6 Quotes: George H.W. Bush on freedom and economic liberty
Religion & Liberty Online

6 Quotes: George H.W. Bush on freedom and economic liberty

President George H.W. Bush died on Friday at the age of 94. Bush became a war-hero and earned a degree in economics from Yale before entering into a career that made him one of the greatest statesmen of the twentieth century.

Throughout his life Bush was a champion of freedom—for individual, for markets, and for nations. Here are six of Bush’s most important quotes on freedom and economic liberty:

On the misuse of the terms freedom and liberty: “No terms have been abused more regularly, nor more cynically than [freedom, democracy, and economic liberty]. Throughout this century despots have masqueraded as democrats, jailers have posed as liberators. We can restore faith to government only by restoring meaning to these concepts.”

On freedom as an inalienable individual right: “When Americans talk of freedom, we refer to people’s abilities to live without fear of government intrusion, without fear of harassment by their fellow citizens, without restricting other’s freedoms. We do not consider freedom a privilege, to be doled out only to those who hold proper political views or belong to certain groups. We consider it an inalienable individual right, bestowed upon all men and women. Lord Acton once observed: The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.”

On religious freedom: “Freedom requires tolerance, a concept embedded in openness, in glasnost, and in our first amendment protections for the freedoms of speech, association, and religion—all religions. Tolerance nourishes hope. A priest wrote of glasnost: Today, more than ever the words of Paul the Apostle, spoken, 2,000 years ago, ring out: They counted as among the dead, but look, we are alive. In Ukraine, in Russia, in Armenia, and the Baltics, the spirit of liberty thrives. But freedom cannot survive if we let despots flourish or permit seemingly minor restrictions to multiply until they form chains, until they form shackles.”

On despotism and nationalism: “Freedom is not the same as independence. Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local depotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.”

On economic liberty: “In modern societies, freedom and democracy rely on economic liberty. A free economy is nothing more than a system of communication. It simply cannot function without individual rights or a profit motive, which give people an incentive to go to work, an incentive to produce. And it certainly cannot function without the rule of law, without fair and enforceable contracts, without laws that protect property rights and punish fraud.”

On a free economy: “Free economies depend upon the freedom of expression, the ability of people to exchange ideas and test out new theories. The Soviet Union weakened itself for years by restricting the flow of information, by outlawing devices crucial to modern communications, such as computers and copying machines. And when you restricted free movement—even tourist travel—you prevented your own people from making the most of their talent. You cannot innovate if you cannot communicate. And finally, a free economy demands engagement in the economic mainstream. Adam Smith noted two centuries ago, trade enriches all who engage in it. Isolation and protectionism doom its practitioners to degradation and want.”

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).