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Freedom is a State of Mind

On the pursuit of happiness

By Marco den OudenPublished about a year ago 6 min read
Freedom is a State of Mind
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

The American Declaration of Independence is famous for one line in particular—We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Libertarians tend to focus on two aspects of the this famous line - inalienable rights, and liberty. And it often ties them in knots emotionally. Daily I see posts in libertarian Facebook groups lamenting or lambasting some perceived violation of rights, of liberty. Angry harangues against instances of police violence. Angrier harangues against instances of civilian violence, not against the violence itself, but because they believe the state will use it as an excuse to control or even confiscate private weapons.

Anger at proposals to bring Syrian refugees to our shores because they will be a burden to the taxpayer, and fear that they're possible closet terrorists. Anger at Canada's Prime Minister a few years ago because, of all things, he had some pictures of his family taken at public expense. Anger and sorrow and fear seem to be the outstanding emotions in the libertarian orbit. Whether the issue is major or picayune, let's attack it with venom.

As you may have guessed from the name of this blog (originally published at The Jolly Libertarian), I do not believe in getting angry or being sad or being afraid. I believe the emphasis in the Declaration of Independence should be on "the pursuit of happiness". My personal happiness and the happiness of my loved ones.

If we look at the issue of freedom as being one of pursuing one's happiness, does politics even matter? Are we wasting our time tilting at windmills? Griping about this and that? Crying in our beer over the unfairness of life? Afraid of the police? Angry at life for saddling us with governments?

Why not pursue what we want in life—from a personal, not a political point of view? Suppose we had achieved nirvana—a libertarian society—either a severely limited government that did not initiate force against people, or even an anarcho-capitalist society, whatever version of libertarianism turns your particular crank? What would you do? What career would you pursue? If you are a professional or semi-professional libertarian agitator, what would you do in a libertarian world with no enemies to complain about?

Certainly some, maybe even a good number, would continue with their current careers—economists, philosophers, maybe even libertarian politicians, but many of us in the movement would have the rug cut out from under us. Without something to bitch and whine about, would you be happy? What would you do?

I spent most of my career working in the television broadcasting industry. It was a vibrant and exciting career. I enjoyed my job. I worked with interesting people. I earned good money to support my family and build a home.

I pursued my interest in libertarianism as a sideline. A hobby. In a libertarian world, I might still philosophize. I might still blog on politics. But I am thinking more and more I would blog on travel. In fact, I am thinking of launching a travel blog, either as a second blog while continuing this one, or possibly cutting back on this one. I do enjoy writing it. It gives me pleasure to discuss philosophical ideas. It gives me happiness, so I will continue to pursue it. But I love travel and want to do more of it and write about that as well.

But what about you? If we had the libertarian world of your dreams, what would you do to pursue happiness?

Interestingly, in 1973, when the libertarian movement was still young, these issues were addressed by Harry Browne, Libertarian Party Presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000. He wrote a book called How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. It was a self-help book for libertarians. In it he addressed the issue of personal happiness. In a review of the updated reprint of the book in 1998, George C. Leef writes, "What is the person who just wants to live according to his own desires to do? Some give themselves ulcers by complaining about the way the world is. Others take action, trying to obtain greater freedom than the 'men of system' deign to give them. They work to get freedom-restricting laws repealed, taxes reduced, bad officials replaced, and even governments overthrown. Occasionally, these efforts succeed. Often, they fail. In either case, fighting the battle for freedom has costs: time and property are given up; lives may be lost. But there is a third option: action to seek freedom without confronting the oppressors."

And that third way is what Harry's book is about—avoiding the oppressors. "This book is an argument in favor of finding freedom by avoiding and outwitting the authoritarians."

Ayn Rand said that the pursuit of one's own happiness is one's most noble goal. And Harry echoes that sentiment. He talks about a lot of "traps" that people get into. Psychological traps that diminish their personal happiness in the pursuit of a cause.

I do believe there are some who would like to be a martyr to the cause, who would relish a violent revolution against the state, even if in a lost cause. They long to die bravely on the barricades like the doomed students in Les Miserables. But they are few and far between.

I believe most libertarians already pursue their own happiness, using Robert Heinlein as a guidepost. The author of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress once said, "I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do."

Rather than get in a lather, why not pursue one's own happiness? If one's own happiness consists of agitating for libertarianism as an ideal, fine. But does it really make you happy? Or is it just a vehicle for venting your spleen?

How much better to go happily about one's life, finding happiness in one's relationships, joy in one's work and maybe even getting rich in the process? How much better to just live a successful life and give the government your middle finger? As the old saying goes, "Don't let the bastards get you down!"

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About the Creator

Marco den Ouden

Marco is the published author of two books on investing in the stock market. Since retiring in 2014 after forty years in broadcast journalism, Marco has become an avid blogger on philosophy, travel, and music He also writes short stories.

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