22 June 2013

WHAT IS LIBERTY EXACTLY?


More or less every modern politician talks about “freedom” or “liberty.” Actually, they don’t talk about it as much as they use it as a magic incantation. They go on at length about “our free country,” but if you could get them to define freedom, that definition would be something along the lines of “what we have.”

Once we’re past such self-praising nonsense, we’re still left with the original question: What exactly is this “liberty”? And then the trouble begins. There are dozens of definitions. This is a problem.We’re all going around talking about liberty, but no two of us mean precisely the same thing. If you’re looking for reasons why liberty gets so little real traction in the world, this would be a good place to start.
So, it’s about time that we clarified what we mean by these terms. And, since I’ve spent decades pursuing liberty, and since no one else seems to be addressing this, I’ll take on this chore myself.

First of all, I’m going to treat “liberty” and “freedom” as the same concept. After all, the wordfreedom comes to us from old English and liberty from old French, and they both mean the same thing: unconstrained.

The problem with unconstrained lies in the fact that we are constrained by the natural world, by everything from gravity to rocks to weather. Nature constrains us. Yet, we don’t feel oppressed by nature — it isn’t trying to hurt us or limit us, it simply is what it is, and we can use it as we wish too. Our bodies are part of nature, after all.

It is when other people force us to obey, use violence against us, or simply intimidate us, that we feel constrained and abused. (Which tells us all we really need to know about the nature of liberty and humanity.)

So, here is a precise definition for freedom/liberty:

A condition in which a man’s will regarding his own person and property is unopposed by any other will.

That is the bedrock. From there you can add other aspects if you wish, but you cannot deviate from this core and still be talking about “liberty.”
For example, Thomas Jefferson used the same core idea (notice the inclusion of “will”), but added a political aspect:
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add “within the limits of the law” because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
The great John Locke also held to this core, but took it in a more philosophical direction:
All men are naturally in a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.

Personally, I like a very plain version of the same sentiments:

We should be allowed to do whatever we want, so long as we don’t hurt others.

I generally call these statements as Lockean, since John Locke was the first person to clearly define the concept of liberty in modern times. But, that’s just my preference.
These statements are clear, and they define liberty. No more really need be said.
You can ignore manipulative “freedom to” statements like Franklin Roosevelt’s famous Second Bill of Rights, whose proposed ‘rights’ included the right of everyone to their own home. This, of course, would require the enslavement of builders, suppliers and taxpayers. (Roosevelt never mentioned that side of the equation, of course.)
There’s only one thing which I will add to this discussion, and that is this: None of us have a monopoly on Lockean liberty.
Anyone who holds to Locke’s formulation is your brother and sister, and you must accept them as such.
We are past the time when we can be insular (if there ever really was such a time). You don’t have to agree 100% with the Ron Paul people or the free-market anarchists, or with anyone, but if they accept the core statements above, you must accept them as joint heirs of the Lockean liberties.
If you think someone is wrong, you can ignore the difference of opinion, or you can, respectfully, correct them. Better still, you could laugh at your joint human frailties and move forward together. What you may not do, is to cast them off as idiots; you may not resent them for honestly disagreeing. If they believe in John Locke’s liberty, they are your allies, not your enemies.

If we can’t do that, we don’t deserve to succeed.

FREEDOM IN AMERICA: REAL OR NOT?

You’ve probably heard the phrase: “It’s a free country”. But does freedom in America actually exist? If you believe so, you need a better definition of free.
Mind you, I’m not jumping on the America is Evil bandwagon. That’s just as brainless and possibly more destructive. Nonetheless, the truth is the truth, and “a free country” is not a terribly accurate way to describe the United States.

“More free than others”? Well, maybe, but probably not more free than all others.
So, what exactly does “freedom” mean? If we don’t have a definition for that, then we can make this phrase mean anything we want it to mean, just by avoiding a fixed definition.
What is freedom? C’mon, do you have a definition? Or is it just a word that sounds nice? After all, Hitler said he was bringing freedom too.

