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Liberty For All, Individuals

Editorial Note:  This post obviously varies greatly from my previous posts.  It’s intended to provoke thought and consideration, though many will not agree with it’s thesis.

Liberty is nothing unless it is complete and unabridged.

Liberty of the many, especially if at the cost of the liberty of the individual, is questionable liberty at all.  Liberty is only meaningful if it is granted to those most unfavorable to the majority.  The popular concept of liberty is often freedom of speech and religion.  These are great freedoms, but liberty cannot be a short list of approved behaviors.  Liberty, truly, must be complete.

To take an example from the news lately may be the subject of polygamy.  Polygamy is illegal, but so long as it’s amongst consenting adults (not the sort of coercion of which Warren Jeffs is accused) who is the majority to tyrannize the choice of these few?  The same argument could be made for prostitution.

A common retort is that in both these cases there are instances of abuse, this is almost certainly true.  Abuse is a violation of liberty in all cases.  It is coercion by threat or act of harm, bodily or otherwise.  It must be understood though that there are people who knowingly participate in polygamy or prostitution and this is a result of their personal beliefs and desires, and not abuse.  By making these practices illegal, those who are abused are both branded as immoral, as though legality and morality are synonymous.  Worse still, those who are abused have little legal recourse due to the illegality of their behaviors.  Author Walter Block wrote a good thought provoking book called Defending the Undefendable.  Check it out for free.

The use of law, by the majority and/or their representatives, can be coercive.  The law may coerce by threat of imprisonment, fine or bodily harm.  The law’s just and moral role is the protection of people from any inhibition of their liberty.  Where then does one’s liberty end?  Is not such a group of laws too small to keep order amongst people?  One’s liberty extends so far as it does not infringe on someone else’s.  Are laws prohibiting people from actions for “their own good” not inhibitions of liberty.

Doesn’t all this talk of liberty just logically conclude in anarchy?  First, anarchy, by definition, is a stateless society.  The word anarchy is a loaded as any in the English language, helped along by video of black clad anti-globalization “anarchists” breaking windows and burning cars at G-20 summits.  For those interested in political philosophy there are numerous variations on the anarchist political philosophy.  These can vary from anarcho-pacifism which preaches a strict prohibition of violence, to Propaganda of the Deed.  This later form seems to seek violence and destruction as a political end.

So, is a society without a government one of violence and destruction?  If this is so, then man inherently tends towards coercion, and Thomas Hobbes was correct when he said that the natural state of man is the war of  all against all.  This, to me, seems as naive the Socialist ideal that collectivism is the path to uniform prosperity.  I believe that the reality is some place in between.  Minarchism, a state of minimal government, and it variants, seem the most reasonable middle ground to me.  It is the belief of limited government that laid the foundation for the US Constitution.

So, what is liberty really if it’s not complete and unabridged?  To quote Thomas Jefferson, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.”

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Categories: Political Philosophy
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