“I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
By the known rules of ancient liberty,
When straight a barbarous noise environs me
Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes and dogs:
As when those hinds that were transform'd to frogs
Rail'd at Latona's twin-born progeny
Which after held the sun and moon in fee.
But this is got by casting pearl to hogs,
That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
And still revolt when truth would set them free.
Licence they mean when they cry liberty;
For who loves that, must first be wise and good.
But from that mark how far they rove we see,
For all this waste of wealth and loss of blood."
- John Milton
It isn’t the fact that we are divided politically that should frighten us. We are also increasingly divided between those who believe in the known
rules of ancient liberty and those who do not. This is a far more worrying development than the growing chasms between left and right because a strong
sense of liberty is what allows us to have differing opinions in the first place.
The political polarization, at any rate, is giving us a glimpse of how quickly people are willing to abandon liberty for their own political
advantage. Mobs of hecklers descend upon the freedom of speech, the right to assemble, and the right to associate of political opponents. Vast
corporations determine the boundaries of debate, who can participate, while at the same time profiting off our expressions. The protest has become a
tool of threat and coercion instead of a cry for justice. The presumption of innocence has little moral force in the court of public opinion.
Authorities have pathologized some forms of expressions as mental deviations, and coerced them out of the marketplace of ideas. Corporate media sifts
through the private affairs of our elected officials for reasons of clickbait. Vigilantism, vandalism, and mob coercion gain prominence over due
process. Intolerance replaces tolerance. Injustice replaces justice.
We hear it all the time in one form or another: so what? The various declarations of human rights, constitutions, charters of freedoms, apply only to
governments and not to the private person. This is to point out the obvious. But then again, when used as an argument to justify the opposite of
liberty, which is one degree or another of slavery and authoritarianism, we abandon each other's natural rights by an appeal to law. The principles
upon which our constitutions are codified are universal. They are the reasonable approaches to citizenship, to one another’s liberty, and they have
been over so long that to do otherwise would be unreasonable and unjust almost by definition.
This leaves us in the strange situation that wherever governments have pledged to defend these principles, the people they govern have made no such
promise to one another.
So a question remains for the citizens of free and open societies:
Do you believe in liberty?