Freedom Works Both Ways
by Dean Russell
From Number 38 - June 1989
Everybody says he's in favor of freedom. Even the Soviet leaders claim to
be fighting for freedom. So did Hitler. Our own leaders are also for freedom.
So was my slave-owning grandfather.
But my grandfather failed to understand the fact that freedom is a mutual
relationship; that it works both ways. He thought that he himself remained completely
free even though he restricted the freedom of others. He never grasped the obvious
fact that his participation in slavery controlled him and his actions just as
it controlled his slaves and their actions. Both my grandfather and his slaves
would have been richer - materially as well as spiritually - if he had freed
his slaves, offered them the competitive market wage for their services, and
left them totally responsible for their own actions and welfare. But like most
of us today, he continues to believe that some persons - without injury to themselves
- can legally force other persons to conform to their wishes and plans. He learned
the hard way.
Hitler and Stalin were also victims of the systems they created and enforced.
Their "food tasters," bullet-proof cars, personal bodyguards and constant
fears of assassination were the visible evidence of a part of the freedom they
lost when they decided to force peaceful persons to conform to their
wills and viewpoints. Knowingly or unknowingly, they lost a great deal of their
own freedom when they deprived others of their freedom. That's the way it always
Apparently, our own political leaders, regardless of party are also unaware
that freedom is a mutual relationship among persons; that it works both ways.
Like my grandfather, they are under the delusion that freedom is something which
one person can take from another with no effect on the freedom of the person
doing the taking - especially if it's legal. If they thought otherwise, they
would stop most of the things they are now doing. In the good name of freedom,
our leaders now force others to conform to their viewpoints and prejudices on
housing, savings and retirement, military service, electricity production, hours
of work, wages, education and a host of other items which form the major part
of every person's daily life. All of these are restrictions against freedom because
they are enforced against peaceful persons who would not participate
voluntarily. The freedom of the American people - like the freedom of legal slaves
- is lost to whatever extent they are forced to conform to the ideas, whims and
viewpoints of others. That is all that slavery is. And the fact that the current
restrictions and compulsions are legal doesn't deny that they are acts against
freedom; the slavery of 1860 was also legal!
As long as our officials continue to deprive peaceful persons of their right
to use their time and earnings as they please, the officials will continue to
lose a part of their own freedom along with the rest of us. As long as they continue
to believe that freedom permits or obligates them to force their ideas upon peaceful
persons who do not wish to participate, the system they have created enslaves
them also. They obviously don't understand it, but they are somewhat like the
man sitting on the chest of a person he has pinioned to the ground; as long as
he sits there, he restricts his own freedom about as much as he restricts the
freedom of his victim.
The officials who endorse and defend this system of legalized compulsions and
prohibitions against peaceful persons are compelled to spend most of their time
discussing ways and means - such as propaganda, secrecy, guile, deceit, laws,
policemen, courts, jails, fines and so on - to force the rest of us to conform
to their ideas and plans which we would reject if we were permitted a real choice
in the matter. As long as they continue to enforce this mutually degrading process,
they restrict and destroy the potentialities they have within themselves for
advancement toward human understanding and some worthwhile ideal or goal. Sooner
or later, the restrictions and compulsions they enforce against others will culminate
in some type of an upheaval by an aroused and angry society which the officials
can no longer control. Acts against human freedom - legal or illegal - have always
worked that way. The fact that the intentions of most of our officials are so
good only makes it sadder.
Some day we may realize that freedom is a relationship of mutual nonmolestation
among persons wherein no person uses violence or the threat of violence to impose
his will or viewpoint upon any other person. When enough of us understand this
idea, we will begin to enjoy as much peace and prosperity as it is possible for
us to have on earth.
[This article first appeared as an editorial in The Freeman
February 1955, pp. 291-292. It is reprinted here with some modification to its