Column on For Liberty, 100%

For Liberty, 100%

Tibor R. Machan

Over the years as I have learned more and more about how vital liberty is
to a good, just human community, I have encountered sizable not just
opposition and skepticism but out and out ridicule for holding this
position. Of course, there are those, like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who
are unabashed fascists and make no pretense of any devotion to human
freedom. Those like Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and North Korea’s Kim
Jong-il make no bones about supporting anything but a regime of individual
liberty for all its citizens. But within countries like the United States
of America there are few political players who do not in some measure
claim to be advocates of human freedom, including economic freedom.

Many who advocate the welfare state or some other half way system, in
which government has a substantial role managing, regimenting
human–especially economic–affairs claim that they are concerned with
individual liberty. They often assert that their system is in fact more
free than what defenders of the fully, libertarian political idea promote.
They will maintain, with a straight face and one must assume very
sincerely, that when they promote innumerable forms of government
intervention, such as vast economic regulations and wealth redistribution,
sometimes even curtailment of the right to free expression such as what is
normally associated with the First Amendment to the federal constitution,
they are the true defenders of freedom while those advocating a full,
uncompromising free society are, in fact, making human liberty vulnerable
to abrogation. Thus, as an example, it is sometimes argued that regulating
business isn’t an intervention in human liberty but a way of support it,
to defend it from, for example, big corporations. The same with taxing
people’s resources!

But then there are those who say without hesitation that an unbridled free
system isn’t really one that’s best for us. They will use terms like
"market fundamentalism" by which to indicate that they find the idea of a
fully free market system anathema to justice, that freedom is really not
right, not if it is the basic standard for justice for all. Such folks
sometimes call themselves democratic liberals, or even social democrats,
indicating that they have no objection to the curtailment of an
individual’s right to liberty if that curtailment came about
democratically. Market socialists, too, will give support to some measure
of freedom of enterprise but will insist that it is best not to take that
too far and to promote a regime that keeps society partially socialized.
Often such people reserve some area of human social life as in need of
total freedom, such as art or religion, but certainly in the area of
economics they are eager supporters of extensive government intrusion in
people’s lives. Now and then you will hear that someone claims to be a
libertarian even while championing limiting individual liberty along such
lines.

If one is found to be advocating a fully free system, with no compromise
on the principle of individual liberty–not in economics, not in the
professions, not in education, not in farming, nada–then one is deemed to
be an extremist by the self-described levelheaded, moderate folks who
supposedly know better than to promote anything as crazy as full freedom
for citizens of a just society. No, that would be going too far. (Some
even say that full freedom implies defending the right of some to provide
for themselves by taking the resources of others, so they are, in fact,
the true defenders of liberty.) We need, after all, some governmental
interference in how people conduct themselves in their commercial or
economic lives, or some other sphere where such people regard it as only
civilized and proper that some people will be in charge of how others
carry on in their lives. We need some government regulation, don’t we?
Otherwise chaos will break out, the weak will go unprotected against the
powerful, etc., etc., and so forth.

Not all of this can be addressed in a brief discussion but I believe
keeping a certain point in mind will at least suggest that there is a
fallacy in such partial support for individual liberty, for the denial
that the right to liberty requires 100 % protection, with no exceptions,
not at any rate as a feature of a just legal order. (We all know that some
extremely rare cases can justify limiting liberty, as when you prevent
someone you are walking with from stepping into an open whole or drinking
a glass of liquid that you happen to know contains poison. But as the
saying goes, "hard cases make bad law," so acknowledging some exceptional
cases like these does not justify including violations of human liberty on
a systematic basis! That is, by the way, what the fuss about government’s
use of torture is all about–it must not be government’s official policy.)

Now, if one were to discuss human slavery, including that which was part
of the United States of America not all that long ago, it is generally
appreciated that none of it is tolerable in a just legal system. All the
ink that columnist Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times spills on
locating even the tiniest elements of human slavery around the globe and
working to abolish it are taken by most people who love justice to be
fully justified. Few would dare suggest that Kristof is a freedom
fundamentalist, an extremist, for insisting that no slavery at all be
tolerated, anywhere, for any reason anyone might cook up. When slaves are
set free, finally, the suggestion that they be kept under supervision by
local authorities, that their conduct be regulated or regimented since
full freedom leads to chaos–all such stuff is clearly off the table and
mostly seen as morally obscene.

Well, it is exactly in that spirit that it is obscene to limit economic
liberty for anyone. Human beings have a right to liberty and that includes
any sphere of, for example their economic, conduct. If they haven’t
violated another’s liberty, if they haven’t been shown via due process of
law to deserve to have their liberty curtailed or limited, there is no
justification for it. And all those who defend the total liberation of
people from government interference in their peaceful conduct can say,
with no apologies at all, that yes they are free market fundamentalist. I
certainly am such a one.

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