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The Progress of Freedom
The road to Ottawa and beyond
The Strange Changes
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said the only thing that doesn't change is the law which says everything changes. Special pleading notwithstanding, this insight has resonated with people through the ages, and we today are no exception. But the world seems more Heraclitean lately than perhaps even Heraclitus would have expected. The scope and the nature of what is changing today seem unprecedented.
Fundamental features of the social compact that defined a trans-national ethos and brought freedom and prosperity to the world to a degree never witnessed in human history are being disposed of. And this is happening in the most extraordinary way. I can't escape the feeling that the vast majority of us are not simply failing to appreciate the value of these things, but we're not even aware we're throwing them away. We're absent-mindedly hewing away at the foundations of a building that has provided a level of shelter and comfort we cannot even conceive of being without. Freedom and prosperity are taken as inherent properties of the universe rather than the fruit of ideals formed and perfected through the centuries.
We have no sense of that essential history—a struggle against tyranny and the deprivations it brought. That tyranny with which we governed ourselves initially by default, our fortunes waxing and waning with the vicissitudes of history and the whims of the great ones who bestrode it. We have no sense of those insights that grew clearer and stronger through this historical struggle: That we are inherently and essentially free. That the role of government is to protect that freedom and not to bestow it. That if our rulers (even a majority in a democracy) are permitted to define and grant our freedoms, they will always do so in accordance with their interests at the expense of the well-being of those whose freedom they usurp.
The events of history interpret and validate this struggle. They prove the truth of a theory that, after being tested for limited times and in special places, was finally rigorously implemented in the modern era—that a free people will prosper. And that in their prosperity, they will erect the structures needed for the robust pursuit of human flourishing.
What’s in a Year?
But this view of things is so 2019. Yes, the decay started much earlier, but how can we ignore that great inflection point which came upon us with a vengeance? Even in the immediacy of its arrival, we sensed its fury and the tragedy it was poised to spill upon us. We gave it a name, 2020. The numbering of years is hardly a societal novum, but we all spoke that name with a sardonic smile or a mournful catch in our voice. It's rare to sense the truly historic nature of a time before it is even fully upon you, but even the dullest of senses could not have missed the unmistakable realization that something historic was afoot.
Perhaps the only thing missed due to a lack of historical perspective was the fact that this was not merely a fateful year but the beginning of a fateful span of time whose bounds we could not know. How sweetly naive those comments on New Years’ Eve 2020 seem now, the entire world bidding good riddance to a year, as we had never done before. As if the tragedy and harm that had befallen us would obey the arbitrary boundaries of the calendar. Of course, we knew in our hearts this was not so, but we believed it nevertheless.
And so the coming of a virus changed the world. Two years on, we have enough perspective to realize the virus was more of a catalyst than an efficient cause or a meaningful actor in its own right. Unless we expand the semantic range of that word, understanding that the most powerful viruses are not made of proteins and nucleotide strands and that they infect the mind and the heart in their immaterial essences. We learned in this case that self-styled global managers who know better than the masses what is right and good had pre-positioned ribosomes all around us and within us, designed to code for fear in the human heart by reading the Messenger RNA distributed in the daily news cycle.
The Danger of Safety
We were more ready than we knew—ready to swallow the bait. Mistaking the virus for the cure, we lunged at the proferred safety. We silently accepted the price, and in the coming weeks and months, we witnessed with astonishing speed and comprehensive effect the loss of a greatness throughout the world that was the gathered fruit of centuries. Freedom, civic rights, the superior worth of individuals over the state, the unfettered exchange of ideas, belief in and practice of the scientific method, intellectual integrity, objective journalism, responsible government: all these former pillars of liberal society were uncritically abandoned by a populace whipped into a fearful frenzy. Everything previously held dear was up for grabs. It was the price of survival.
