When making any rational argument, it is of absolute importance to use clearly defined terms. Where a term key to one’s argument has been muddied by years of misuse, one should clearly define it again so as to remove any possibility of ambiguity. When an argument is built upon imprecise terms, the arguer leaves the interpretation of his own position up to the audience. Whatever the arguer attempted to communicate is simply lost in translation. This is is the product of over a century’s worth of the systematic destruction of man’s language: each man arriving at a different conclusion, each conclusion as valid as any other. And so, all arguments become equally invalid.
This is as true today as it ever was, especially considering continual, concerted efforts by the enemies of reason to twist and distort man’s language, and so too man’s thoughts, to serve their own ends. Previously, I have identified such attacks by modern academics against the concept and nature of capitalism, but there is another concept, one made possible only by capitalism, which also deserves attention: liberty.
The concept of liberty, which I will soon define, has been roundly attacked and abused across the political spectrum, often by those who consider themselves to be its greatest defenders.
Conservatives often view liberty as a contrast to law – that there exists some sort of fundamental dichotomy between the two. To them, supporting absolute liberty is equivalent to supporting lawlessness, to supporting anarchy and all the chaos that comes with it. For example, conservatives often dismiss arguments that the government should deregulate recreational drugs as a slippery slope to anarchy. Because they consider drug usage immoral – which it is – they consider attempts to deregulate as an attempt to deregulate all immoral activity, failing to distinguish between those actions which violate the rights of others and those which are merely self-destructive.
This perception is largely due to the fact that they have accepted the libertarian notion of liberty. The libertarian movement has done much to injure the cause of liberty by crippling the terms with which they mean to defend it, predominantly due to the fact that liberty is not the goal of the libertarians, not in the capitalist sense. In terms of philosophic hierarchy, the libertarians put the cart before the horse in the sense that they attempt to argue for the political supremacy of liberty while ignoring the underlying philosophic foundation requisite to reach that conclusion.
Libertarianism holds liberty as an ultimate political end – what liberty means is, adhering strictly to subjectivist dicta, for each man to determine on his own. More simply, libertarians do not define their terms. They agree that “liberty” is the goal which they should pursue in a political context, but they make no distinction between one libertarian’s understanding of liberty and another’s. So long as “liberty,” free from context or explanation, is an individual’s political goal, then the libertarians will count him as one of their own.
It is this sort of a priori intrinsicism which places liberty as a supreme value, to be pursued in and of itself, that allows libertarians to arrive at any number of incredibly dangerous, deeply irrational policy positions: that Iran has the “right” to elect a theocratic dictatorship for itself, that “big business” is as much a threat to liberty as is “big government” simply because it is big, that the nihilistic Occupy Wall Street Movement is actually a broad base of freedom-fighting allies just waiting to be tapped into, that child pornography should be legalized, etc. (all are very real positions held by those professing libertarianism as their ideology). The natural end of such a philosophy is – as conservatives rightly note – amorality and its political corollary: anarchy, the political manifestation of the belief that no man’s morality or choices are any more valid than those of any other. This prevents man from stopping all sorts of violations of individual rights, even against oneself. Why is the victim’s notion of right or wrong superior to that of his attacker? This is the same argument employed by modern totalitarian regimes of the 20th and 21st Centuries to take and maintain power. This is the consistent application of libertarianism. (However, this is not at all an excuse for or defense of the conservatives and their errors in relation to this issue.)
The position of the liberals is essentially the same as that of the conservatives, but for different reasons. It is not for the defense of law and order that the liberals often defend limitations on liberty. More often than not, they base their argument on some altruist idea of “public responsibility.” Though liberty is “good,” they claim, factors such as the “common good” or the “general welfare” must be taken into account. This defense is essentially the same as the conservatives’; that on a desert island, man has absolute liberty but that he “voluntarily” gives his “tacit consent” to surrender some of his liberties when living in a society. Conservatives defend this on the grounds that “the common good” requires law and order; the liberals do the same on the grounds that it is man’s “duty” to be his brothers’ keeper. Both stances are merely two sides of the same altruist coin.
The Leftist conception of liberty is the same as the libertarians’ insofar as it is built on subjectivism and includes illegitimate forms of liberty, thus turning “liberty” itself into an anti-concept. But unlike the libertarians, the Leftists construct their positions exclusively on the total inversion of liberty, not simply its misapplication. I.e., though it is possible for libertarians to simultaneously and irrationally hold the “universal liberty to hold, use, and dispose of one’s property without injuring another’s liberty” in its proper sense and the “liberty from physical want” as supported by the Occupiers on the same moral plane, Leftists solely profess allegiance to the latter notion. They then apply that notion consistently to warp the first, thus interpreting it to mean that to deny someone what they want at any time would be “injuring another’s liberty.” And so, the Leftists would consider such denials an improper use of one’s “property rights,” now rendered worthless by the underlying moral principles. Therefore, man exercising his liberty (in its rational sense) becomes a violation of liberty; to claim that man has the right to his own property is to deny the “rights” that another also has to his property; to give to the deserving that which they have earned violates the “right” of the undeserving to that which they have not; and to be “truly free,” man must be “free from choice” and “free from the responsibility to think,” i.e., only when he submits himself to the will of the state.
Those are not proper understandings of liberty.
Correctly defined in political terms, liberty is “the state in which man can take any action in the absence of initiated force which does not initiate force against the individual rights of others.” But even this definition relies on a rational comprehension of two other integral concepts: force and individual rights. This is, unquestionably, the root of many of the above errors. The Leftists, for example, could define liberty in the exact same way and still be able to defend their abhorrent policy positions. They need not change the wording of the definition; they need only obscure the proper meaning of the words which make up that definition.
