A blupete Essay

The Nature of Freedom, Part 3 to blupete's Essay
"On Liberty"

"The root of all well-ordered social action is a sentiment of justice, which at once insists on personal freedom and is solicitous for the like freedom of others; and there at present exists but a very inadequate amount of this sentiment." (Herbert Spencer.)
It is necessary that a person grasp the meaning of freedom: it is no easy task. If a person is to understand what it is like to lose something; then, it will be necessary to make him appreciate what it is that he is at risk of losing. What is it that a person shall miss when her freedom is trampeled or stolen away from her. It is usually easy to show a person what they might feel if a concrete possession of theirs goes a'missing. As Professor Bruno Leoni has pointed out, it is always easier for the listener or reader to understand matters when we talk or write of material things, "we find it rather easy to be understood by our listeners. Should uncertainty arise about the meaning of our words, it would be sufficient, in order to eliminate the misunderstanding, simply to point to the thing we are naming or defining."7

The principal difficulty is that freedom is a concept, not a percept; we cannot point to freedom or stick out our hand and feel it.8

Next let us turn to David Hume: "By liberty then we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may."9

And now to John Stuart Mill: "The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it."10

Note that we refer to the individual's possession of that precious right of freedom: I say individual. Freedom is a relative concept and can only be possessed by the individual: it cannot be possessed like a parcel of land, in common, by a group of people. An individual, a particular individual, either has freedom, or not. It was that great French legal thinker Frédéric Bastiat who put his finger on this concept: "It is not the union of all liberties - liberty of conscience, of education, of association, of the press, of travel, of labor, of trade? In short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so?"11

Thus; liberty be a state of being, where an individual is sovereign and answerable only to himself; where each is free to put at stake: his own life, his own well-being, his own time and his own property; where each, at all times, lives and acts as he wants within society at his own cost or to his own benefit, as the case may be; subject only and always to the restriction that an individual cannot proceed to act if that act clashes with or is in violation of the liberty of another.


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[Essays, First Series]
[Essays, Second Series]
[Essays, Third Series]
[Essays, Fourth Series]
[Subject Index]
Peter Landry

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