Lincoln — "Freedom" has taken on new definitions recently, acquiring meanings that have surprised me.
I had thought the concept was long-since defined in aphorisms like "the freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins," and other such expressions. Clever sayings imparted the idea that freedom has limits and carries with it responsibilities.
"There is no freedom to shout fire falsely in a crowded theater" also expressed the limits of freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, making clear that they are not absolute.
Now the idea is abroad that freedom is violated by local, state, or federal government requirements to get vaccinations or wear masks for the protection of society from disease. The notion, overly simplistic to me, is that a government should have no interest in what one does with his or her own body.
I grew up at a time when we had a military draft, when vaccinations were mandatory for school admissions, and most everyone accepted these as proper functions of government. It was part of the understanding that government is obliged to act to "secure the blessings of liberty," an expression from our Constitution's preamble. Certain personal sacrifices, large or small, have long been considered necessary in a society where "freedom is not free," another expression noting the limitations of freedom, especially popular with those who served our country in uniform.
Re-defining freedom in a way that turns these laws and mores upside down should make citizens reflect on where the lines should be drawn between personal freedom and the duty of governments to protect and defend our society.
I would draw the line where governments begin to restrict the right to vote so as to deny us a Constitutionally guaranteed republican form of democracy; to limit the freedom to assemble peaceably; to limit freedom of movement without due process; to delay the administration of justice; and a whole lot more. There are limits that government at any level must not transgress.
But governments through their inaction can also cross the line. Permitting a person's fist to smash another person's nose denies more freedoms than it protects. My freedoms, and those of a majority of Americans during the pandemic, have been curtailed by those who refuse in the name of their own self-defined freedom not to get vaccinated. Government indulgence of fists over noses is a slippery slope in the direction of anarchy, which in turn invites authoritarian and totalitarian responses. It is not a coincidence that many of those who most aggressively tout anti-vaccination "freedom" are also those who would use the government to diminish other freedoms. This is a Hobbesian view of society, in contrast to the Lockean philosophy embodied in our country's founding documents.
Perhaps the marketplace can help resolve these conflicts. If the lives of the unvaccinated are more expensive to save, and treating them clogs up the hospitals and slows business recovery, let it be reflected in health insurance costs. Likewise, I am not troubled by distinguishing the vaccinated from the un-vaccinated in the workforce, in the military, and in public admissions and accommodations, if the distinctions are part of an effort to recognize that the freedom to swing one's fist does indeed end where another's nose begins. Philosophers like Bentham and Mill, who have best defined our freedoms, would approve.
Nothing could be more compatible with the freedoms America traditionally stands for than agreeing on the need for vaccinations to secure the blessings of liberty.