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Friday, May 25, 2018

“Liberty Is Simply Being Human to the Hilt” and 21 Other Choice Quotes by Karl Hess

Karl Hess persisted in “opposing restrictions against liberty” with clarity and acuity.

Do you remember Barry Goldwater’s most famous quote? “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the defense of justice is no virtue.” That statement enabled opponents to demean him as an extremist, explaining why the left still tries to pin that scarlet letter E on opponents. But as Steven Hayward noted, such extremism means only that Americans “grow a spine and say ‘stop’ to the endless expansion of the state.”

Further, rather than focusing attention on Goldwater, it makes more sense to focus on the writer of those words—Karl Hess, whose birthday is May 25th. Hess was a central influence in reviving a commitment to liberty in America. Given the guttering flame of freedom today, his “extremist” words merit reconsideration.

“Liberty [is]…simply being human to the hilt; being absolutely responsible for your own choices in life…never initiating force to get your way or condoning it for someone else to get their way.”

“Politics has always been the institutionalized and established way in which some men have exercised the power to live off the output of other men.”

“Politics, throughout time, has been the institutionalized denial of man’s… employment of all his own powers for his own welfare…through the resources that it has been able to plunder from the creative and productive people.”

“Both liberals and conservatives today…see the state as an instrument not protecting man’s freedom but either instructing or restricting how that freedom is to be used.”

“The state…has not given me anything that it did not first extort from me.”

“The real answer…[is] the abandonment, not the extension, of state power.”

“No person is so grand or wise or perfect as to be the master of another person.”

“Government never has and never can humanely and effectively manage men’s affairs.”

“Will men continue to submit to rule by politics, which has always meant the power of some men over other men?”

“Many people…are so unsure of freedom that they see its preservation only in its abandonment.”

“The Declaration of Independence…scares the hell out of every modern bureaucrat, because it tells them there comes a time when we must stop taking orders.”

“I want the freedom to be responsible for my own actions.”

“Freedom has been our vision…it is our possibility.”

“Each man is a sovereign land of liberty.”

“Politics devour men; a laissez-faire would will liberate them.”

“[I] yearn for…a state that cannot compel anything, but simply prevents the use of violence, in place of other exchanges, in relations between individuals or groups.”

“Each man is the absolute owner of his life, to use and dispose of as he sees fit.”

“All man’s social actions should be voluntary…the only–repeat only–function of law or government is to provide the self-defense against violence that an individual, if he were powerful enough, would provide for himself.”

“No one should serve you involuntarily…you should not involuntarily serve anyone else.”

“We have the illusion of freedom only because so few ever try to exercise it. Try it sometime.”

“Libertarians yearn for a state that cannot…confer any advantage on anyone… that cannot compel anything, but simply prevents the use of violence…in relations between individuals and groups.”

“Think of whether you have ever met a libertarian who is more a threat to you than is a willing, serving agent of the state…Happily, such libertarians are far more easily ignored than the agents of the state.”

Karl Hess persisted in “opposing restrictions against liberty” with clarity and acuity. That is why his words, a sharp contrast to the obfuscation employed when liberty is besieged by those desiring ever-greater power over others, deserves renewed consideration. And he also encouraged us with his example.

Compared to today’s neither logically or empirically demonstrated “progressive” ideology of government as a ubiquitous do-gooder with other peoples’ property, Karl Hess’ words are “extreme.” But that is extreme only in the same way that The Declaration of Independence was extreme—i.e., in its commitment to the ideal of freedom and, therefore, the protection of a country’s members from others’ abuses, particularly those imposed by their own government. That extremism is a prerequisite for upholding the vision that became America, not a disreputable character flaw. Those who threaten the foundation of America’s greatness twist the idea of unalienable self-ownership and the voluntary arrangements it enables into an “extreme” idea to be rejected.

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).