Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” This may be the way things have trended in the past and is certainly the case of current government, but is it truly the natural progress of things? Based on stipulations that nature and liberty are good, and government is bad, for the most part, Jefferson must have been wrong. Liberty is natural and government is contrived, thus, there must be another component in this paradigm.
To fully understand Jefferson’s statement, one must be aware of the situation in which Jefferson found himself. Nature, though wondrous, was dangerous and unpredictable. While, on the other hand, many of us today seek out nature for vacation on a regular basis, people in Eighteenth century America were trying to avoid it. Nature to them was not good and thus, it made sense to define liberty as a man-made institution, while crediting nature with an overbearing government.
Today, our view of nature has changed. We hold nature in high regard, often seeking to ‘act natural’ or ‘be at one with nature,’ and we hold in contempt things that are contrived or forced. Although most of our daily routines don’t have anything to do with nature, it remains important and prominent (at least in shampoo commercials). Perhaps the lack of nature in our lives has led to such respect for all things natural.
In a way, liberty should be synonymous with nature and they are both valued ideas in today’s society. From these propositions, we can see a conflict with the statement from Thomas Jefferson. Contrary to the brilliant founding father, it stands to reason that there is another factor besides the “natural progress of things” that makes , “liberty yield.” This factor is culture.
Since humans started gathering together in towns and villages, culture has forced us to limit our liberties in order to survive with one. All of our rules and regulations are components of culture, along with food, entertainment, and the like. In many instances in the past, personal liberties have been suffocated for the betterment of the culture, resulting in more government. This suffocation is usually followed with a revolution or military defeat, in which case, the society slowly regains its natural liberties.
History shows us a series of peaks and valleys of personal liberties. Governments slowly become more restrictive, then fall to a more libertarian government which slowly restricts its people again. When the people have had enough, they take down that government, and the process repeats itself. Jefferson was right in this respect: government seems to always gain ground.
The United States was theoretically the cure to the peaks and valleys of liberty. It was the first government to allow peaceful revolts every four years. It was also established so that the people would run the government, not so the government could run the people. How could government gain ground and impede on personal liberties when it was composed of the same people which it governed?
Amazingly, it has happened. Government is slowly growing and slowly robbing us of our freedoms, whether it be through taxes, or restaurant regulations, or drug laws. Government is not natural, but it only makes sense that government, like any natural thing, is going to do everything in its power to exist, thrive, and grow. Luckily, in the United States, we are still able to change what goes on in Washington every four years. We can reverse the seemingly inevitable trend of growth in government and compromising liberty, but we must return to the mindset that we are in charge. The government works for us, not the other way around. With that mindset, people may stop asking the government for things and realize they’re really asking their fellow citizens for things. Perhaps then, we can finally get back to nature and to liberty for all.