EspañolThese days the word liberty can be heard at any political speech. Politicos even use it to advance authoritarian goals, since so many individuals are seduced by it. It is everywhere, yet usually presented in a bastardized and trivial form.
Often we fail to perceive this stripping away of our liberties, because we don’t give them the importance they deserve. By our own apathy and unwillingness take on personal responsibility, we fall for demagogues who hand out benefits to dupe constituents.
Rather than improve our lot, however, such politicos create an umbilical cord with the citizens and turn the government into a maternal figure (the nanny state). They promise an egalitarian society, but instead create dependency and — little by little — curtail our liberty.
If we are to retain our liberty, we must understand its relevance, magnitude, and meaning. When these populist governments undermine our liberties, we must be able to recognize what has happened and not be satisfied by the alleged benefits handed out. In reality, they are the path to losing our standing as proud, sovereign individuals.
French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), a key exponent of liberalism, helps us to grasp these ideas. In his work Ancien Regime and the French Revolution, he describes freedom as “the pleasure of being able to speak, to act, to breathe unrestrained, under the sole government of God and the laws.”
Furthermore, in the seminal book, Democracy in America, he adds: “If men living in democratic countries had no right and no inclination to associate for political purposes, their independence would be in great jeopardy … civilization itself would be endangered.”
The Frenchman insists on liberty as a inherent right of men, representing individual independence, not dependence. Such people need not fear losing various forms of welfare, since they don’t receive them, and can then protect and exercise their liberties by living them out in a public manner, even declaring their “self-government” in the face of the arbitrary dictates of the state.
This independence shields individuals from arbitrary and burdensome intervention on their choices. Correspondingly, as Tocqueville writes, when “all the citizens are independent and feeble; they can do hardly anything by themselves.” In other words, the dependent can hardly bite the hand that feeds them.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro embodies the authoritarian state that seeks to diminish and dominate the individual, supplanting it with a dependency that many can hardly resist. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan opposition have largely failed to understand the nature of the problem; nor have they offered a clear alternative.
What the Chavista regime has stripped from us goes beyond corruption and mismanagement. The problem is no matter of superficial policy changes and political bickering, but rather something much more fundamental: they have taken our liberties, and we need to rescue them.
To oust the tyranny that prevails in Venezuela, the most effective strategy is — as Tocqueville wrote all those years ago — to exercise our liberties: each citizen must stand on his own two feet and defy the lawless regime.
We cannot afford to be swayed or distracted by populism flowing from either the regime or the opposition. Neither route achieves a victory for the individual, which will come once we understand what it means to be free.
Translated by Adam Dubove. Fergus Hodgson contributed to this article.