What does it mean?
Okay, since this is my rant, I’ll help you out: Freedom is being unopposed in regard to your own life and property. (Presuming, of course, that you don’t intrude upon anyone else.) I can get a little fancier, but I think the definition above is good for almost any use.
Do you agree? And if not, then what is freedom?
I’ll add that my definition is the same one all children instinctively come up with: “Don’t hurt me. It’s mine. Leave me alone.” Presuming you agree, I will continue.
Is there Freedom in America?
Are we left alone in the United States? Well, in many ways we are. After all, no one forces us to take any certain job or to live in any certain place, or to buy any certain products. That’s really, really good.
On the other hand, you are most certainly not free to do lots and lots of things.
What if you want to allow people to smoke in your restaurant in a major US city? If you do, your money will be stolen from you by the government. If you hide your money from them and keep doing it, they’ll send armed men, seize you, and lock you in a cage. Are you free? After all, this is your own property we’re talking about. Why can’t you use it how you wish? You’re not forcing anyone to come inside after all.

So, is this really a free country?
Can your teenage daughter take a small bottle of Advil to school with her if she has some minor pain? And is she free to give one to a friend who has some pain? Not in most government schools. She’ll be violating the (brainless!) zero-tolerance rules, and she’s lucky if she doesn’t get branded as a drug abuser.
Can your little boy kiss the cheek of the cute little girl sitting next to him without being accused of sexual abuse?
Can you take a lost child into your home without fearing that you’ll be accused of disgusting crimes? After all, every male is now considered a sexual deviant, and women are closing in. So, are you really free, even to help a lost child?

The Proper Way of Thinking about Laws

Think about this: Every law is a restriction on human action. We are told that laws are good for us, and that they forbid bad things. But, is this really true? Maybe some of those laws serve mostly to make your local politician look powerful and heroic?
Do we really need a stop sign on every corner? Do we really need armies of observers making sure that no one ever does anything to offend anyone else? Do we really want every phone call, bank transaction and email recorded and stored by some pseudo-cop? Do we really want the government to say who can get contracts, based upon their sex or skin color? Or to tell us who we can or can’t hire? Do we really need 76,000 pages of regulations on our lives, from the Federal Government only? Are all of those policemen really your helpers and friends?
The endless small restrictions are the biggest enemies of freedom. And they now pervade almost every area of life in America. In this regard, the US is much less free than other places.

Land of the free? Not anymore. Maybe after it once again becomes “the home of the brave.”
Freedom in America is neither absolute nor non-existent. It is in-between, and the more laws that are passed, the less free we become.

ARE TAXES THE PRICE OF CIVILIZATION?

Just about every time some trouble-maker like myself wants to question the practice of taxation, someone will ask: But aren’t taxes the price of civilization? This is how people hope to get rid of us with a single shot. Usually, they do it in some sort of cocktail-party setting, where they can throw out their line, then move away before a proper response is made. (And while the other “right-thinking” folks nearby scowl properly.) Conversation over – they win.

Except, of course, that the slogan is ridiculous: People pay taxes in non-civilized places too! Any time anyone can make himself boss, he takes a cut of everything he can. And there’s a name for that – taxes!

Let me throw out another question: Is the United States ten times more civilized than it was a hundred years ago? Have the crime rates really fallen by 90 percent? Well, we’re paying about ten times as much in taxes – shouldn’t they?

Here’s an even better example: Communist China had an effective tax rate that approached 100% under Mao. Were they the most civilized society that ever existed?
Indeed, I could pull out the old history book and find plenty of other great examples where the level of taxation and the level of civilization had absolutely no correlation to each other.
Let’s get this straight: Rulers tax as much and as often as they can. And this statement is confirmed by every single page of the history of the world.

The mark of a civilized society is that it can restrain rulers and their take of production.
Taxes are not the price of civilization. They are the price we pay for our unwillingness to control government.

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