A teacher sees politics play out on the playground.
Strong kids grab the play equipment and do whatever they wish to do while the weaker kids get less. It’s hard to know when to intervene since you do not wish to teach the smaller kids that they cannot stand up for themselves, yet sometimes they cannot. Sometimes the free time of most kids is turned into unfree time as a small cadre of powerful kids dominate the choices.
To maximize liberty on the playground, a teacher may have to intervene to make sure that all kids get to do what they wish (as much as possible) with their toys! This is odd, since the intervention of the even more powerful teacher restrains the choices of the powerful.
The teacher sides with the oppressed against the oppressor.
Liberty for the weak can only be gained by restraining the desires of the strong. The first Republican President of the United States explains:
“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for the some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name- liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different different and incompatible names- liberty and tyranny.
The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes which by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bandage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated.”
Lincoln is at odds with a thinker like Nietzsche. Lincoln knows that everyone will benefit if each human gets autonomy and the use of the “sweat of his brow.” If we are not free to use what we make as we choose, then we are not free. The difficulty is that some people are “wolves” (to use Lincoln’s language) and they want freedom from sweating! They will live on other’s labor. The slaveholder in the South was a wolf as is the bully on the playground or in modern society.
The bully in modern politics or social life is not as wicked as the slave master, but he shares one characteristic with him. The political bully has no genuine ideas, but steals them from other people. He does none of the work of learning in order to create. If challenged with inaccuracy, the bully has the perfect response: he attacks. A very effective bully knows who to find the weaknesses of his opponent, his insecurities, and flaws. If the political or social bully is allowed to win, then he glories in his “victory.”
He can know nothing and win the illusion of scholarship or political gravitas. The ultimate modern bully can exist without ever doing anything other than demonize the weak. By punching down, he gains victory after victory . . . like a boxer who only fights patsies. Still, many people will admire the undefeated “champ” and flock to his banner.
Liberty for the wolf means death to the sheep. Liberty for a bully means mental enslavement for the majority. The job of a republic is stop the wolves from taking liberty from the sheep . . . even if it means all of us sheep banding together to stop the wolf!
Christianity agrees with Lincoln (not surprisingly). We oppose the bullies and like the men of Maryland, repudiate the dictionary of wolves. Instead, we side with the sheep knowing we all are sheep to God!