17.00 hours 02/11/2019 | Opinion

Timothy Snowball | Pacific Legal Foundation

On April 19, 1775, a group of 77 American patriots gathered at sunrise over the city that was customary in Lexington, Massachusetts. Their enemy approached: more than 700 soldiers of the most powerful military empire the world had seen so far. When the British redcoats were within the shooting range, they stopped. An officer approached the Americans on horseback and shouted "Put your arms down, damn rebels!"

In a few seconds there was a shot and the British redcoats shot straight into the American line.

The most impactful revolution in the history of the world had begun.

Response to the above piece of well-known American history will vary based on the reader. Some of us may see us in the shoes of the militias of Massachusetts, and fulfill our duty to resist the degradation of reactionary forces. Others can be spurred on by the images of weapons and war, and use this story as an excuse to reinforce a bias or to take a swipe at modern interpretations of the Second Amendment. And yet, others are simply not interested at all.

What should history teach us about modern times?

Everything. The men who had gathered at Lexington were not there to argue for their favorite politician or political party. They were not there to impose their views or preferences on their neighbors. And they were not there in an effort to get special grace for their specific group identity.

They were there to defend their individual freedom.

As modern Americans we are the heirs of their revolution. But many of us seem to have lost their way. Founded as an unprecedented experiment in individual freedom more than 200 years ago, the future of the American Republic is now uncertain. In striving to preserve our unique American legacy, we lost sight of what made it unique in the first place.

The attack comes from all sides. Voters choose politicians based on their flamboyant personalities or which letter they have accidentally put on their name, instead of their dedication to the rule of law. Individuals seem more interested in identitarian politics or "one-way" friends and family on social media than in recognizing our common humanity. The media play one side against the other, while they try to control us from just outside our television screens and other devices.

The spirit of common purpose, decency and humanity threw the way.

The result is a country that is torn in two, where we are more concerned about the level of respect (or alleged contempt) granted to the American flag than about promoting the principles for which it stands.

Merriam-Webster defines "freedom" as "the state of freedom in society of oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior or political opinion." Even more simply, freedom is "the power or the scope to act if it pleases." Seems fairly simple.

But individual freedom is not without price.

The cost of our own freedom to think, speak and act as we wish is to allow our neighbors to do the same, whether we like it or not. As John Stuart Mill noted more than 150 years ago, "[T]the only purpose for which power can legitimately be exercised over every member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, physical or moral, is not enough. "

Simply put, individual freedom is the most important political principle – one that we must preserve, protect and defend.

Freedom is more important than politicians, political parties or even democracy. It is more important than equality or identity politics, and certainly more important than the media. Freedom is more important than religion. It is even more important than the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the American flag.

These can be means of freedom, or symbols of freedom, but they are not freedom themselves. Individual freedom is the inspiring principle of our republic.

And it is a principle that is worth fighting for.

America is indeed an exceptional place. But our exceptionality comes from our past, our present and our future commitment to individual freedom.

Only by recognizing the great importance of freedom can we restore what has been lost and put the country (and ourselves) back on the right track. "

Timothy Snowball is a lawyer at Pacific Legal Foundation, a law firm of general interest.


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