Patrick Henry famously demanded of the Virginia House of Burgesses, bending down on his haunches like a lion about to leap, then exploding upward as the words passed out of his soul through his mouth and into the stunned chamber: “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
Increasingly, I am persuaded that those really are our only two options. Slavery of any sort, acceptance of slavery of any sort, the preference for security over life, is a form of death in life.
Once upon a time, boys dreamed of growing up to be advernturers. David Farragut was fourteen years old (!) when he was given command of a ship full of British prisoners and told to bring them from somewhere around Florida up to, I think, Boston.
Now the admiral or somebody would be arrested for defying child labor laws.
We are a frightened, effiminate peopl,e terrified of suffering, but embracing death every time we turn around. We live in mortal fear that our neighbor might out-perform us on the SAT (itself a product and cause of anxiety), that we might miss a promotion, that we might have to drive an old car, that we might not be able to rely on our chosen bureaucracy to provide for us and our heirs till we die.
As a result the only ones who rise to the top are those who have the temerity to promise us whatever we think will make us safe. Then they walk around protected by a bodyguard.
A great picture of our attitude to life is summed up in the Toyota commercial where the little child is encased in football equipment to play tennis.
To which I say, “A little pain never hurt anybody.”
We fear death in all its effects, but I think the power of death can be summed up in three areas: pain, shame, and weakness.
The only way to handle death is to fight with it directly. What shame do you fear? What loss of power intimidates you?
Have at it.
Aristotle suggested that the dissipation of your wealth is a form of suicide. I never understood that until recently. Andrew Pudewa has convinced me that student loans are an entrapment, a means by which many thousands of young people are enslaved to debt even before they begin their careers.
And for what? 90% of the time it is for a certificate that says nothing more than that you paid a lot of money to get a certificate.
Why do people do this? Why do they play this game and thus empower the frauds that create it?
But “Life is risky, and those who withdraw from it embrace death,” as David Goldman of First Things expressed it.
We enslave ourselves to unmanning debt, to oppressive governments, to folly, because we are afraid to run the risk of living. Heck, we are afraid to run the risk of thinking or even of speaking what we are actually thinking.
So what are we to do?
Cast your bread upon the waters.
If you don’t, you will, as certainly as the moon drives away the sun at night, become a slave.
I wish our president would address the American people like this:
You are all going to die. Between now and then, you are all going to suffer. We cannot prevent that. If you measure our compassion by how much we pretend to be able to prevent it, we will have no choice but to enslave you because you have no will to freedom.
You, therefore, have a choice. You can either embrace that suffering by ignoring it and fulfilling the purpose of your life as self-governing people and communities, or you can run from that suffering into the hands of an ever greater emptiness of the soul and government of the state. There you will continue to suffer, but you will add to your suffering a shame that you will find so unliveable that you will cry out for the death from which you ran.
The government cannot help you in these areas. We will do all we can to defend your freedom, but even that, in the end, can only be maintained by your own will to freedom.
I would advise you, therefore, to start a business or, if you can’t find anybody to buy what you want to make, go back a step further. Go to the ground itself and put your strength and your intelligence in it. Then you can draw wealth from it.
The more of you are willing to do that, the more free we can be.
But we can’t protect you from the pain and death and failure you will confront while you do it. You’ll have to grow up and be a man to handle this.
Then he could launch into the words of that manliest of poets, Rudyard Kipling (which I quote from memory and therefore, I am quite certain, with errors):
If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it all on just one turn of pitch and toss
And lose, and never breathe a word about your loss…
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run…
Yours is the world and everything that’s in it,
and, which is more, you’ll be a man, my son.
The book of Hebrews tells us that when our Lord went to His sufferings, He went with an attitude of defiance, “despising the shame.” In a sense, He didn’t take suffering seriously.
Neither did Paul. “This momentary light affliction,” works in us “an eternal weight of glory.”
We must renew the risk of living or we will find that, not demanding liberty, we were given death.