Freedom FROM

The rare rational Leftist with whom can have an intelligent discussion sometimes asks us advocates of individual liberty what we mean by freedom or liberty.  They are right to ask that.  Over the centuries men have often fought for freedom.  But what was the freedom from?  Scots often declared that they were fighting for freedom.  So did that mean that they wanted a deregulated state?  Not at all.  What they were fighting for was freedom  from rule by the English. That the Scottish king was at least as tyrannical as the English king did not bother them. They saw it as a plus to be tyrannized by a fellow countryman.

And we see a similar ambiguity among libertarians.  It is sometimes said that there are as many versions of libertarianism  as there are libertarians.  Libertarians may even want opposite things. Some libertarians, for instance, want freedom for all individuals to smoke anywhere they happen to be.  That is a pretty purist libertarian position but, fortunately, not one often adopted.

In contrast, another libertarian may value the opportunity for all people everywhere to be able to breathe air unpolluted by the stink of tobacco smoke. So the two libertarians may want opposite things but value both things in the name of liberty.

Examples like that show that there really is no such thing as liberty in the abstract.  There are only freedoms from particular things. Liberty is meaningless without a predicate.

So to be frank and honest in our discourses we should list and justify separately what liberties we value.  Calling oneself a libertarian contains no real meaning at all.  A common list of things that libertarians want includes things that both Leftists and conservatives want but there will be no universally agreed list of those things.  We need to justify each of those freedoms by themselves.  Saying grandly that we stand for "liberty" is meaningless or at least uninformative.  And the same goes for individual liberty. There is no such thing by itself.

There is probably a fair amount of agreement about what liberties advocates of individual liberty want but that is just true of one particular time and place and one particular culture.  So being a libertarian is not easy at all.  It provides you with no magic key to unlock the "correct" position on any issue. We need to argue each point of the liberties we want.  Saying that we stand for freedom is just slipshod.  There is in fact no grand value that we are standing behind.  A love of liberty is always a love of some particular liberties.

Particularly under the influence of Disraeli, English conservatives often said that they stood for traditional English liberties -- which gave a reasonably clear list of liberties -- but there is not much left of those liberties in England these days.  The modern British state is a bureaucratic and authoritarian monster.

Libertarians do specify in general what liberties they want.  They say that they oppose force, fraud and coercion.  Unpacking those generalizations into particular policies is the problem, however -- as I have shown above with the example of smoking.

Note:  I use liberty and freedom interchangeably, which I think is common.  One word originates from Latin and the other from German but that seems to be the only difference.

2 comments:

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  2. Liberty & Free WillyJanuary 13, 2019 at 4:51 AM

    Liberty & Free Willy

    First a word from my sponsor. Wonderful capitalism has enabled me to buy a decent quality and tasty Chinese roasted Da Hong Pao oolong tea. It is not something needed in order to live, but I can and do enjoy it right now. Capitalism is an enabler and an expander of free choice.

    In 2001 two friends and I jammed and played 70s rock & progressive rock on a regular basis, often while being stoned. The latter part was and is not allowed in my country. I do think not following the law in that particular regard was unfortunate, but I did learn some hard lessons about hashish. I chose to smoke it, it did not chose me. A decision is followed by one or more consequences, and we are responsible for our actions, which is an essential part of freedom; accountability. While I enjoyed drumming and getting high with the guys, I did get cold feet once they started talking about how we should do this and that as a band. I got a recording contract which suited me better and had the freedom to do what I wanted to do, which was a different direction than the group would have gone. They later got together and recorded lots of songs. One of them eventually was not happy about the relationship of the other person, stating it was getting in the way of their music and they parted musical ways.

    In 1994/95 I was hanging out with one of the mentioned friends and his then girlfriend and some other guys. The night consisted of booze and Jack Daniels, 90s Norwegian Black Metal and occasionally hits from the 70s. I remember the young lady talked about smoking hashish while doing studies in another town, and said it was because of loneliness. I did not hold back stating that a was bullshit reason and that it was a weak choice by a weak mind. I remained calm while using words to rile her up, which I had done successfully before. Manipulative indeed. While out of sight she smashed a very sturdy Whiskey glass in the back of my head and we started to argue. She gave me a black eye and fortunately my friend stepped between us right before I was about to hit her. He followed me home and and went back to the party. I was furious and went on to an old church nearby, screaming and cursing, and did some damage to it with a hatchet found in a shed. Not only angry but also very drunk so I fell onto the hatchet but nothing too serious, close but no cigar. When waking up the next day the alcohol had wore off and my conscience was back online; the tormentor was ready and whipping. Part of freedom is to regard or disregard conscience, and regarding conscience makes for a clear conscience, which makes for righter (and easier) living. Disregarding conscience prompts specific learning and growing, or repeating the mistakes until specific learning and growing is achieved, each time followed by minor and major consequences.

    Liberty & responsibility for our actions is our potential to learn and grow, to better ourselves, to reach for our ideal selves (even if for some of us the ideal selves form or form more fully later in life). While the law of a Western country may be a reasonable restriction placed upon freedom of choice, other restrictions seek to quell and crush free speech because a group of people claims to know better than non-leftist views. Limit the spectrum of free speech, because we might learn something?

    I have the ability to exercise my free will, and part of me IS free will.

    I think it is fair to say that free will is a familiar target for hatred.

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