For the past eighteen months or so, thoughts about what has happened to us have been swirling around in my head. Every day seemed to bring the unfolding of some new dimension of the attack or the emerging response, or a new high-water mark of malfeasance and the deception it relies on to survive in an ostensibly free society. Coincident with increasing clarity, there came for me paradoxically a countervailing disorientation, as my attention flitted from one outrage to the next. I wanted to write about what was going on, but I did so only sporadically. To the usual time constraints of one who writes in his spare time were added the exigent demands of a reluctant activism that I wrote about here. So for the most part, I watched and I read and I thought, thankfully applying the soothing balm of intelligent, highly-informed discussion and mutual education with a network of friends, most of them co-laborers newly discovered in the eye of the gathering storm.
It was easy enough to discern the common thread in the chaos of my thoughts: freedom. Medical freedom, freedom of speech and the written word, educational freedom, the related issue of parents being free to raise their children in accordance with their deeply held ideals, religious freedom, freedom of association. These are the things filling up our news feeds and swirling around in our minds, and I figured at some point I'll be ready to write about one of these. But something happened in Canada yesterday, and I realized it encapsulates and uniquely focuses all these issues.
Even though the catalyst for the trucker protest was the assertion of medical freedom, it really was about the concept of freedom itself—freedom writ large. And more importantly, the events unfolding there are at the center of the historical amnesia I described above. Whatever one may think about the COVID vaccines and a government mandating their injection into its citizens, the situation has advanced far beyond that question. The intensity and resolve exhibited by both sides in that struggle are not hard to understand when one realizes that what is at stake is whether society will be structured by a belief in God-given or government-given rights.
The protesters weren't demanding anything be given to them, but rather that they should be left alone. Their complaint was they should not be forced to participate in a medical experiment, and they and their communities should not be subjected to totalitarian controls that have manifestly failed to do anything that those who forced them on a trusting public claimed they would do. Vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens alike, recognizing the nature of the struggle and their stake in it, came out to support the truck convoy in increasing numbers. Cranes were brought in to hoist welcome banners and messages of encouragement. Food and supplies were brought and freely distributed in a festive atmosphere. At one point, the convoy was reported to be over 80 kilometers long.
The Prime Minister responded to all this by announcing there was a small, fringe group of dangerous extremists heading toward the capital, possessing unacceptable views that all of Canada rejected. And since people could see with their own eyes that the Prime Minister was lying, the government turned off the cameras on the convoy route. They apparently had some delusional hope that this would mask the Prime Minister's lie, but it only further revealed the nature of the protagonists on both sides. Thus support for the convoy grew to the point that it was now a drama being enacted on the world stage.
The convoy continued, gathering strength and growing in number. It was self-organizing, responding in real-time to its changing nature. In due time they arrived in Ottawa. They were peaceful, even joyful, as the festive atmosphere exhibited on the road now took shape on the streets of the capital. There were food kitchens, people of various races and national origins, singing and dancing, Canadian flags waving exuberantly, meticulously organized garbage pick-up, laughter, and camaraderie seen in video after video streamed to the remaining uncensored social media platforms. There were families with children among them, and soon the Bouncy Castles that famously sprung up were seen on the streaming videos as well.
The Prime Minister doubled down on his slander, characterizing the protesters as racist, misogynist, hateful, Nazi sympathizers, all the epithets we've come to see are the last, or sometimes merely the lazy and convenient, resort of the leftist ideologue who cannot or will not engage his adversaries on the basis of stated and argued ideals. The globalist nature of the struggle was on display as other governments either took up the mendacious posturing of the Prime Minister or remained largely passive and indifferent to his authoritarian belching. The corporate partners in the oligarchy did their part, as crowd-sourced money was confiscated under false pretenses. When a new crowd-funding platform was found, the money raised was confiscated from the recipients and frozen by compliant banks. The crowd-funding platform was subjected to Denial of Service attacks. A hacker broke in and stole the donor lists, distributing them on the Internet, openly and belligerently bragging about it in a video in which he boldly showed his face and gave his name. The media did their part by helping to dox the donors, ignoring the damning contrast with how actual looters, city burners, and police murderers were treated in that recent fateful Summer. Not only were those contributors not hounded by the media or pursued by the government, but their cause was celebrated and financial contribution was presented as virtuous and heroic.
