February is the month we celebrate the lives of 2 of our greatest presidents. One helped lay the foundation for our democracy and its freedoms; the other held it together during our greatest crisis. I wrote the following column for the Feb. 14, 2005, issue of National Underwriter and have asked to have it reprinted this month (with slight revisions), for I believe it to be more germane today than ever. Freedom of any kind should not be taken for granted and we all have a stake in its preservation.
One of the central beliefs of our current president is that our own freedom is more secure when others live in an environment of liberty. Achieving such a goal is laudable, even though it may involve decades of patience and, at times, painful effort.
I believe that his is a goal that is very consistent with our history and ideals as a nation. Because despots do not surrender power easily or willingly, the spread of freedom through democratic processes will require unflagging will and effort. Skeptics allege that it cannot be done. However, it is worth noting that in 1776 there was only 1 democracy in the world; today there are 117 covering more than half the world’s population. Many of these new democracies have come into being because of our example and considerable sacrifice in lives and resources.
However, it is important to keep in mind that freedom itself is a complicated business. Tolstoy, in his writings, pointed out that freedom, or liberty, has many and varied components, and each variation has its own set of questions and values. Each element evokes subject matter and sciences in which freedom is perceived in a different context. History, ethics, social responsibility, jurisprudence and economics all impinge upon the idea of freedom, according to Tolstoy.
It seems to me that what Tolstoy was saying is that one could live where freedom abounds, yet still be enslaved by one of the components.
Perhaps the field of economics provides a useful example. A person may exist in an environment where free speech, the right to vote and to assemble, and share the benefits of a free press are guaranteed and yet not be free from economic burdens or distress.
And this is where I believe we can enter the picture and play an important part. For years the motto of the National Association of Life Underwriters (now the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors) was “Providers of Financial Independence.” Our most important mission, as the life and health insurance business, is the prevention of poverty. Often poverty is the result following the death or illness of a family member, particularly the breadwinner. Failure to save systematically often has produced poverty, or at least meager circumstance, in retirement. Economic want dilutes the benefits of freedom.