Friday, October 28, 2011

The Paradox of Freedom

What is freedom?

Definition: freedom - noun
1. the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.
2. exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
3. the power to determine action without restraint.
4. political or national independence.
5. personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery.

If one operates without external control, interference, regulation, or restraint, at some point it will impose upon the freedom of another. Imposing on the freedom of another limits the freedom of the other. That contradicts the definition of freedom. However, with a small number of people (or entities) who have little or no interaction with each other, the above definition may still work.

As the number of people and/or level of interaction increases, one quickly reaches a point where the freedom of one imposes on the freedom of another. In order minimize and resolve those conflicts, there must be rules, regulations, restraints, and external controls that limit the actions of the free people. Once again, that contradicts the definition of freedom.

This is the paradox of freedom: You can’t be totally free in the presence of other free people, yet, if there are no other people, your freedom is meaningless. Freedom in a society must have limits.

What are the limits of freedom?

If freedom must have rules, regulations, restraints, and external controls, then where must your freedom end? Let’s look at some examples. It’s against the law to take the possessions, or property of another without permission and/or compensation. It’s also against the law to kill another (except in defense). So, freedom doesn’t mean you’re free to do anything you wish.

The authors of the US Declaration of Indepence recognized this and they stated:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed…”

So, the legitimate purpose of government is to secure and protect your rights and freedom, and to enact and enforce laws that accomplish that purpose. And the power to do so comes from the collective, not individual, consent of the people. Your rights and your freedom are, and must be, limited when they begin to infringe upon the rights and freedom of another, or to infringe or violate the just laws enacted to protect those rights.

We must reexamine the very definition of freedom. Referring to the definition above, items 2 & 3 need modification such as:
2. exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc., except those necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of everyone.
3. the power to determine action without restraint, except those restraints necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of everyone.
Freedom must have the rule of law. Below are a few quotes that reinforce these points:
“But freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it. A liberty to follow my own will in all things where that rule prescribes not, not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man ...” ~John Locke
“The fact, in short, is that freedom, to be meaningful in an organized society must consist of an amalgam of hierarchy of freedoms and restraints.” ~Samuel Hendel

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” ~George Bernard Shaw, 1905
Freedom requires constant defense

Support those laws which protect your freedom and your rights. Demand them, honor them, and enforce them. Yet be wary of every proposal for a law that diminishes the rights or freedoms of any person, as your freedom diminishes with it. You must constantly defend freedom, or it will be constantly eroded. To reinforce this point, I'll leave you with a few final quotes, as caution about the nature of government, law, and freedom:

“Men fight for freedom, then they begin to accumulate laws to take it away from themselves.” ~Author Unknown
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” ~Benjamin Franklin, 1759
“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” ~Frederick Douglass, 1883
“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” ~James Madison, 1788
“Many politicians are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim.” ~Thomas Macaulay
“Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.” ~Woodrow Wilson
“I prefer liberty with danger to peace with slavery.” ~Author Unknown
“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself.” ~Thomas Paine
“Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed - else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.“ ~Dwight D. Eisenhower

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