Without a doubt, one has the right to burn a flag as long as it is their own private property. But this does not mean that it isn’t rather foolish to do so.
Donald Trump recently tweeted suggesting that nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag; and if they do, they should perhaps lose their citizenship or serve a year in jail. Imprisoning people for burning cloth is rather authoritarian, and I would in no way, shape, or form ever support this. Because I am an anarcho-capitalist, I have no desire to use the Constitution to justify whether flag burning is right or wrong. If someone obtained the flag by way of voluntary exchange, it is their private property. Therefore, they have every right to do whatever it is that they want, including setting it on fire, as long as the flag burning does not infringe upon the rights of other individuals. Whether the State law says it is “legal” or “illegal” is completely irrelevant, considering that we all know that the law is not synonymous with individual rights.
I wouldn’t be surprise if Donald Trump said this just to troll the public, being as he’s magnificent at that. But it did bring about an interesting conversation regarding flag burning. The discussion as to whether or not someone has a “right” to do it is rather silly in my honest opinion, however. Of course, it is their right to do so; but just because it is their right does not mean that it isn’t diametrically opposed to advancing their cause.
Value is subjective. What a flag represents to one, may not be what it represents to others. Some individuals see the flag and think of love and unity, some make think of tyranny. Some individuals may think that the flag represents coexistence and freedom, while others may think that it represents division and slavery. It is thus not simply the symbolic representation of the government. It is completely dependent on the individual in question. While it may physically be just a piece of cloth, what it represents can be much more; and you do know that it generally represents something to someone. So even if one has the right to, burning it may not be the brightest of ideas.
But there are two main reasons as to why I feel as if it is a bit stupid to go around burning the flag of the “United States of America.” For starters, I don’t go around setting cloths on fire just to do it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever randomly set cloth on fire. So it’d be a huge performative contradiction for me to set a flag on fire, while saying it that it’s not a big deal. Clearly, it means something and I’d be trying to send message, otherwise setting it ablaze would serve no purpose.
I oppose the State with every fiber of my being. I openly want it to be completely abolished, and this is not an idea that many people adopt – otherwise we’d have a free society.
There is the process to spreading the ideas of liberty: Education, and evolution. This is the main reason I would not go out of my way to burn a flag. That accomplishes nothing other than riling up the same people that I want to adopt the libertarian philosophy. This is due to the fact that the flag has heavy emotional ties to some individuals, and to them, it represents something much more than government. People love to tie actions to representatives of a philosophy or ideology, and purposely putting what I advocate in a negative light is not advancing what I advocate. This does not mean that there will not be things that I’ll do that will inevitably offend others; I’m not suggesting walking on eggshells. But as mentioned earlier, you have to go out of your way to burn cloths and it is something most do not do in their everyday lives. It is easily avoidable. I look at flag burning in the same light as snorting cocaine: You have the right to do it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the smart thing to do. And in the case of flag burning, it can very well setback your cause.
Some people are pearl clutching at the idea of loss of “citizenship.” Losing citizenship doesn’t personally bother me, considering that I feel as if individuals should be able to opt out of citizenship without having to physically move; this is a form of secession. Imprisoning people for burning private property and not violating the rights of others, however, is unacceptable.
I’ll be the first to admit that this was bonehead statement from Donald Trump. But having the right to do something does not mean it isn’t strategically stupid.
This article was edited for grammar, style, and spelling, but not for content. The views expressed are that of the author, Eric July, exclusively, and do not reflect that of BeingLibertarian.com or Being Libertarian LLC
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