Liberty is about much more than being left alone

Senator Rand Paul likes to talk about the “Leave Me Alone” Coalition, which is his phrase for broad swathes of the American public who are tired of constant government interference in so many aspects of our lives.

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He’s referring to those of us who are tired of the government banning our gardens and our dogs. We’re tired of being told it’s illegal to help the homeless. We’re tired of regulations which raise prices and limit innovation for entrepreneurs like craft brewers.

We’re tired of being groped at the airport and having our money confiscated without charge or trial. We’re tired of having awesome new innovations like Uber impeded by cronyism. We’re tired of being harassed by militarized police who target minority communities over victimless “crimes.”

We’re tired of having to pay for endless, aimless, and wasteful overseas adventures that don’t accomplish much and definitely don’t make us safer. We’re tired of more than a decade in which our troops haven’t been allowed to just come home. We’re tired of gruesome torture being done in our name.

And we’re definitely tired of a political establishment which offers us the same old thing again and again and again and expects us to be happy about it.

So yeah, there’s a reason Sen. Paul’s phrase resonates with a lot of people, myself included.

With an out-of-control government perpetually interfering at home and abroad, it’s easy to get to a point of just wanting to scream: Leave me alone!

But sometimes, and especially for libertarians, I believe we become so focused on how much the government should leave us alone that we start to think of being alone is itself a good thing.

And while that’s not totally wrong—I’m an introvert’s introvert and love nothing more than a day where I don’t have to see or talk to anyone—one of the best parts of freedom is how much good we can do with it.

Writing at the Foundation for Economic Education in 2011, economist Steve Horwitz ably argued that there’s a problem “when our case for freedom appears to morph into a case for being left alone generally.” He explains:

Put simply, I do not want to be left alone, nor do I think that the ideal libertarian world is one in which we all leave each other alone.  I would much rather live in a world where my extended family, friends, and community do not leave me alone in my time of need, but instead feel some sort of commitment to help me.  In turn, I hope they would not wish to be left alone, but rather would gladly accept my assistance if the tables were turned.

Horwitz concludes that, “A world in which we all leave each other alone seems more dystopian than utopian, even if it is also a world in which we are all free in the way libertarians wish.”

He’s right. As I said in the summer, we don’t need government to fix our problems, but we do need our families. We do need our friends, our neighbors, our churches, our communities—and they need us.

And the best part is that using our liberty well actually makes it a lot easier to hang on to: We’re better when we know and help each other.

For example, in one of the poorest neighborhoods near Richmond, VA, neighbors get together for a monthly block party. Since the block parties started about nine years ago, the residents say violent crime has decreased and people have become more generous, even if they don’t have much of their own. As one man said, “You know, it’s really hard to shoot at someone you just shared a hot dog with the day before.”

Horwitz also explains the importance of this kind of freedom-using and freedom-preserving activity:

The desire to be left alone by these bureaucracies is understandable, but the reason is not that trying to help others is wrong or that a world in which we are all left alone is right. The reason is that only free and responsible individuals can effectively help those who need it.

This is an important paradox: We want the government to leave us alone—so that we don’t have to be alone. Government more often divides than us than anything else; ironically, the less the government leaves us alone the more isolated from each other we become.

Christmas is a great time to remember this simple truth.

Though we may not have as much liberty as we’d like, there are still many ways we can use the freedom and resources we do have to help those in need. (One of my favorite organizations right now is called Preemptive Love. They mainly help provide heart surgeries for children in Iraq, which has an extremely high incidence of birth defects thanks to years of war. But they are also busy helping families who have been displaced by ISIS, so if you’re looking to do some serious good, consider donating there.)

Greta Garbo, the great early film star, was widely reported to have said “I want to be alone.” But she refuted the idea that this line, which she’d spoken in character, reflected her real preference. “I never said, ‘I want to be alone,’” Garbo protested, “I only said ‘I want to be let alone!’ There is all the difference.”

This Christmas—and all the time—remember that there is all the difference indeed.

What do you think?

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