Sometime during the past year in one million Civics classes in one million public schools the following lesson was taught:

America is a democracy. In a democracy the people vote. Voting is a great responsibility. It is what keeps America free.

Part of that is true. Part of that is false. Part of that is absurd. Part of that is dangerous.

This nation is a Republic not a democracy. Democracies are of two basic types, limited and pure. Pure democracies—where every citizen votes on everything—have been extremely rare, and when one appears its life tends to be exciting and short. These function best—if not for long—in a small area with a small population such as a township or city council.

Limited democracies restrict the franchise to a narrow and somewhat patrician class. Such governments tend to be imperialist slave empires, like Athens, early Rome, the Venetian Republic and the United States of America until 1865. Not really that bad a deal if you are a member of the ruling class. If you are not, well then, tough break.

Limited democracies can produce shining monuments to civilization like the Parthenon and the Constitution. But such monuments rest upon thousands of slave pens.

In both pure and limited democracies most of the people can simply vote to enslave the others. Been there. Done that. Got the Civil War.

Republics exist when a people vote into office representatives who then vote for the people in a national assembly. Such governments can only arise where there is a wide-spread belief in Natural Law or there is a heritage of common law.

Republics have issues as well. They depend upon a free and informed people. And a free and informed people can most assuredly vote itself willy-nilly into servitude. And once a man freely walks into the slave pen, he can never leave again. For those very powers that he might enlist to free himself he has freely turned over to the state.

Of course he still might be able to vote, but what of it? Should a slave be elated because he can vote for his taskmaster?

You see, voting is almost irrelevant in the maintenance of a free people. Look at every nation on the earth. Almost all have a system of voting. And almost all are grubby little tyrannies or corrupt little despotisms. If voting made a people free there is little evidence of it.

So what if the American citizen performs what his teachers had told him was his civic duty? So what if he was rewarded with an “I VOTED!” sticker that he can display upon his lapel? So what if he then returns home satisfied that he had accomplished all that was required of him as an informed American?

The reality is that he had done next to nothing for his nation or for his fellow Americans—or even for himself.

So then, what does keep America free? Glad you asked. But be forewarned, you might not like the answer. My apologies, but I am not responsible for your likes or dislikes—or for your feelings of outrage or offence. So cowboy up and read on.

Freedom rests upon violence. And please, let us call freedom what it really is, a commodity. Like all commodities it has a price. That price is paid in the currency of blood. No other payment is acceptable. That blood will be yours or your neighbors or—if we are lucky—it will be the blood of foreigners.

A free people gives the state the authority to use violence overseas—we call the thing we give that authority the military—while holding that authority for itself domestically—we call this authority the right to bear firearms. If either authority is absent the people will be enslaved by foreigners or local tyrants.

And it does not matter if some of the people are too dainty to pay for freedom. Economists call such folks ‘free riders.’ They use a public good—and freedom is such—but do not pay for its use. Think of bicyclists who pay nothing for the maintenance of roads but enjoy their use. Think of children who pay nothing for the maintenance of a free society but enjoy its use.

If enough people cough up the price, then the Republic stays free. If too many people refuse to pay, then the Republic disappears. If not enough American males join the military or not enough Americans exercise their right to bear arms, our Republic will vanish into despotism.

But now an irony intrudes: Even if a people have become too delicate to willingly turn over their own blood for freedom, their blood will still be required of them—unwillingly.

To put the matter as plainly as I can: The political structure of our world depends upon force. That force is used to defend freedom or to impose slavery. In any contest for power—we call such contests ‘exercising foreign policy’—blood will be shed by both free people and by slaves.

The same thing is true at home. We remain free inside our borders only because we are willing to pay the cost in blood. Or we can choose servitude and unwillingly pay the cost in blood. But blood it will be.

You see what I am getting at, yes? We choose servitude when we willingly turn over to the state the right to defend our lives. A free man provides for his home and family—and takes responsibility to defend them both. He would no more farm out this responsibility than he would ask another man to impregnate his wife. A slave has no control over his own life and no right to self-defense. He must rely absolutely upon the whims of the state—his taskmaster—for his life and limb. If the state chooses to ignore the lives of its slaves, well then tough break.

Those dead at Virginia Tech did not have to attend there. They knew that when they entered its hallowed halls they could not be armed. They knew that while they were on its property they had to depend upon the tender mercies of Virginia Tech officials for their very lives. They willingly went into the slave pen, hoping beyond hope that their blood would never be required of them.

What a terrible irony that the freest man on that campus on that day of slaughter was the killer.