Sunday, 12 June 2005

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Freedom (Liberty)

Freedom: One of the most abused and mis-used words in the language; in its authentic sense, libertarianism’s raison d’etre. In its positive aspect, the right to exercise one’s rights – the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property and happiness. In its negative aspect, “The absence of coercion or constraint in all choice or action that does not inflict force or fraud on another.” (‘John Galt’, Dreams Come Due.) Or as TFR’s Editorial Policy puts it, “the absence of compulsion from human affairs.”

Freedom is freedom of action, not the subsidised “freedom” from disagreeable circumstances promoted by statists. It is freedom to exercise and act on one’s choice and judgement, and dispose of the fruits thereof as one sees fit, not freedom from hunger, hardship, etc. One is free to seek food and comfort, but not to force others to provide them. One is free to sustain one’s own life, but not to take or enslave another’s. The right to the pursuit of property and happiness is not the right to be guaranteed them by others. Freedom is “not freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide man with an automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state.” (Ayn Rand)

This is not an arbitrary distinction of convenience; it reflects the fact that lies at the very source of rights – that human beings have free will, which is a faculty of individuals, who therefore should be left free to exercise it. Anyone who tries to prevent an individual from exercising it, may be prevented from doing so. (This is the legitimate, retaliatory use of force referred to under Force.)

This “qualification” does not mean that freedom is not absolute; it is part of its absoluteness. The right to life is not limited by there being no right to kill; it includes and demands it. The right to liberty is not limited by there being no right to enslave; it includes and demands it. The right to the pursuit of property is not limited by there being no right to steal; it includes and demands it. The right to pursuit of happiness is not limited by there being no right to impose values; it includes and demands it. Whatever is being defined in a definition that permits the denial of freedom, is not freedom!

Observe the concept of freedom encompasses the mental and the physical. “Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” (Rand)

In those periods and places in history where minds and markets have been freest, material progress has been greatest. Because of the prevalence of collectivist doctrines of one type or another, these periods have been brief, notwithstanding that it is man’s nature to be free. (Historically, one might say, freedom is an aberration; metaphysically, it is the norm.) This century is the late twilight of one such period. Can we fast-track to dawn without another long, dark night?

Recent blogs on freedom here at Not PC may also be of interest, here and here.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here.

1 comment:

  1. The interpretation of the word freedom really depends on cultural background. What you are talking abotu is the Western interpretation. In many Eastern countries freedom means 'not to be bothered'. In other words, Europeans want to be free to do things and and other people want to be free from doing what they do not want.


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