The graphic above was shared on Facebook today by the British Humanist Association.
Stirring and noble words from Professor Grayling, which liberty lovers must agree with, but his definition of freedom is not quite sufficient.
True, full freedom is the freedom for individuals to act as they wish to the extent that it doesn’t diminish anyone else’s freedom to do the same. Freedom cannot only consist of the actions of speech and thought because it is possible for a person locked in a cage to still be free to think and say anything. They can say and think what they want, but they cannot do what they want. That’s not freedom.
For example, to think or to say “I want to open a school that lets its students do whatever they’re interested in” is futile if one is not at liberty to acquire the resources and contract the labour to do so (i.e. if the State uses coercion to prevent one from operating such a school).
A full human existence, then, consists of the absolute freedom for individuals to act peacefully in pursuit of their own goals, which must also include the freedom to use, or to contract an agent to use, proportionate force in defence of one’s own person or property.
I agree 100% up to your final sentence, which causes me some angst. A truly free existence is one in which there is no need to use force in defence of one’s own person or property. I have no desire to walk around with a gun in order to preserve my freedom. That seems like the very opposite of freedom. I’d rather be safely locked in a cage.
Freedom must apply equally to everyone, as I’m sure you’d agree, and that must mean that it applies to the most vulnerable in society, who may have no means of protecting themselves, their families and their property.
A truly free world must guarantee personal safety and the security of property without the individual needing to take action, just as the individual’s rights to free speech and thought must be guaranteed without that person needing to stand up for themselves to assert their rights. If someone shouts me down, I shouldn’t need to use force in order to speak my mind.
So this requires a set of laws and also some kind of public body (e.g. the police and criminal justice system) able to impose the laws. But those laws must be minimally invasive and designed simply to protect basic rights, not to coerce people in other ways.
It would seem here that we have a good representation of one of the main issues that divides many liberty advocates. We all agree that government is too big, too pervasive, too invasive, but then a crossroads is reached. One way leads to a society with a minimal state (police and criminal justice system) and the other leads to a stateless society (a free market for protection/security services and conflict resolution). There’s good arguments both for and against minarchism (minimum government), but two things leads me towards a stateless society.
1). Minarchism doesn’t solve the problem of power/violent authority. The legal right to use coercion and ultimately kill must be given to agents of the minimal state in order for it to be the *only* agency that provides protection and conflict resolution. In other words, you have to give all the guns to one group of people and give them the legal right to take away everyone else’s guns by force. In theory, then, through incremental changes and additions to the law over time, there’s nothing to stop the minimal state’s powers from increasing. That’s the theory. Can we point to any evidence? We can…
2). American history. The United States of America is humanity’s greatest experiment in the minimal state or the ‘night watch man’ government. Its government was formed on the premise that it would exist only to protect the freedoms of its people. The Constitution was supposed to guarantee that it would stay that way. The great thinkers/leaders of early America understood the danger of governmental power to society, they knew it had potential to limit individual liberty unjustly. They were essentially libertarians and as such would surely be absolutely horrified if they could see what has become of America. What was once the world’s smallest government has become the biggest State in human history. It invades other countries and kills many innocent people; it consistently and aggressively restricts people’s economic and social freedoms; it spies on its citizens, it reads their mail, records their phone calls; its police force is brutal and corrupt; it assumes the right to monopolise education and healthcare and does a terrible job of providing those things; it locks hundreds of thousands of people in prison for non-crimes like smoking/carrying the wrong kind of plant; it prevents millions from working by pricing them out of the labour market through minimum wage laws; it borrows trillions against the future earnings of the unborn and sells them into debt serfdom. All in the name of? …freedom, democracy and prosperity.
It turns out, then, that the Founding Fathers were right to warn of the dangers of government power. They thought their words would be enough to stop future agents of the State from pointing their guns at innocent people. They were wrong.
I believe that humans and power (of the government kind) don’t mix; and that, eventually, all powers will be exercised and expanded to the detriment of society.
That is the danger – that the monopolistic power of the judicial system expands. History shows us plenty of examples of that. But equally we know the dangers of the “Wild West” period of American history – where those unafraid to use guns exercised power over others. Historically, citizens now are safer than ever before.
The rich and the powerful can always defend themselves, but if liberty means anything, it must exist for the most vulnerable in society, who have no way of protecting themselves.
Do you have a blog post that explains how your system of “freedom to use force” might work?
I should point out that this is not my system or theory. Libertarianism/anarchism is the culmination of work of a number of philosophers, economists, and generally exceptional thinkers from the last few centuries mostly. My goal is to bring it to a wider audience so that people can assess it for themselves, which they won’t get the opportunity to through mainstream media.
Just to clarify. “Freedom to use force”, in the context of a libertarian society, would mean that no individual could be justifiably prevented (by an agent of the state or anyone else) from using force *only* where it is deployed in order to protect his own person or property (or someone else’s if he was contracted to do so). Any use of force that was not a defence of person or property can justifiably be forcibly resisted in libertarian society. Only in defence of person or property would people be ‘free’ to use force.
I would highly recommend Murray Rothbard’s book ‘Ethics of Liberty’. It’s a great read. It systematically sets out how a stateless society, with a free market for protection, security and conflict resolution services (i.e. private courts), could work. If you have an e-reader I have an epub version I would be happy to send to you. You can get the print version on Amazon for about £8.
The main point of debate on Rothbard’s theory is that it rests on the premise of ‘natural rights‘ (Natural rights are those not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable (i.e., cannot be sold, transferred, or removed). In other words, rights you can determine by rational contemplation of the reality of human existence. The logical basis for them can be intuitively recognizable by every human being.
There are arguments against the validity of natural rights as a concept and that debate continues. The search for a rational foundation for an ethical theory of liberty goes on, or at least no single theory has been accepted by the majority of liberty advocates as of yet. One philosopher has this theory of universally preferable behaviour, which has fuelled quite a bit of debate in liberty circles.
Thanks Gary, I might check out the paperback version.