"If we intend to use the word freedom in an honest way, we should have the simple integrity to give it real meaning: Freedom is living without government coercion." ~ Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul
At the launch of his Youth for Ron Paul Initiative, Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul proclaimed, "Young people have the passion, energy and dedication to carry on the freedom message."
Young people strongly subscribe to the virtues of initiative, independence, choice and responsibility. We want to take ownership of our economic futures and feel that we have control over our destinies. As Dr. Paul notes, we are drawn to a freedom message.
In spite of the fact that Dr. Paul's campaign makes use of words young people use to describe their political attitudes, there are vast contradictions in the values we give to these words and the implications they should have on public policy compared to Dr. Paul.
If language serves as a mechanism to transfer thought from one person to another, and the containers in which our thoughts are packed, shipped and conveyed are words, then it stands to reason that, from time to time, we should examine their contents. The box marked freedom that Ron Paul has been shipping out over the course of the primary campaign has failed to receive any critical examination or comment.
For Ron Paul, our individual freedom is a ready-made possession granted by our creator. We are free when we are able to live "without government coercion." To him, the American desire for liberty should take priority over security and material comfort. Personal safety and economic prosperity are only achievable by throwing off the shackles of government and fully realizing our freedom.
Such a concept is both without form and void of power in a modern industrialized society. This Republican freedom-at-large, so to speak, simply does not confront the realities facing America's young people. Those, like Dr. Paul, who advance these ideas are exceedingly aware of the dangers posed to our freedom when the regulations imposed by government dictate our behavior, and yet they remain conveniently oblivious when our behavior is dictated by an economic system that is as much a human artifact as the government.
Young people are hungry for liberation from institutions and systems that act to impede our self-determination. The obstacles to freedom are not limited to governmental institutions, as Dr. Paul would have us believe. Those of us now earning less than our parents, those of us drowning in educational debt and living in poverty, and those of us living without health insurance need something more than an abstract principle.
We need power to do specific things. Anyone who wants to talk about freedom should take a hard look at what individuals can and cannot accomplish given both political and economic constraints. Currently, 45.6% of us are unemployed, and 45.3% of us between 25 and 34 are living in poverty: $11,344 a year for a single individual (2011 Census Report).
Those individuals crushed under this recession will not be able to effectively participate in even the most pure market system that Dr. Paul and the rest of the Republican candidates envision. Freedom has to be nurtured, and true individual liberty doesn't exist in some theoretical state: it has to be maintained by society, often through laws. Americans have never lived with Hobbes in a state of nature, and yet that did not prevent previous generations from having some control over their economic futures.
We are prevented from participating in the vast cultural resources of American society, not by government, but as a result of material insecurity and a dysfunctional marketplace. To be the most educated generation in American history and to face a life without constructive opportunity is not a vision of freedom. Our current inability to find a morally rewarding and secure place in society is not a vision of freedom.
Individuals have always sought association with others in a multitude of forms in order to provide stability and basic protections for ourselves. America's freedom and individualism have not been the result of eschewing association with others, but of our founders bringing a country together and setting up a system of self-governance.
Freedom has never been stagnant. It has served those seeking freedom from slavery, release from indentured servitude, and argued against despotic rule. Today's young people desire the opportunity to secure the full realization of our potential. This is how we define freedom.
We would be grateful if someone would stand up for our freedom with the vigor Dr. Paul stands up for his. If no one steps up to the plate for us, freedom will become just another word for nothing left to lose.