"If it is only given freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable" - Immanuel Kant
Last week, my Modern European History class analyzed documents from the Enlightenment. These documents ranged from John Locke to Voltaire, but one that caught my interest was written by the renowned philosopher, Immanuel Kant.Though most of Kant's philosophy hardly lines up with libertarianism, a few of his points do ring true in regards to a man's freedom to think and act for himself.
Towards the beginning of his writing, "What is the Enlightenment?", Kant defines enlightenment as "man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage." Nonage being a person's incapability to think on his own without aid of another. Kant observed that laziness and cowardice were the roots of humanity's preference to "gladly remain minors all their lives". It may be tempting to believe that the Enlightenment was an international cultural awakening that lived only in the 18th century. However, I believe that the Enlightenment lives on today through the libertarian spirit and is in constant battle with nonage in the form of government interventionism.
Though Kant lived a little under three centuries ago, his philosophy certainly applies today. We celebrate many freedoms in America, but could we call ourselves truly "enlightened" in Kant's sense of the word? I opine that were are not so enlightened. A libertarian's definition of freedom consists of one's property rights being established and protected: What's "mine" is NOT "yours" and the government's sole purpose is to protect what's "mine" and what's "yours". But how many times a day does our government trespass against our freedom under these slightly patronizing excuses: I'm doing this for your own good or I'm taking a chunk of your income for your own good or I get to tell you how to run your business because I'm looking out for your success. Many citizens fall for this facade and believe there's nothing wrong with assistance from Big Brother. Unfortunately, this mode of thinking eventually makes us believe that we cannot do anything without government assistance. As Kant put it so bluntly, we become glad to remain children for the rest of our lives underneath adult supervision. This is nonage under governmental influence and this trespasses against human kind's natural right to grow and flourish. Kant notes that "Once such men have thrown off the yoke of nonage, they will spread about them the spirit of a reasonable appreciation of man's value and of his duty to think for himself"
Yes, we have our flaws, but the human spirit isn't meant to be stupid and suppressed. We hold an innovative spirit that explodes exponentially when crossed with freedom. As students, we don't need the guidance of the government- telling us what to do with our creative skills and ambitions. We are educated thinkers- we have been equipped with knowledge to construct and to prosper.