The protesters had clearly-articulated demands focused on their stated issue. But it soon became clear that none of this mattered. Dissent itself was unacceptable to the government. The government never met with them, never even considered their demands. Their only response after the leveling of epithets failed was "go home." Dissent could not be tolerated, and it had to be silenced by all means necessary. The final insult was to accuse them of doing the very thing the government had done to them, the very thing that prompted their dissent. The protesters were blocking the streets of the capital, and they were creating a nuisance as horn honking was taken up as a signal feature of the protest. This was all the government could truthfully charge them with, and they made the most of it with breathtaking hypocrisy.
The people who were protesting the taking away of their livelihood, the shuttering of businesses, the closing of schools, the dehumanization of enforced face coverings, the dismantling of social structures, and the criminalization of human contact, these people were made out to be terrorists and a national threat of historic proportions because of the economic damage they were doing by blocking streets, and the psychological harm they were inflicting by the honking of horns. The government that was doing the very things they self-righteously claimed to be concerned about, on a national scale and with a thousand times the effect that the protesters had, took a sledgehammer to Canadian freedom to protect the people from the Hellish terror of clogged streets and honking horns. Does the government of Canada even hear itself? The rest of the world hears them loud and clear.
As George Orwell observed, "All tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but once the fraud is exposed they must rely exclusively on force."
The Canadian government was almost out of fraud, but one final fraudulent act was needed to enable the force. An emergency decree was issued, invoking a power clearly not warranted by the circumstances. There were calls for the Canadian Parliament to meet and consider whether the emergency decree was legally enacted. But the Prime Minister announced that the Parliament could not meet because there was an emergency in the capital. Yes, you understood that correctly. Parliament may not consider whether an emergency was legally enacted because an emergency has been enacted. And the emergency was that the people are expressing dissent. Can there be any clearer demonstration of the passing of the liberal democratic order?
And so the mounted police were brought in. Arrests were made, some people were trampled by the horses, trucks were broken into and towed, the remaining protestors were bullied and pushed away by a phalanx of riot guards. Whether the protests continue in some form (as they undoubtedly will) and whatever comes of the vaccine mandates, it's abundantly clear that Canada is not today a free country, not by any stretch of the imagination. Some were saying Canada’s response is the template that will be followed by the other countries in which the governments have acted despotically and dissent is coalescing among the people. I don't think it's so simple as that, but I cannot deny a deep sense of sadness over what was lost on the streets of Ottawa yesterday. I'm not alone in that, as the Toronto Star captured the mood today with the headline "Sadness rules the day as Ottawa protest comes to an end."
Freedom in the Balance
So what are we to make of all this? Is this the twilight of western liberal democracy? Has a new authoritarianism dawned, of a nature not seen before in history? Because only now do we have the necessary ingredients to form a comprehensively operating technocracy—the concentration of government and corporate power to a degree not seen since 1930s Europe. But now the ruling elite have the means to both anesthetize and control, as a corrupt and decadent media enables the usurpation of freedom while hiding the nature and scope of the malfeasance. The Internet and social media platforms, by their democratic nature, provided a corrective balance to the centralized power of the legacy media and the governing party they protect. But the corporations closed ranks, each ignoring or censoring exposure of the other’s misdeeds. Censorship and suppression of opinions that are not acceptable to the government have been normalized in the United States of America. This statement is manifestly true, and it would be hard to overstate how unthinkable this was merely two years ago and how utterly repugnant it is to the heart and soul of what America has always signified and embodied.
