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There are two kinds of freedom in a free society, positive and negative freedoms. Positive freedoms are what the founders envisioned for a civil society and spelled out in the Declaration, Constitution and Bill of Rights. They gave us freedom of speech, religion, self-protection and the freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness. These freedoms are assured by laws which prevent infringing on the freedoms of others.
Negative freedoms are the things that we are free to do that can, and often do, affect us in negative ways. An alcoholic has the freedom to drink himself to death but that freedom is not a positive thing. We have free speech, but we cannot shout fire in a crowded theater.
There were other forms of personal speech Americans understood to be negative and chose to use with discretion to maintain a civil society. But early in the 20th century a more liberal public pushed to allow what they considered a more colorful form of expression.
Public profanity, which had been relegated to locker rooms and “men only” areas and never spoken in front of a ladies or children was slowly introduced into the public discourse.
Liberalism or progressivism, worked to change the rules by stating that our freedoms, such as religion, allows us the freedom to mock religion if we choose. The freedom of speech now means almost any behavior and speech are to be protected. Negative freedoms became the norm. Pornography became an art form. Profanity made its way into public conversations and into our homes via cable TV.
When anyone complained they were derided by those who say, “ah, that’s just reflecting reality,” when in fact it is not the reality envisioned by the founders and many today.
It is a modern reinterpretation of freedom by those who wish to force what they consider to be a more enlightened understanding of freedom.
Consider the rights of life, liberty and happiness. Positive freedom affords us the right to seek these but we pervert the true meaning by legislating in favor of the negative freedom, saying that the right to life is also the right to take life in the case of abortion.
We speak of the positive freedom as the liberty to show compassion for those in need as we see fit, but proponents of negative freedom legislates our compassion into an entitlement program that takes from one group and gives to those the state deems as needing help.
This is not freedom to show love, this is soft tyranny that takes power from the individual and gives it to the state. This robs people of the opportunity to show stewardship and genuine compassion until they no longer think of helping others, and opt to let the state do everything for them, further weakening the chance for a civil society.
Ironically, liberal groups gave us this acceptance of negative freedom, but individually often agree that these behaviors are wrong. However, for the sake of the liberal interpretation of constitutional language they allow the “bad” and call it “good.”
The system has been reversed from legislating positive freedom into today’s society to legislating protection for negative freedoms, allowing attitudes and behaviors our founders knew would lead to the destruction of a civil society.
Only the power of the individual can correct this, but with each generation we get further from the idea of a civil society based on positive freedoms and closer to the chaos of a society of immorality and negative freedoms.
Brooks Walker is a Heath Springs resident.