Live Free Or Die?

August 17th, 2010   Submitted by William Green

Can slavery be so complete that life is no longer worth living? Is “live free or die” a reasonable motto? Or are there times when living with a bit of servitude is better than death?

We in the USA have not been really free for a long time. In fact, if we define free as “not controlled by obligation or the will of another,” it is questionable whether anyone has ever been truly free in the history of civilization. And yet people have certainly found life worth living. Viktor Frankl, Anne Frank, and Corrie Ten Boom found that life was worth living even in the concentration camps of the National Socialist Party.  Maybe instead of asking “whether there are times when it’s worth living with a bit of servitude,” we should ask whether it is ever worth dying for freedom.

When faced with the choice of yielding to tyranny or resisting, the only reasonable approach is to seek the path of highest fulfillment. Life is about finding fulfillment. This is the only reasonable motivation for doing anything. And fulfillment comes in many different packages: some are physical, like sex and food, and some are more abstract, like honor, love, achievement, freedom, and self-determination.

How much slavery can you accept? What are your chances of victory or escape? And how much fulfillment could be found by resisting or escaping? If the misery of the oppression is very great, if resistance promises great fulfillment, or if there is a good chance of success, then it may well be worth risking death, or dying in a “blaze of glory”. Otherwise, it may make more sense to accept a bit of slavery.

And we also must realize that accepting a bit of outward slavery need not mean living without freedom. I’ve been chewing on this insight from Louis E. Carabini’s recent book:

Liberty is not a battle that requires the conversion of others in order to win. Liberty is won when you accept the idea that you are the sole master of your life; when your life is subordinate to none, and no other life is subordinate to yours. When you accept that idea, you are liberated. There will always be those who will claim to be your master, but you will know otherwise. For a libertarian, paying tribute to Caesar may make sense, but believing that tribute is Caesar’s due does not!

Liberty is not, as Ronald Reagan suggested, a fragile thing. On the contrary, it is mastery that is fragile; its weakness is evidenced by ubiquitous failures, while the liberty inherent in the human spirit is resilient. Nor does liberty require eternal vigilance, as claimed by Andrew Jackson.

Liberty is a state of mind that does not require the indulgence of others.

I think we can live as free men even in concentration camps, public schools, and nanny states.  But sometimes it is worth it to resist.

Bill Green received his Ph.D. at Mississippi State University in 1998. He currently teaches high school chemistry and operates a private tutoring service.  He was a card carrying conservative until he was exposed to the publications of the Foundation for Economic Education and the Mises Institute as well as the writings of Hazlitt, Rothbard, and Rand. Reason led him to the philosophy of liberty, and now he cannot get enough.

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One Response to “Live Free Or Die?”

  1. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    There are a lot of people who still sport the motto “live free or die.” However, these people usually still obey all of the unjust laws in place. Apparently these people have the mindset that it’s okay to die for freedom, but the threat of going to jail is beyond comprehension.

    I used to be one of those people who would cry “live free or die.” At the time I am pretty sure my line of thinking was such that if things get TOO bad that I would be willing to die on the battlefield fighting for freedom.

    That may be well and fine. But it wasn’t until I converted to anarchism that I realized things are already TOO bad. So, I had to ask myself if dying was the best way to fight for liberty right now and I concluded against it, at least for the time being. I figured that if I am prepared to die for freedom, that I might as well be able to spend some time in jail for freedom. Most, but not all, state crimes that a libertarian would commit do not yield life-sentences.

    So, my conclusion became to live like a free individual and if I get arrested for it, so be it. I will consider my jail time like it were a tour of duty on the battlefield. This way I get to live like a free human being now despite not having converted the rest of the world. And secondly, if I get busted I am not yet sent to the grave unlike violent rebellion. Lastly, I figured the best place to live like a free individual would be in New Hampshire. So, I’ve resolved to move there as soon as humanly possible.