What is freedom?

The word freedom, is often thrown around carelessly with a variety of different adejctives and connotacions. Freedom of speech, freedom of action, freedom to abort, freedom to choose etc. But to comprehend freedom, the way we do at Students for Liberty, requires much more than a superficial understanding of the matter.

Perhaps a good starting point in our endeavour to define and understand freedom, is to look at the words of one of the greatest thinkers of the XXth century

As stated by J.S. Mill “The individual is not accountable to society for his actions in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself.”

Simple and concise. Freedom, is a quality which applies to all men and women equally. It is a moral code which sets the grounds and limitations of society’s interevntion in the affairs of the individual. Said in a more simple way, a person that is free, can act as he or she thinks is best, without the intervention of any outside influence, so long, as his actions affect just himself and don’t in a direct way harm any other people. If this were the case, we would have a conflict of freedom.

Mill himself would explain this by saying. “The freedom of one individual, ends where that of another starts”.

The principle of freedom, therefore, sets the foundations for the moral and legal codes which are needed in a free society.

Understanding freedom, means knowing that humans act to imporve themselves.

Understanding freedom, means knowing that humans live and prosper in society.

Therefore, understanding feedom, means knowing how man can best prosper in society.
But why is freedom so important?

To this, I always answer with a double point, or rather a single point, approached in two different ways.

The first consideration, is philosophical. We want freedom, because it is in our nature. On an individual level, almost unconsciously, we understand the ideas of freedom and practice them in our day to day life. We understand that we cannot rule over others, likewise, we understand that others cannot rule over us.

The second consideration, is that of happiness, wealth, utility, call it what you may. At SFL, we believe that a free society is inherently and by definition a wealthier and happier society. This would be the economic consideration. Some people have called it a happy coincidence, I for one do not believe in coincidences. When the actions of men are governed by the principle of freedom, and are respectful with their property rights, the outcome, will be the most efficient. It will be, by definition,the manifestation of the desires of society, as represented by each individual acting freely and voluntarily.

Though many may not realise, the modern world of today is far from a representation of these ideals. We are not free. Freedom philosophy, states that society’s intervention is neccesary only when third parties are affected by our actions. But the philosphy which dominates the Western world today, is the result of a terrible misjudgement of this principle. For now,
not only will the state interfere to protect others from you, but also to protect yourself from yourself. They will tell you what you can and can’t do to your body, what you can consume and how, even who you should marry. The paternalist state is born, and freedom is thrown out the window. What is most saddening, perhaps, is that, having been born in a world of limited freedom, people do not even question the milliard limitiations that our friendly governments impose on us.

But the violation of freedom we suffer today is not limited to such actions, which, we could see as a benevolent yet misguided attempt of our political leaders to help us. No. The principle of feedom is thrown out the window doubly, for now, governments can asign freedom. More precisely, governments “asign” rights, to certain individuals, therefore limiting the freedom of others. The first principle of freedom, that it should be equally appllied to all, is also thrown out the window.

Todays democratic societies, become inevitably liberty killing machines. When the desires of the majority can rule over the minority, the freedom of that minority is squandered. Todays form of governance, has no consideration for the principle of freedom, that people should be left to act freely a long as they don’t hurt anyone. No, today, anything you do, can be subject to the scrutiny and arbitray judgement of “society”. Normally this is framed in the name of goodness, fairness, equity, but do not be fooled. True equality results when everyone is truly free. In this way, “society” can impose their ideas on the wages one should be able to pay employees, the specific work conditions, the ratio of male to female workers, the extra cost that you have to pay for imported goods and many other things.

Ultimately, we must comprehend, that despite our best intentions and desires, even if we think that our way, or societys way is better, these are all personal judgements that in nature, are relevant only to the people involved. To offer someone a job for a wage below what society finds appropiate is not bad in itself, noone is harmed by this. The true issue is why would peop,e accept this. This a problemof poverty, but not Capitalism, as some might say.Therefore, if we truly do consider every human and person to be equal and free to act, these aspects of life must be left unregulated.

From lifestyle choices to manufacturing procedures and anything in between and beyond. These must be the result of free interactiontions, not of centralised planning.
For to bestow any entity with this kind of power, to think that indeed someone else can know better, is to deny yourself true freedom. An eternal sentence of slavery.


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