Monday, 3 March 2008

Freedom to starve?

More freedom, less government.  Yes, you hear me banging on about that very thing every day here at NOT PC, so it's occasionally worthwhile to pause and ask what freedom actually means.

Freedom means one thing and one thing only: being free from physical coercion.  It's that simple.  Freedom both from criminal coercion - which is why we have governments in the first place, to protect us against aggressors -- and freedom too from political coercion.  This last is harder to achieve, since while many governments fall down in their duty to protect their citizens from criminal coercion, most are assiduous in ensuring at least a minimum of political coercion.

So much, so simple to define. 

The forces of coercion never sleep, however.  They are forever alert to any new ways by which to inject their toxicity into the body politic.  One very successful form of poison is the gradual redefinition of the word 'Freedom' -- one whose currency rose at that same time as did that of the modern big government liberal.  No coincidence.  This view baldly declares that a starving man isn't free, that the only freedom that matter is freedom from want --  and that big government is the only means by which 'freedom from want' can be guaranteed.  Thus, by the stroke of a a redefinition, was classical liberalism transformed into big-government liberalism.

The cunning thing about this more recent illegitimate formulation that astute readers will already have recognised is that it altogether wipes out the earlier legitimate idea, as Ben O'Neill explains at the Mises blog,

This conception of liberty conflates two very different types of freedom: freedom from coercion by other men and freedom from the personal requirement of satisfying our own basic survival needs. While these are presented as two parallel requirements of liberty they are, in fact, mutually exclusive. So long as man exists he will have material needs, and the only way that he can escape personal responsibility to satisfy these needs is to impose this responsibility on others. If this imposition is undertaken by others voluntarily then both the libertarian and the modern liberal are in agreement — both condone voluntary charity. But this is not what modern liberals propose. Rather, they impose this duty to help the needy by force of law under the auspices of the welfare state. Under this system, all are forced to contribute to the cost of providing for the needs and alleged needs of others.

Despite any rhetoric to the contrary, this welfare state established by modern "liberals" does nothing to reconcile the contradiction between freedom from men and freedom from nature — it merely sacrifices the former in an attempt to obtain the latter.

As I've characterised it before, the difference between the two views is stark: one seeks to bar the initiation of physical force from human affairs, while the other declares that force is necessary in order to secure the means of survival of one person (the starving man), at the cost of enslaving another (the man whose food must be taken to help the starving).  One sense of freedom is to live free from aggression; the other is to seek to live free from the laws of nature, and at someone else's expense.

The latter bogus view of freedom wipes out the former legitimate and vitally important concept of what freedom is, and why it is necessary.

I recommend reading Mr O'Neill's piece in its entirety in order to defend yourself against the sophists of political argument who redefine the idea of freedom only in order to destroy it, and to reflect again on the point succinctly summarised by Ayn Rand:

Freedom, in a political context, has only one meaning: the absence of physical coercion.

1 comment:

  1. Freedom to starve? Absolutely.

    That succinctly sums up why I abhor "Foie gras" and those who eat it or serve it.


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