So where does this leave us? First, let me say I don't think the picture is as bleak as may appear from the foregoing paragraph. In concluding an article that is already longer than I intended it to be, I will only mention in passing the very substantial areas of resistance to the new tyranny that are clearly visible. We have yet a remnant of federalism, through which free states have arisen and are attracting the best elements of the authoritarian states. So the makers and the breakers are going their separate ways, and a sort of soft iron curtain is forming in America. And just as we saw in Europe in the middle of the previous century, the different outcomes of free and enslaved societies will be increasingly visible, and this will tell a compelling story. The same divide is coming into focus online, with the emergence of platforms committed to freedom of expression, such as the one on which you are reading this article. And likewise, there is coming into view the beginnings of the evolution to a truly decentralized, blockchain-enabled social media environment in which censorship is not possible because no entity or cabal of entities owns or controls the platform. See this post for a cogent articulation and illustration of this concept.
I will also mention in passing the resilience of the American people, with the imprint of freedom in our cells that cannot be erased in a generation, even with such rapid changes as we have seen. Witness the full-throated embrace of freedom we have seen already in the face of this sneak attack, this Pearl Harbor of the 21st century, in which global totalitarianism was unleashed on us from a direction we did not anticipate.1
Many have written about these and other encouraging developments, and I commend you to them. If you're not familiar with such sources, just ask anyone around you who loves freedom—we're not hard to find—to point you to them. You'll see there are serious, insightful, deeply enriching thinkers and writers your erstwhile media curators have not shown you.
Our Once and Future History
For my part, however, I would like to offer in closing a more fundamental encouragement by reflecting on the nature of freedom itself. Yes, the honking in Ottawa has been silenced, the Bouncy Castles have been deflated, those who stood for freedom are lying in jails2, and the forced medical experiment has not been ended. It seems today that the tyrants have won, and we look with uneasy faces toward the other Western capitals. But I am wholly convinced that freedom will win. I mean that sincerely, not as an expression of false bravado or hopeful/wishful thinking. Nor is it a Pollyanna vision, as the damage yet to be done by the authoritarians may be immense.
My certainty comes from one simple truth. We ARE free. That is an unassailable ontological fact of our existence. We were made free. That principle was declared in 1776, not demanded or argued. All of humanity was invited to share in the fruits of that realization, and it has changed the world forever. We can never unlearn this truth, that we are inherently and self-evidently free, that no one has an inherent right to rule over us.
Like many, I fear for our children. Will they grow up in a world where freedom is brutalized and beaten down, where it is seldom seen, rarely tasted? Maybe. But I don't think so. It may be they will live in a hybrid world. Where freedom is here, but not there. Where the powerful punish its expression, though they cannot extinguish it. But I think rather that we're like Europe in 1942 or 1943. We know the victory will come, but how many will fall in the struggle?
What I'm saying is freedom cannot be extinguished. Its nature does not permit it. Think of those who came of age in the Soviet Union or other totalitarian societies and are now living among us here in the West as some of freedom's staunchest and most beautiful advocates. Did anyone have to teach them to yearn for freedom, or was that a natural longing? In a society where the habits and structures of freedom were suppressed and distorted, did it require some improbable fluke of nature for the longing after it to appear in the hearts of children? Or was such longing inevitable?
What the heart knows, the mind will come to understand. And what the mind grasps cannot fail to appear in the world if it is true. Freedom is true. We must all hold to that realization in the midst of the battle.
As for the battle, I think it is not as dark as it could have been or as it appeared even a few months ago. I think the would-be masters made a fatal error of overreach. They sprung their trap too soon and it misfired. They can never make us unsee what we've seen, and far more of their malfeasance may yet be made visible, perhaps soon. There are too many of us who know what they’ve done and what they're doing, and we've built a beachhead they cannot overrun. This will forever hamper them in their plans. I think we've prevented their victory, but the big question is when and at what cost we can ensure ours.
While we were worried about the guys with the furry hats and watching for missiles coming over the North Pole, the attack was forming in the corporations we were patronizing and the institutions whose transformation and betrayal we failed to discern.
Legacy Media is reporting that arrested protestors are being charged, but reports are circulating on social media that this is an intimidation tactic, and the protestors are actually being released. Update November 2022: corporate media is entirely silent on the whereabouts of the protest leaders, who presumably remain jailed and largely forgotten.