To me, liberty is incredibly inspiring. My mother grew up in Cambodia, where the Communist Khmer Rouge targeted her family for being Chinese and for owning a business. The stories of my childhood were filled with the unspeakable crimes they committed. My father was more fortunate to have been born in Taiwan and to have immigrated to America early. However, his father served as an elected official in the one party rule of the Kuomintang where he was a frequent target for being a reformist.
This story to me is incredibly inspiring because my grandfather worked with Taiwanese dissenters across the world to end the one-party domination. I am proud to say that I come from a family of immigrants, a family of freedom seekers and freedom fighters. We came to America seeking nothing but an opportunity to create a life for ourselves, in search of liberty.
Today, American liberty and our constitution is under attack from both sides of the spectrum. We have witnessed the gross abuse of power and expansion of government by Progressives such as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. President Wilson created the federal income tax and the Federal Reserve.
For over one hundred years this country thrived and grew without any income tax, and that was rooted in the simple truth that people ought to be entitled to the fruits of their labor. The Federal Reserve is an unchecked central bank that is able to print away our spending power at will. Roosevelt, a man romanticized as the great Progressive, locked away Japanese Americans in internment camps solely for being Japanese, without trial and without dignity.
On the other side of the isle we have the horrific waiving of our liberties by neo-conservatives such as George W. Bush and policies like the Patriot Act which feature domestic spying, torture, and unconstitutional search warrants.
Liberty is truly represented by the integrity of our rule of law, the equality that has been fought for by all races, and the stability of our civil society. Proponents of limited government do not simply advocate for such as system because they are greedy or apathetic. They do so because they recognize that society is able to organize itself better when individuals are given control over their own lives. They recognize that a restrained and accountable government is a far greater achievement than tyranny and very much a recent innovation. When one speaks of a rule of law that favors liberty, they speak of a system that protects the rights of the individual. A system that truly works for everyone is a system with checks and balances, of impartial judgement, and a set of inalienable rights.
There is nothing more multicultural than the struggle for equality under the law, which is a truly radical notion put forth by advocates of liberty. The idea that one’s worth is not determined by their race, their bloodlines, or their political class. From the dismantling of monarchy, to the abolition of slavery, to Women’s Suffrage, to LGBTQ rights, advocates for liberty come from diverse backgrounds but all have the same goal: recognition as an individual.
It takes bravery, wisdom, and principle to stand for liberty when those around you cry for more government. It is brave to take on the problems you face. It is wise to recognize that government is not nor has it been the best solution. It is of the highest principle to refrain from the temptation to use government for your own gain at the expense of others.
A free society to me is one that is accepting, accountable, and prosperous. We the people are capable of managing our own lives and running our own communities. Cronyism, racism, and tribalism are ebbing away at the legitimacy of our government. Cronyism in the form of Wall Street bailouts and the military-industrial complex. Racism enforced by police brutality and a broken criminal justice system. Tribalism featuring a rigged two party system that seeks to demonize all those who deviate from their platforms. When the government deviates from a framework for the exercise of liberty to a tool of the elite, it is no longer a government but a form of mafia. Individuals are falling prey to the false perception that politicians can protect them from all their problems.
Throughout history, our government has been used as a tool to infringe upon the freedom of others. Whether it was enforcing slavery, passing the Chinese Exclusion Act, committing genocide against Native Americans, or the current attacks on immigrants, the force of government has been grossly abused. Many would say that this is merely the result of privileged white men in power. However, the real conflict at hand is one between those who recognize the value of limited government principles and those who are blind to them. I can attest that racism and brutality exist in all cultures.
The Khmer Rouge used their power to commit mass genocide and purge business owners in an attempt to create their own vision of Cambodia. Inspired by the writings of Marx and a delusional vision of a socialist society, they destroyed businesses and executed people for acts such as owning property. My mother’s family, like so many others, earned an honest living by running small restaurants and stores. They alongside millions of others were sent to work camps in what would later be known as the “The Killing Fields”. The Kuomintang in Taiwan ruled as a one-party military state that frequently targeted dissenters and Taiwanese citizens as well as aboriginal groups.
Finally, no conversation about authoritarianism in Asia would be complete without acknowledging the Chinese government, from the estimated 65 million people killed under Mao to its modern police state and persecution of religious minorities. It also goes without saying that North Korea is another example of a dystopian society devoid of liberty. The root of the problem with respect to the abuse of government power is not what race or gender is in power, but whether those in power respect the foundations of a free society.
Today we have the disturbing rhetoric from both Republicans and Democrats that they will use the force of government to create a new society. On the Left there is an agenda of imposing crushing regulation and redistribution. On the Right, there is a slowly dying attempt to hold onto a regime of enforced Christian morality. Both sides pose grand visions of a society drastically changed via the power of government much like the Khmer Rouge did when they took over Cambodia. Eminent domain, the power to seize private property for “public use”, is the most literal representation of politicians thinking that society is nothing more than their playset. Prohibition is perhaps the most heinous and counterproductive example of anti-liberty legislation. Many advocates of prohibition advertise these policies as advancing liberty because banning alcohol would reduce domestic violence and banning drugs like marijuana would improve public health.
History has shown that these policies backfired miserably. The failed prohibition of alcohol only inspired an iconic black market featuring secret drinking rooms and more dangerous liquor such as moonshine. The prohibition of marijuana is now on its knees as more states move to legalize it. However, that is only after countless lives were ruined by its enforcement, the massive profits made by drug cartels, and the delayed innovations in material, medicinal, and recreational usage.
Patrick Henry is attributed with the famous quote “Give me liberty or give me death”! It is clear why he chose liberty of all things, not comfort, not collectivism, not privilege. To me liberty means the freedom to make choices: whether it is to make decisions about your own body, to have a right to privacy, or to conduct a business as you see fit. It means protection from government-enforced discrimination and the strengthening of our social fabric so that it can be more inclusive.
Finally, it is holding our politicians to the values of accountability and justice to ensure that all people have the opportunity to live free. It is the radical notion that you are an individual with worth and meaning, not a cog in the agenda of the elite. I hold the idea of liberty above all others because it applies to all people, regardless of political affiliation, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. Human liberty lies in the human heart.