During these times of pondering on whether one should vote for Romney or Obama (and hopefully some people see that the options go beyond that), it is important not only to evaluate candidates but also basic concepts that the constitution is based on, concepts that we hear all Presidential candidates mention, and concept that we ourselves use daily. When I say evaluate these concepts, I mean actually think about what they stand for. One concept that has always intrigued me is ‘liberty.’ What does liberty mean? Is liberty a result of democracy?
Due to living under the oppressive regime of Yugoslavia, witnessing the fall of socialism, living in war and refugee camps, I was compelled to think about the role of liberty. For the longest time I used the word liberty as a synonym for ‘democracy.’ But while living under a socialist regime, I was told to accept that the government has the exclusive authority to grant and take away liberty. Nevertheless, I longed for democracy, believing that once the political issues between Kosovo and Serbia were resolved, people in my country would finally be able to secure their own liberty. Once the conflict was over, it seemed as if liberty would follow. Democracy emerged at the high level of governance structure, but liberty did not necessarily come with it.
I soon realized that it is not only the government that restricts liberty, but social norms as well. Some of the norms that continue to restrict liberty in my country include gender inequality, apathy to government actions reluctance to respect religious freedom, patriotism, and the failure to acknowledge the importance of a constitution. By abiding with these customary norms, people unknowingly inhibit their own liberty. As a consequence, the majority of Kosovar citizens are not familiar with the practical application of the concept of individual liberty. Instead, they have constituted a collectivist society that firmly believes that it is noble to give up private property for the greater good of society, even if this may deprive an individual’s liberty. Without these beliefs being put into question, people continue following them without doubt, because to question tradition is unacceptable. The further this utilitarian ignorance is perpetuated, the more harmful the situation becomes for everybody.
I believe that the right to act according to one’s own will is very important. Moreover, I think that tradition should be challenged and not followed blindly. I now understand liberty is not a consequence of democracy. Since both political and social norms pose a threat to individual liberty, the problem remains for those who do not comprehend their right to stand up for themselves. Citizens need to consider how far their own government can legitimately intervene in their lives without abusing power, thereby exercising the right to abolish arbitrary policies that do not represent the will of people. Until then, liberty will remain restricted.
Thus, I would encourage everyone to think whether liberty is restricted in the United States liberty. Are there any social/cultural norms that people impose upon themselves that restrict liberty?
For specific cases in the United States when the government interferes or denies basic rights visit The Institute for Justice.