Freedom Needs Hearts, Not Charts

Posted by on Jul 31, 2013 in Doubting Thomas | 0 comments

Numbers move few souls. Numbers don’t sway the human heart.


The modern freedom movement—by which I mean the conservative and libertarian push against growing government regulatory power, government redistribution of wealth, and the diminishing individual and entrepreneurial freedom that necessarily follows—has been in motion for six decades. But it has failed to move souls emotionally.

Russell Kirk published his book, The Conservative Mind, in 1953. Though not perfect, it was among the first to offer a prominent, intellectual defense of modern conservatism, then recoiling from and trying to answer the massive government expansion wrapped up in FDR’s New Deal.

Shortly after, in 1955, William F. Buckley and his crew launched National Review magazine. Since then, conservatives and libertarians have created an impressive network of think tanks, schools, media and Internet outlets, and other organizations. They’ve published mountains of solid research, studies, white papers, and books. They even helped elect a real conservative as president, Mr. Ronald Reagan.

Today, their message is broadcast loud and far on talk radio and Fox News. They can assemble hundreds of thousands of freedom lovers in Tea Party rallies. They are especially good at packing large ballrooms with friends and allies who think more or less the same, congratulating each other for being smart and right.

Yet the growth of government marches on. (I won’t repeat here the disturbing numbers because, well, they’re readily available in great detail by the folks mentioned above.) Big government has been marching, without interruption, for the better part of the last century. Why? The answer, at least in part, is found right in the middle of our chests: the heart. The freedom message has not moved hearts.


The human soul has a contour to it, a curved vertical axis along which it moves up and down. This isn’t science. It’s something we all experience. We feel, in a very real way, anger or embarrassment or excitement rise from our belly to our throats. When we are scared or deeply saddened or lose something precious to us, we feel something in us sink. Sometimes a heart races. Sometime a heart feels like it will stop. Yes, there’s motion in e-motion, a reality long before the Internet. But rarely do we feel such powerful motions of the soul when we look at numbers or data or charts. We feel it when we hear a story that touches our hearts.

The most successful and important political movements, for good or ill, have wrapped themselves around the human heart. Consider three events that moved not only the course of American history, but the larger world as well: The American Revolution, the Civil War and subsequent elimination of slavery, and the New Deal. The first two were in the service of expanding individual freedom; the third was in the service of expanding government power at the expense of individual freedom. But each was successful politically because each moved hearts no less than minds.

Imagine the folly if George Washington had delivered a white paper on the economic impact of tea taxes. Instead, he rallied his countrymen by thundering, “Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or abject submission. We have to resolve to conquer or die! Let us show the whole world that a free man contending for liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.” And he meant it.

Imagine the folly if Lincoln had presented a graph of comparative economic advantages of free versus slave labor. Instead, he offered the most basic moral case against slavery: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” And he meant it.

Charts don't move hearts

Not the tools of Washington or Lincoln.

Imagine the folly if FDR tried to sell devastating wage and price controls, restrictions of farm outputs, the creation of huge and hugely wasteful government agencies, and income tax rates soaring to 100% and higher (unbelievable, I know), with charts of GDP and unemployment numbers. Knowing the numbers invalidated his New Deal programs, he instead encouraged Americans to distrust each other by labeling business owners, entrepreneurs, and producers of all kinds as “economic royalists” who are “as likely to be a danger as a help.” Sadly, he meant it.


The studies and data produced by our freedom friends are good, useful. But they alone will not recover the freedoms we’ve lost and stand to lose, they will not cause a dismantling of the bureaucratic leviathan we’ve created in Washington DC, until they move hearts and souls. Let our motions for freedom move emotions, and nothing can stop us.

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