In a recent post I spoke on the Right to Life and how that Right implies the right to defend that life and the right to possession and carrying of the means of effective defense.
Today, I speak on the Right to Liberty.
recap, from the Declaration of Independence, we have: "We hold these
truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among
these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure
these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed,"
Last time we discussed
life. This time we discuss Liberty. Life is fairly straightforward.
There might be some controversy over where life ends and where it begins
but for the majority of the time we are quite clear on what "life"
means. Liberty is a bit more complicated. In general, ones right to
life does not infringe on another person's right to life. There are
exceptional circumstances: in defending one's own life one may end the
life of another. In those cases, however, it can be seen that the one
who created the situation, the one who placed the other in the need to
defend his or her self, willingly took upon himself a risk and the onus
for his loss of life is on himself. It is the same case as when someone
engages in any dangerous activity. If someone engages in free rock
climbing and falls to his death it is not the cliff's fault or
responsibility but his own. Some ask "but does he deserve to die for
that." This is not a matter of deserving to die, but of freely taking
choices knowing that that could be the outcome, and therefore freely
taking the risk on oneself.
And choice is the key, which leads us
to Liberty. In the end, Liberty is about choices, real choices, not
"do this or die" choices. Being forced to do something or give up the
right to life is not a choice to most people in most circumstances. As
one simple example, a person may choose what to eat. They cannot
usually choose if they eat or not in the long run. Some few may chose
to not eat to the point of death from starvation, but that is rare and
we need not consider it for the general case. We will consider that any
choice that involves "do this or die" is not a free choice and, in
fact, extend that to extreme pain. Since people have been known to
choose death in preference to extreme pain we can say that "do this or
suffer" is likewise not free.
Liberty, then, is about free
choice. One can define Liberty as the sum total of choices available to
a person. The problem there arises when my choices may affect the
choices available to someone else. Liberty is about ones ability to
make choices so long as they do not forcibly infringe on the same right
in someone else. The key word there is forcibly. If one, say, likes to
wear bright colors that clash someone else may not like that. They may
find it unpleasant when the discordant one walks into a restaurant, but
it's not a forcible infringement. One can tolerate it or not as one
chooses. As Erik Frank Russel put in the mouth of one of his characters in And Then There Were None, "I can please myself whether or not I endure it. That's freedom ain't it?" They can wear what they wish. You can like it or not as you
wish. Liberty on both sides.
Other cases also become apparent
when one considers Liberty as being about free choice. If one is able
to arm oneself and defend one's home against invaders, that is free
choice. That is Liberty. If one needs to stand in guard every night
because the invaders--whether robbers, rioters, or foreign invaders--are
constantly present, that is not. Again free choice is the key. A
society where you can defend your home at need is more free than one
where one cannot. However, a society where a person needs to spend most
of his time in standing guard over his home is less free than one in
which he can pursue other activities and only take an active guard at
special need. Again, free choice is the key.
The initiation of
force to infringe upon another is contrary to the Right to Liberty. But
what happens when someone does forcibly infringe on the Liberty of
another? What then? In that case, the use of force to end the
infringement is justified. One might attempt reason or persuasion to
accomplish that end, but experience has shown that when one uses force
to infringe on the Liberty of another, only force will persuade them to
And so the principle of Liberty, while not sanctioning the
initiation of force to restrict the Liberty of another, does sanction
its use to defend ones own.
From whence comes this force? Is
there some special source from which the force to restore liberty must
come? One may look for such a source without finding it. Some may
claim that it comes from Government, from some body chosen in some
manner, whether from Divine Right of Kings or The Will of the People,
that is the sole repository of the right to use force. Yet, again,
experience has shown that such sources of force are, if left unchecked,
more likely to be used to restrict than to preserve and restore Liberty.
In the end, like with the Right to Life, the Right to Liberty, and the
power to defend that Right, must come down to the individual. Each
individual must have sanction, the final Liberty, to defend his or her
own Liberty. The individual may delegate some of that power to a
greater group to act as Guardians of that Liberty, in particular as a
defense against encroachments on his or her liberty from other groups
that he cannot defend against as an individual. But in so doing, he
runs the risk that the Guardians may, in turn use that power to infringe
his own Liberty. Against such chance he must retain both the power and
the license to use that power to defend his Liberty against even the
Guardian he and his fellows have chosen to protect it.
to Life we had the conclusion that to deny the means of defense against
those who would infringe it is to deny the right itself. So it is with
the Right to Liberty. For Liberty we generally choose Guardians to
secure and defend that Liberty. And yet history has shown all too often
that those Guardians themselves can become a threat to Liberty. The
body of the people in themselves, must then retain the power to defend
their Liberty even against their chosen Guardians. The balance of power
must remain with the individuals so that even their chosen Guardians
cannot with impunity infringe on their Liberty. To deny the right to
defend Liberty, by force if need be, is to deny the right to Liberty