Free Societies

Dr. Tom G. Palmer's Toast to Freedom at Freedom Dinner 2021

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After accepting the Sir Antony Fisher Achievement Award at Atlas Network's 2021 Freedom Dinner in Miami, Dr. Tom G. Palmer gave this Toast to Freedom:

Thank you, Debbi, and thanks to all of you for your involvement in, your personal investment in, and your support of the liberty movement.

I remember previous toasts at our Freedom Dinners, starting with the first one in 2004 with José Mariá Aznar on the fifteenth anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I’m not as powerful and moving an orator as Spanish politician José Mariá Aznar or British politician Dan Hannan, nor as brilliant, and certainly not as photogenic, as Swedish historian and model Johan Norberg. But, like them, I sometimes meditate on the meaning of liberty. So my toast for this evening will consist of meditations on the virtues of liberty, on what it means to be a lover of liberty, whether we call ourselves classical liberals or libertarians or just liberals or something else.

As a result of more than a decade of Adam Smith Summer Seminars in a still Communist-ruled country I visit, there is an active group of over 750 young members who have committed themselves to liberty. They call themselves “F-Group.” Some years ago I gave talks to F-Group meetings. When I asked what the name stands for I got a smile and the answer, “The authorities know us only as F-Group. We know that ‘F’ stands for ‘Fun, Friendship, and Freedom.’” Those three values are deeply connected. In English, they all begin with F, but that’s a mere coincidence, because the concepts behind them really are a package.

When we speak of Freedom, we don’t intend what Thomas Hobbes called the “perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” The liberty we seek is the kind of social order described by John Locke, who understood that “where there is no Law, there is no Freedom.” Locke described a Liberty to dispose, and order as one wishes, one’s Person, Actions, Possessions, and one’s whole Property, within the Allowance of those Laws, under which one is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary Will of another, but freely follow one’s own. It’s the liberty of people living together and cooperating voluntarily, each enjoying equally the rule of law and the rights of property, speech, exchange, contract, conscience, worship, expression, and locomotion. Freedom.

Now fun. That’s the joy we experience in cooperating and working together for our common goal of liberty for all. I know it and I am sure you do, too. It’s the joy of doing what is right, not as a burden, but as its own reward. If the activity isn’t rewarding – that is, if it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable. I have worked for the cause of liberty for more than fifty years and I can tell you, it’s been fun and it’s made me very rich … in experiences and in friendships, to which I now turn.

Friendship, which we could also call Fellowship, is central to our liberal movement. Illiberal movements, whether of the right or the left, ground friendship on the basis of common enemies. The National Socialist theorist Carl Schmitt put it clearly: “the specific political distinction, to which political actions and motives can be reduced, is that between friend and enemy.” Schmitt’s book, The Concept of the Political, is a core text of both far left and far right. Resentment, anger, rage, and hatred of their enemies form the foundation of illiberal friendship. Liberals, in contrast, can have friends without having enemies.

On my recent airplane trips to visit and assist and enjoy fellowship with liberals in ten Latin American and European countries, I re-read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, a mixture of great wisdom regarding happiness and great misunderstanding of social order and markets. Aristotle opens Book 8 by noting that friendship “is inherent … in those that are alike in kind to one another, and especially in human beings, which is why we praise people who are philanthropoi (that is, friends to human beings). One might see in one’s travel too that every human being is kindred to every other human being and a friend.”

Friendship and rejection of enmity are central to liberalism. Hatred leads so easily to collectivism, to fostering collective fellowship as a means of countering collective enemies. It is the fellowship of hatred and it’s poisonous to free societies. I fear that such mutual hatred and loathing is rising in a number of countries, including the United States, as both sides of the political party divide demonize the other. In contrast, we are joined in liberal friendship because of our mutual love for liberty, not because of hatred for anyone else. A great martyr of liberty perished miserably in 2017 in a prison administered by the Communist Party in China. His name was Liu Xiaobo and he was the second Nobel Laureate to die in prison; the other was Carl von Ossietzky, who died in 1938 in a National Socialist Concentration Camp. In Liu’s final statement, titled “I have no enemies” and delivered to the court that sentenced him to imprisonment, he said, “Hatred can rot away at a person’s intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress toward freedom and democracy.” When we argue for liberty, we should seek, not to crush, defeat, humiliate, or destroy enemies, but to win friends for liberty. The best victory in an argument is not when you hurt the other, but when you hear the other person repeat your arguments six months – or six years – later.

It is not hatred of others that moves us, but positive love for the liberty of all. Joaquim Nabuco, the great Brazilian liberal abolitionist, exhorted us to “Educate your children, educate yourselves, in the love for the liberty of others, for only in this way will your own liberty not be a gratuitous gift from fate. You will be aware of its worth and will have the courage to defend it.”

My Polish friends know how fond I am of the Polish heritage of loving the freedom of others, as expressed in their slogan “For our liberty, and yours,” which has characterized the Polish fight for liberty from 1831 to the present. To love your own liberty seriously, you must also love the liberty of others. Moreover, friends, as Aristotle noted, want what is good for their friends, and so it is natural that liberals of all countries are especially dear friends to all other liberals. We love the liberty of all, but that is most especially true for those who love our liberty in return. Such liberal friendship is deep and it gives us strength and courage and fortitude. I have visited our friends in Afghanistan over the years and I have always stressed that they are not alone. When the brittle republic of Afghanistan was overrun so quickly, the global network of liberals was with the liberals of Afghanistan. They are alive – and still working for liberty – as a result. Our liberal friends – from New Zealand, Greece, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Canada, the US, Germany, the UK, and Turkey – stepped up to help them. The same has been true for liberals I’ve worked with in other countries, including China and Egypt and Russia and Iraq and Iran. They know that they are not alone.

Our movement for liberty runs on friendship. Being with friends is joyous. We enjoy sharing stories and learning from each other, joking and catching up. But we remain friends, as well, with those who have been friends to us but who can no longer reciprocate our friendship. Those who have died can no longer actively express their friendship for us, but we can and do and must for them. I think often of the many who have preceded us and whose spirits remain active, even in this room. Priscilla Slocum and John Blundell and Manuel Ayau and Donald Smith and George Yeager and Andrea Rich and Jon Utley and Stephen Williams and Phil Harvey and so many other old liberal friends who have passed continue to inspire me with their generosity, their humility, their intellect, their wit, and their passion for liberty. When I do what I can for liberty, I know that they are with me. I hope that they would be pleased.

I also hope that, over the coming decades, I will prove myself worthy of this honor.

Please join me in raising a glass to Fun, Friendship, and Freedom.