I have written about “Life, Liberty and Property” as written in the 5th and 14th amendments of the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence says “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I think Life is pretty obvious, but worthy of its own topic. But let’s see where the idea of Liberty takes us. I think that leads into property and the pursuit of happiness. I believe that liberty requires the protection of property and the pursuit of happiness, the ability for us to acquire life’s essentials through our own individual effort.
John Lock on liberty:
“In the state of nature, liberty consists of being free from any superior power on Earth. People are not under the will or lawmaking authority of others but have only the law of nature for their rule. In political society, liberty consists of being under no other lawmaking power except that established by consent in the commonwealth. People are free from the dominion of any will or legal restraint apart from that enacted by their own constituted lawmaking power according to the trust put in it. Thus, freedom is not as Sir Robert Filmer defines it: ‘A liberty for everyone to do what he likes, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws.’ Freedom is constrained by laws in both the state of nature and political society. Freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of nature. Freedom of people under government is to be under no restraint apart from standing rules to live by that are common to everyone in the society and made by the lawmaking power established in it. Persons have a right or liberty to (1) follow their own will in all things that the law has not prohibited and (2) not be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, and arbitrary wills of others.”
The elements of individual and political liberty, freedom. The Declaration makes two assertions:
The separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them… and
…that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
Man’s law and Nature’s law. Political and individual liberty. Powerful concepts we must vigilantly defend. As I have written in other posts and is in John Locke’s thoughts, we are restrained by the laws of nature and the laws applicable to everyone, made by the lawmaking power established in society… Equal protection of the laws and due process.
Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought – Lord Acton
The assumption that there is a morality by the people that cannot come from the government, but from another source, I believe natural law. Acton also said “Men cannot be made good by the state, but they can easily be made bad. Morality depends on liberty.”
So it appears that liberty requires a morality and morality requires liberty. Interesting conflict. But also to me an implication that we cannot legislate morality without diminishing liberty.
“Liberty is established by the conflict of powers.” – Lord Acton
Acton, following ideas by earlier philosophers, most notably Voltaire, credit the emergence of freedom and liberty in Europe as the outcome of centuries of conflict between church and state. It has been written that neither the church nor the state favored liberty, but in competition for allies granted “immunities and privileges” to towns, parliaments, various groups and corporations. Unable to establish a monopoly of power over the people, through unintended consequences enabled freedom and liberty.
Voltaire, in his Philosophical letters (1733; also known as the letters concerning the English nation), wrote:
Fortunately, in the shaking that the strife between kings and nobles gave to empires, the chains of the nations have been more or less loosened. Liberty was born in England of the quarrels between tyrants.
Condorcet in the 1790s wrote about the decentralized power in Renaissance Italy:
“rivalry between pope and emperor, prevented Italy from being united under one master, and ensured the continuance of a large number of independent societies.”
Ever since the feudal period, and with renewed vigour in the age of absolute monarchy, the Catholic Church fought against State supremacy; and the very fact of this conflict between two great powers has been an effectual safeguard for individuals against the perils of utter enslavement to either. If the Western peoples have succeeded in saving themselves from the stagnant theocracy of the East, it has been because of the age-long rivalry of Church and State, rooted ultimately in the fact that both Church and State were self-contained and self-sufficient institutions forming in fact two separate and independent states. – Guido de Ruggiero
So Liberty exists when we are not ruled over, when one master cannot be established. In order to not be ruled over and protect our liberties, we establish governments to make law, but also constrain our government through constitutions and enumerated powers… The power to rule by our consent.
That leads us to our Republic. The union of our states. The goal: to protect our liberty. The preamble of our Constitution says “…secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” the goal wasn’t to create a union or a government in and of itself, to create a master, it was to create due process and constrained power, enumerated power, to secure liberty. The tools to do that were: ” a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare”
Read it again in that light:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
“It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune.” – James Madison
James Madison in Federalist 10 explains the premise of a Republic and just how that preserves liberty. It is one of the most important treatises on republics and faction. It really is a must read and one of the important Federalist papers, here is a link:
Interestingly enough, our founders built conflict and competition into our government through divided power, as a way to preserve liberty. We have divided/separation of power through the 3 branches of government, legislative, executive and judiciary. We have divided power through our city, state and federal governments, our extended republic as Madison covers in Federalist 10. We also divide the power of church and state. (another post, but we do not want the religion in government policy and we don’t want the state dictating religion.)
Excerpts from Federalist 10:
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community…
…The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.
A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.
The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter…
The federal Constitution forms a happy combination in this respect; the great and aggregate interests being referred to the national, the local and particular to the State legislatures.
The goal being to slow the flames of passion, faction, and not allow them to rule against individual and political liberty. Divide power to minimize the effects of faction, thus increasing liberty.
If power is unchecked, a faction can impose its will on an individual, liberty is lost. We need laws to protect liberty, but the laws must be wise and created by consent.
The power to deter and coerce criminals can be transformed into the power to restrict individual liberty, take property, and impose tyrannical government. – James Madison
So we protect liberty and constrain that power through a division and competition of power. Division and competition provide the the checks and balances required to secure liberty. States are one great competition we have. If I don’t like the policies of my state, I can leave. Keeping people happy and in the state requires wise policy, an alliance with the people, smart law created by the consent of the people with the common good (individual and political liberty) in mind.
Limitation is essential to authority. A government is legitimate only if it is effectively limited. – Lord Acton
We are losing these very checks and balances, loosening the chains of the constitution by centralizing power. We are devolving our republic, spiraling towards a national democracy. We are uniting power not keeping it divided, eliminating the competition, creating a monopoly on power. Often in the name of social justice or making people do the right thing. It is a power grab by the ruling class. Trying to achieve equal outcomes is the antithesis of equal opportunity (subject of another post.)
“Political atheism: End justifies the means. This is still the most widespread of all the opinions inimical to liberty.” – Lord Acton
Standing up to the enemies of liberty requires us to open our eyes and see the enemy. It requires a vigilance to learn, understand and fight against those enemies every day. It requires us to allow others the liberty to their property and pursuit of happiness even if we do not like their approach, even if they only have their own self-interest in mind. That is liberty.