Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 572, May 30, 2010

"True liberty is the right of every man to
decide for himself what is proper and just"

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What is Liberty
by Rob Sandwell

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I believe that true liberty is the right of every man to decide for himself what is proper and just.

Now, right away, this opens me up to a whole bunch of arguments which people will offer to try to distract from the basic moral truth at the heart of that statement.

First of all, there is the question of what does the word "right" mean in this context? It is a difficult word to define. What are "rights?" From where are "rights" derived? I believe that rights are best defined as legitimate moral claims which an individual can make as to his own actions and those actions which are taken against him based upon observable biological reality and the principle of the non initiation of force.

This is why I have the right to free speech, and freedom of locomotion, and the right to be free from aggression. Because each of those rights are based on a legitimate moral claim that I can make against the imposition of violence against my actions in accordance with the universal morality derived from the non initiation of force.

I can express myself, and to absolutely prevent me from doing so would require the initiation of aggression by a second party, therefore I have the right to free expression. I can move, and to absolutely prevent me from doing so would require the initiation of aggression by a second party, therefore I have the right to free movement.

Secondly, people will immediately jump on my statement about liberty by objecting that every man is allowed to decide for himself what is right and wrong, he can simply choose that rape and murder are right and wrong, and no one has the right to object.

This is of course simple laziness and a lack of cognition. I said that each man has the right to decide for himself what is right and wrong. Any actions which would impact upon others must of course take into account what those others have determined to be right or wrong for themselves as well.

For instance, deciding that murder is right would violate another persons decision that living free of violence was right. You would have a conflict between those two "rights" and would have to defer to the non initiation of force to resolve the dispute. Clearly, in this case, the murderer would be wrong.

But if one person decided that it was right to take another's life, and another person decided it was right to have their life taken, then there would be no conflict, and such actions would be perfectly in line with the concept of individual liberty. Assisted suicide, or even self sacrifice, would be possible within such a moral framework, regardless of how any third party might view such actions. In fact, allowing such behaviors would be the only way to adhere to the non initiation of force, any prohibition of such behaviors would be a direct violation of that very principle.

So, within a framework where each man has the right to decide for himself what is right or wrong, how would behaviors traditionally viewed as "vice" crimes be treated?

Well, rape would be a clear violation of the non initiation of force, but prostitution would be perfectly acceptable, assuming one person decided it was right to buy sexual favors and another decided it was right to sell them. Poisoning someone would be an initiation of force, but buying and selling drugs would be perfectly acceptable so long as both parties agreed to it.

And taxation? You may at first think such a thing would be impossible in a free society. But if one party wished to give over a percentage of their earnings and purchasing power to another party in exchange for goods and services, such would of course be their right. But that contract would only be binding so long as both parties agreed to abide by it. Which is of course nothing at all like taxation as we know it today. It would simply be a free exchange of goods and services.

The most important part of this moral framework is that it requires as a prerequisite the consent of all involved parties in all transactions, and demands nothing of them beyond that consent. Certainly, there may be repercussions in a free market for people who failed to abide by their contractually agreed to obligations, but there could be no coercive violence to compel individuals to do so.

The reason this is important to understand, is because so often when discussing morality, people are actually discussing preference.

I don't like x, therefore I label x as immoral and use that as a cudgel against anyone who engages in x to force them to stop. And I claim, and may even believe, that I am acting in a moral fashion.

For instance, I don't like drug use. I think drug use is morally wrong, either because my god says so, or because it's inherently self destructive, or because I believe it is a detriment to society as a whole, the justification is unimportant. Because of that, I use this moral argument to justify violence against drug users.

Of course this same argument is used all the time to justify violence against homosexuals, religionists, atheists, people who engage in promiscuous sex, pornographers, gamblers, racists, bigots, and a variety of other people whom "society" deems unacceptable. But it is exactly the same argument used to justify violence against people who don't pay their taxes, people who protest state action, and people who homeschool their children.

Without an objective standard against which to compare morality, it is absolutely meaningless and can be used to justify or prohibit any kind of behavior at all. And it is. Religion can not provide that objective morality, because there is no universally agreed upon religious dogma. The state can not provide objective morality, because they routinely claim to possess rights which are not possessed equally by all people.

It is only by having a consistent benchmark against which to compare our actions and their consequences that we can have morality. And it is only by understanding the nature of morality that we can make real decisions as to the nature of liberty. And the simplest objective benchmark is contained within the non-initiation of force.

Because no one wants to be aggressed upon. Even a masochist who likes to feel pain only wants to feel that pain under narrow conditions of their own choosing. Aggressing upon that person outside of those parameters would still be viewed by them as a violation.

Yes, what hurts me or hurts you may be different according to our own subjective perspective, but none of us want to be hurt.

Which is why I argue that true liberty is the right of each individual to decide for themselves what is proper and just.

Because whether you may or may not agree with others is exactly your right and your liberty. But imposing your preferences on others is not liberty at all.

It is simple might makes right. It is base violence and brutality and the heart of all of our societal ills.

And until we learn that lesson in our own lives, we will never be able to extrapolate it beyond to society.

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