The toast, sir, which you sent us in 1809 will continue to vibrate with unceasing pleasure in our ears, "Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst Of Evils."

We take liberty lightly because we want to believe the best of those around us – including those whose job is to serve. And, as a result, we accept constraints on liberty because they seem for most of us little more than an inconvenience. While we would find it odd to have to justify a daily journey, we accept other little bites into our freedom – the requirement to identify ourselves, the cameras peering at our movements, the regulation of our business and the restriction of our pleasures.

Too often, people who lay claim to being conservatives are in the vanguard of these little attacks on liberty – for, they tell us, freedom is nothing without security. It is as if the post-apocalypse story – perhaps The Postman, maybe just Mad Max – is burned into our psyche. Without authority, without the security that authority brings there is unrule, anarchy, chaos.

At the same time – without any hesitation – those same conservatives cry freedom. The spirit of free enterprise is invoked, the idea of a free nation is proclaimed and, over in New Hampshire, the nation dubs itself; “Land of the Free”. This conflict – between security and liberty – is central to conservatism – it is not resolved any more than the socialist can resolve the need for social control and the idea of man’s perfection. But I will always argue that the imperative of freedom must win – that is the message in the New Hampshire motto, not that freedom means license but that living free, in peace and independent is the aim of politics, government and the life we live.

When asked what drives my politics I usually respond:

“Free Speech, Free Enterprise, Free Trade”

And of these I wrote:

These are the three things that matter most to me - fighting for them is the reason I remain in politics. Little else matters when you get to the crunch - free speech opens the doors of discovery, free enterprise allows us to create wonders from that discovery and free trade allows the riches of that discovery and creation to be shared by all.

Whenever people propose new rules, the controlling of things they don’t like and the directing of people to your purpose rather than theirs, I look at it through the prism of these three freedoms. For it is those very things I wish to conserve – if by the setting of rules we lose some of that liberty, speech, enterprise or trade are compromised then, as conservatives, we should oppose.

“Live Free or Die...” – understanding this is central to conservatism. It is the imperative of freedom.


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