So cried Patrick Henry as the closing words of his immortal speech on this day in 1775, on the very eve of the American Revolution, rousing his complacent compatriots – or soon to be compatriots – to bold action against the perceived tyranny of the British monarchy:
What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Henry was not the first, nor the last, to hold that a life of freedom was to be preferred to the living death of slavery and oppression. Live free or die! as New Hampshirites proclaim; or, at least, their licence plates.
Readers may recall the opposite defeatist rallying cry during the Cold War, ‘Better Red than Dead’. Submit to the Communist yoke, so to avoid war and bloodshed, and even the possibility of nuclear annihilation. But like most dilemmas, this was a false one, as Pope Saint John Paul II, Reagan and others proved by bringing down the ‘evil empire’ by peaceful means, and the weight of the sheer disastrous dysfunctionality of ‘communism’. As Margaret Thatcher aptly put it, socialism works fine until you run out of other people’s money.
What now of Marx’s evil system as embodied in China, set to take over the world in a way that Russia could only imagine? As one commentator put it, the Chinese politburo has developed the only economically viable version of communism, predicated on cheap goods made by legions of slaves – or quasi-slaves – on which the rest of the world depends, and which has made us rich – so far. But they may be ready soon to pull the plug.
So, is it better to adopt the modus vivendi of Communist China, and keep them placable?
We need not stretch the analogy to apply this also to our current response to Covid, linked, of course, to the same evil regime. Is life so dear and sweet to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Today marks the anniversary of Boris Johnson’ putting Britain into lockdown and universal house arrest, from which most of the island nation(s) have never come out, as limits on and intrusions into the most private aspects of life, from religion, to property, community, speech, writing, gathering, education, right down to the very core of the family, continue unabated, with no relief in sight. Almost every one of our rights has been practically abolished.
Our motto now seems rather Take my liberty – all of it, leave me locked in a basement – but keep me safe, at all costs…keep me safe!. Which does not have quite the same rousing revolutionary ring.
Give me liberty or give me death. Words to live by – however metaphorically we may take them.