Individual rights are moral sanctions in a social context, universal to all men, for man to produce and pursue his own life as an ultimate moral value. As man’s life is the value without which man can possess no values whatsoever, it is the only ultimate value possible to man, the only metaphysical end in itself. To suggest that it is permissible for man to pursue his own life by violating the conditions necessary for another man to pursue his life is a contradiction. It suggests that man has the right to abrogate rights, the absolute moral authority to disregard moral absolutes. Such an assertion flies in the face of reason and renders impotent the concept of rights – not only those of others, but one’s own.
So what are rights sanctioning specifically? What are the conditions necessary for man to pursue his own life as an ultimate value? As man is a being of volitional consciousness – i.e., man has the choice of whether or not to think – he has the choice of whether or not to live. Man’s actions are not governed by instinct. Man has no gene which gives him the natural intuitive ability to farm, to hunt, to make tools for either activity, let alone to participate in either activity, etc. In order to be free to live, he must be free to think, that is, to apply his rational judgment to reality in order to survive. He must then be free to act on that judgment, and then to face the consequences of that action. If his actions were rational, then no man has any claim to the results of his productive efforts except himself; if not, then he has no claim on the lives of others to mitigate his circumstances. Lastly, he must be free to use the products of his productive abilities as he sees fit (without violating the rights of another to pursue his life as an ultimate value) so that he can continue, expand, and improve the pursuit of his own life as an ultimate value.
Simply put, initiated (i.e. unjust) force is the violation of individual rights. When individuals violate rights, they forgo their own in proportion to the severity of their violation. Thus, the violators open themselves up to being confronted with retaliatory force.
Retaliatory (i.e. just) force is the halting of initiated force and the dealing of punishment to the initiator. This is the kind of force over which the government holds a legitimate monopoly. This is not to say that individuals must relinquish their right of self-defense, but that justice must be instituted under the purview of the government in accordance with an objective set of laws, not the spontaneous whim of lynch mob. As man cannot injure the rights of another by exercising his own, the contradictions inherent within the Leftist and libertarian conceptions of liberty should no longer be misunderstood as examples of rational liberty.
Conservative and liberal appeals to the Social Contract Theory – to the political theory at the heart of the French Revolution which holds that, when forming a society, men elect to sign over some of their rights to the state for the “common good” – are also invalid. For the liberals, their error stems from the belief that the collective holds a position of primacy over the individual. From this perspective, the individual must then pay homage to the collective by “serving” it, should he will it or not. But this treats man’s ultimate value as the “good of society,” not his own life. As a result, man’s rights to his own life are violated, and the liberal notion of “liberty” collapses upon itself. (For a fuller discussion of liberal defenses of the Social Contract Theory, see “The Robinson Crusoe Fallacy.”)
The error of the conservatives is the same insofar as they feel “liberty” should be limited for the “common good.” However, their concern that “liberty” means “the ability to do as one pleases” has already been discussed when refuting libertarian doctrine. Even so, their argument that liberty and law are inherently opposing forces is worthy of note. As it is, there is no fundamental opposition between man’s rights and the force of law. In fact, they are complements of one another – man’s rights limiting the authority of the law, and the law protecting man’s rights. If a nation’s laws wield force in a retaliatory manner, then they are very much a positive good. They restore justice where justice has been abridged. Not only is it a good, but a necessity for man’s liberty to be absolute.
“But wait!” object the anarchists. “If the government creates and enforces laws which outline what man can’t do, then it is restricting liberty, not protecting it!” That would be true were I speaking of the anarchist conception of “liberty from reality,” the same proffered by the Leftists but, again, on the other side of the coin. As I am not, their objection has no color to it. I quote from “Political Capitalism“:
“Only the laws which govern reality, including man’s rights, outline what cannot be done with man’s property, but this does not injure his ownership. Such laws simply are; they are not imposed.
Everything in reality acts in accordance with its nature. If one drops a ball of glass and a ball of rubber from the top of the building onto concrete below, each will respond according to its nature: the glass ball will shatter and the rubber ball will bounce. This can be done an infinite number of times, and each time the results will be the same. Unless an extraneous force interferes with the balls, the act of dropping them, their falling, or their impact, the results will be the same each time – the glass ball will not behave in the same manner as the rubber ball, and vice versa. In essence, they will act as they are – more simply, A is A.
Would one argue that these laws were “imposed” on the two balls? Could one say that these laws are “unfair” to the glass ball since it is unable to bounce unharmed after being dropped onto concrete? No – it is simply a fact.
Man’s rights are of the same status. Man’s nature delimits those actions which are permissible and impermissible for him to take as based upon the requirements for maintaining his own existence.”
To close, it should go without saying that this point must be stressed: just as there is only one kind of liberty, there is only one kind of political system which fully recognizes it: capitalism. Capitalism is the only legitimate political conclusion of a rational philosophy – indeed, the only possible one. It holds man’s life, not some irrational, intrinsic conception of liberty, as its end. And, it respects the fact that every man is an end in himself. It recognizes no fundamental conflict between law and liberty, but instead is guided properly by the natural law of liberty inherent within man’s nature. It leaves man’s liberty wholly unrestricted, and so too his productive potential.
But to achieve it, one must know how to argue for it, which requires that one understand it. Man’s words are powerful. When effectively employed and precisely defined, they can help him create an irrefutable argument; when they are not, they are equally capable of undermining the very conclusion he was attempting to prove. And assuredly, there are those, even in our nation’s highest office, attempting to undermine liberty. Do not give them that opportunity.