Democracy, Liberty, Law Depend on Eternal Vigilance

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We have all recently had a lesson in the importance of the rule of law and in the vulnerability to lawless assaults of the political  institutions of limited, democratic government that secure our liberty. The shocking and lawless actions in Washington, D.C., provided many people a wakeup call. They also reminded us all that no nation is uniquely exempt from the temptations of power or from the dangers of mob violence and populism.

At Atlas Network we remain steadfast in our support for the rule of law and for liberal democracy. That is at the core of our mission. Being “against government” is not the same as being “for liberty.”

What we oppose is overweening, unlimited power and what we favor is limited government – government that is restricted to those core functions that make freedom possible.

Atlas Network’s founder, Sir Anthony Fisher, fought against National Socialism and Fascism in World War II. He established our network to ensure that the terrible war through which he had lived, and which killed his brother, would not be repeated, and that future generations would be spared the horrors of unrestrained state power and violence.

Sir Anthony sought to secure liberty through democratic governance constrained by the rule of law. The power of F. A. Hayek’s 1944 analysis of power, war, statism, lawlessness, and serfdom moved Fisher to establish the Institute of Economic Affairs in the United Kingdom, to encourage the founding of other institutions around the world, and later to establish Atlas Network. Those ideas are as relevant today as they were in 1944.

Liberal democracy “with definitely limited powers” is the framework within which we secure our liberty and, as such, it is a core commitment of our network. (It is worth re-reading The Road to Serfdom, because its relevance goes far beyond the particular debates of that time.)
Demosthenes in the fourth century proclaimed the importance of the norms that make freedom possible when he addressed an Athenian jury:

The instant this court rises, each of you will walk home, onequicker, another more leisurely, not anxious, not glancing behindhim, not fearing whether he is going to run up against a friend or an enemy, a big man or a little one, a strong man or a weak one, or anything of that sort.

And why? Because, in his heart, he knows, and is confident, and has learned to trust the polity, that no one shall seize or insult or strike him. ….It is due…to the strength of the laws.

And what is the strength of the laws? If one of you is wronged and cries aloud, will the laws run up and be at his side to assist him? No: they are only written texts and incapable of such action.

Wherein then resides their power? In yourselves, if only you support them and make them all-powerful to help him who needs them. So the laws are strong through you and you through the laws.

There are lessons in what we have witnessed. We learn from experience and we study the lessons of history in order to navigate the future and, in a world of risk and uncertainty, to secure for every one liberty, peace, and prosperity under democratic governance that is constrained by the rule of law. That rule of law is sustained by norms.

The norms of freedom and of democratic governance must be maintained, nurtured, transmitted, defended. The institutions that secure our liberty are easily dismantled and very, very difficult to rebuild. No one should ever again be so naïve as to think that “it can’t happen here” because written laws forbid it.

Democracy, liberty, and law rest on norms, including the norm of eternal vigilance – always, everywhere, and forever. The laws are strong through us, and we are strong through the laws.

We look forward to seeing you all again in future. Until then, we wish to affirm that we all stand together for the rights of all under the rule of law.

With respect and commitment to our common liberty,

We remain,

Cordially yours,

Tom G. Palmer
Executive Vice President of International Programs and George M.
Yeager Chair for Advancing Liberty
Atlas Network

Casey Pifer
Director of Institute Relations
Atlas Network


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