The #FreeBritney movement emerged as a grassroots effort to spotlight Spears’s ongoing deprivation of rights—which were essentially the natural rights to life, liberty, and property.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
No, these aren’t the lyrics to pop-star Britney Spears’s latest hit song. But we won’t be surprised if the words of the Declaration of Independence make an appearance on her next album.
As we all know by now, after a publicized 2008 incident involving an apparent mental breakdown, a Los Angeles Superior Court ordered that Britney Spears’s assets and decision-making powers be placed into a conservatorship. Her father, Jamie Spears, was named the conservator, and would thereafter exercise responsibility for Spears’s life and livelihood.
But what was supposed to be a temporary conservatorship lasted for an astonishing 13 years. Finally, on November 12, 2021, the conservatorship came to a long-overdue end.
For those 13 years—spanning parts of four presidencies, from Bush to Biden—the Princess of Pop’s financial decisions were governed against her will, and her ability to keep the fruits of her labor was thoroughly undermined. For instance, Spears’s “Circus Tour” was one of the highest-grossing tours of the 2000s. It grossed $131.8 million in 2009. And yet, reports indicate that her conservatorship granted her a paltry $1,500 per week “allowance” during that time. Artists who collaborated with Spears even reported that they occasionally saw Spears being restricted from drinking soda.
Other allegations of abuse were even more concerning and should shock anyone concerned with individual liberty. In court hearings, Spears testified that she was repeatedly medicated against her will, prevented from marrying and having children, and threatened with lifestyle restrictions if she did not cooperate. All the while, Spears was pressured to perform her role as a pop-icon, touring to sold-out stadiums, judging the show X-Factor, and branding perfume lines, while having little control over the money she earned.
Although Spears’s private medical details were generally kept confidential, the situation seemed amiss. How could someone take on so many projects—and be subject to the legal contracts that necessarily came with them— but also be deemed unfit to exercise control over the essential parts of her life? Many people struggle with mental health challenges at some point in their lives, but few are placed in conservatorships like Spears was.
The #FreeBritney movement emerged as a grassroots effort to spotlight Spears’s ongoing deprivation of rights—which were essentially the natural rights to life, liberty, and property. #FreeBritney held numerous rallies, issued public condemnations of the conservatorship, and maintained its own website. Spears even succeeded, perhaps inadvertently, at furthering the cause of liberty in Washington, DC, by getting both Republican and Democrat lawmakers to issue statements of concern regarding unduly restrictive conservatorship.
Of course, it is easy to dismiss Spears’s situation as just another strange Hollywood tabloid scandal. However, looked at in the proper light, the end to Spears’s conservatorship should be seen as a victory for liberty generally. Without being tongue-in-cheek, we say that the groundswell of support for Spears ought to be understood as a public vindication of natural rights.
After all, the Enlightenment philosophers, like John Locke, who inspired the birth of our American Republic, would have been appalled by the idea of putting Spears’s freedom and livelihood in the hands of another person for such an extended time, especially as Spears seemed well enough to take on new projects, appear and perform in public, and cogently condemn her own conservatorship in court.
And the signers of the Declaration of Independence—who risked death to proclaim the right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”—could hardly imagine a world where, more than two centuries later, an American citizen would be forcibly medicated her against her will and prevented from marrying or procreating through threats and acts of coercion.
Indeed, conservatorships like Spears’s have much in common with totalitarian governments, which Americans have always rejected. Authoritarian regimes, for example, are rooted in the thoroughly anti-Lockean idea that a strong, centralized government is a better decision-maker than the individual. A conservatorship operates similarly, under the belief that a conservator is a better decision-maker than the individual.
And for those who despair that the cause of liberty and natural rights is suffering in the United States, take heed: The public has spoken out overwhelmingly in support of Spears’s freedom from oppressive, state-sanctioned control. In this way, the public has revealed a kind of Lockean moral instinct—a belief that one shouldn’t be forced to distribute her wealth among others who didn’t generate it, and that an individual shouldn’t lack control over her bodily integrity and personal decision-making.
The public’s support of Spears’s legal effort reflects a powerful American devotion to individual freedom—one that remains deeply ingrained in our society more than 200 years after the Declaration was signed.
Supporting #FreeBritney is the natural consequence of rejecting the concept of an emboldened state that increasingly seeks to regulate every aspect of our lives. You don’t have to be sheepish about it, just because it involves a Hollywood pop star.
Let’s celebrate: Britney is free, and that’s a win for us all.
—by James Donovan and William E. Trachman
[Featured image via YouTube]
William E. Trachman is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education and is General Counsel for Mountain States Legal Foundation, where James Donovan is a fellow.DONATE
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