By A. T. Heist.
WHEN I speak to my "intelligent" friends about the beauty of individual independence and personal liberty, I am informed that we are all dependent both upon nature and one another, and that, therefore, there can be no such thing as human independence or human liberty. Such stupid ones are confounding absolute freedom with civil or social liberty, and think that by disbelieving the existence of the former they are denying the possibility of the latter.
Many who esteem themselves to be "radical" libertarians also seem to me to have blurred notions about the nature and limitations of liberty. For this reason I write, hoping that by so doing I will clarify my own vision a little, and that of some readers a great deal.
It may be just as well to begin by stating some matters that are not involved in my idea of liberty. It seems to me that no scientific conception of human freedom can imply the idea of freedom from the operation of natural law, either in the physical world or in the social organism. Neither can it involve the assumption of the lawlessness of human volition, for be it remembered that most people still cling to the old "free will" superstition. I say, then, that every rational conception of human freedom must be grounded upon the demonstrated fact that each of us, even in the realm of the intellect, is always subject to the uniformity and universality of the reign of natural law.
Liberty under subjection to universal natural law only means that every person shall be permitted to find his own happiness in his own most perfect adjustment to the conditions of his own well being, under the natural law of the social organism, operating without interruption or interference from any artificial state-made or other abnormal conditions, such as actually subvert the normal operations of natural law. In this last clause I have in mind the intervention of mental disease, through which unhealthy condition there might be produced such effects as are an invasive subversion of the natural law of the social organism.
May be this generalization is too abstruse for some. In the fear of this I shall endeavor to make it more plain and particular by re-stating the formula as applied separately to physical liberty, intellectual liberty and civil liberty.
When I appply my formula about liberty to the bodily life of man, I come to this conclusion: physical liberty for the human infant means the universal admission of its claim to develop an unmutilated and undeformed full maturity. From this it follows that parents are guilty of invasive conduct toward their child, whenever they contribute, even though unconsciously and remotely, toward their offspring's failure to reach the full stature of an unmutilated and undeformed manhood.
For the healthy adult physical liberty means the exercise of all his faculties in freedom from all artificial, man-made restraints, and so long as the indulgence of his capacities does not in itself constitute an unwelcome, artificial restraint or invasion upon another.
But here I come again to the difficult task of stating what I mean by artificial restraints, since, in the broadest sense, even limitations of human contrivance are a part of nature. By artificial restraints I mean those restraints of human contrivance which find the necessity for their existence solely in the special attitude of mind of those individuals who restrain or invade, and which restrictions would be avoidable, because unnecessary, except for that special psychologic necessity.
For the infant, intellectual liberty under natural law must mean the universal admission of his claim to be instructed in the laws of nature, under which term I include not only things and their forces, but men and their ways, and the fashioning of the affections and of the will into an earnest and loving desire to live in harmony with those laws.
For the adult, intellectual liberty under natural law can only mean that his opportunity for the acquisition and diffusion of knowledge shall be unrestricted by any artificial hindrance of human contrivance, so long as the means employed are not in themselves a direct impairment of another's equal liberty. It seems to me that one's liberty cannot include the destruction of another's liberty uninvited by that other. Academically this is incontrovertible, practically the difficulty lies in drawing the line.
Already I have invited controversy over the difficult question which involves the existence, within the social organism, of a natural limitation upon the liberty of each, by the just claim of another to an equality of liberty. This is the crux of the whole discussion about the existence and province of government.
The tyrannies of states consist only in the action of some official persons, under the claim of rightful power confirmed in them by a dominant social influence, and exercised against other persons who decline to be voluntarily submissive. If, then, I admit the claim of right, on the part of any citizen, to impair the equal liberty of another, it seems to me that I am also justifying the rightfulness of the assumption of tyrannous governmental power. This follows because government is only a combination of individuals and has the same right to invade that any one of the citizens possesses and yields to it. At the same time, by conceding the right to invade, I am admitting that there is no possible appeal against tyranny by actual or threatened force, except by opposing violence, and that no motive exists for joining the forces of resistance to tyranny except a desire to secure the power to supplant the tyrant.
To make this entirely clear, we must bear in mind the difference between the liberty which may be unanimously conceded to be a matter of justice, and the same liberty when it is enjoyed only as a matter of special permission emanating from a source of authority, with conceded power to revoke the permission. So long as the rightful power to destroy any liberty is admitted, there can be no real liberty, but only a temporary semblance of it, due to a mere transitory lenience of a tyrant, acting upon considerations of expediency and not upon an abdication of authoritative rightful power.
If, on the contrary, we assume that there is a rational appeal for the cessation of tyranny, its object must be to seek the abolition of the inequalities of liberty, since tyranny cannot otherwise manifest itself, and since not to seek equality of liberty is to be content with inequality of liberty—that is, with tyranny. Furthermore, a rational appeal for liberty must find its materials in nature—in the natural law of the social organism.
This, then, brings me to the point of stating what I mean by civil liberty. To me, civil liberty means living in social relations with my fellow man, subject only to nature's law of justice. Whatever may be the form of social institutions, if it does no more than to declare and enforce well-known rules of natural justice, then I am free. If it declares and enforces what is not known to be in accord with the natural law of the social organism, it may or may not be in accord with it. It may or may not be tyrannous. When the state declares that to be law which is in conflict with natural law or with natural justice, the enforcement of such a rule of conduct against those who do not willingly conform, is always tyranny.
The natural law of a social organism is as certain as, though less known than, the force of gravity. Like the latter it antedates, and is independent of, our knowledge of its existence, or of the law of its operation.
I must add a few words descriptive of my conception of natural liberty and natural justice. Natural liberty, untempered by the requirements of equal liberty or of any artificial restraints, necessarily implies the right of each to invade the other even to killing him, and this from any motive or impulse which may enter even a disordered brain. Such a conception of liberty would imply the liberty to enslave, if only the power existed.
Natural liberty, restrained only by imminent danger of retaliation for invasion, is a liberty which can be maintained at an equality only by considerations of expediency personal to each individual; it necessarily admits the right to invade, whenever the power and personal expediency are combined in the same individual or group.
Either of the foregoing conceptions of liberty seems to involve equality of opportunity in exercising the power to abridge the greatest liberty consistent with an equality of liberty, and to impair that equality. This is the very essence of tyranny, whether accomplished by, or without, organized government.
Natural liberty, limited by natural justice, implies the knowledge that in the very nature of man and of human relations, there exists a natural law of justice demanding for each equality of opportunity with all others in subjecting nature's forces to pleasure-giving ends. To the extent of our relatively perfect knowledge of this law of natural justice, and of our conscious submission to it do we attain the highest human liberty for all. Whether that natural liberty, as limited only by the requirements of natural justice, be maintained by the help of organized government, or without it, is quite immaterial. In the fact of its maintenance exists the essence of liberty.
We are happy just to the degree in which we live in perfect accord with all the phases of natural law, and are free just to the extent that we suffer no artificial interference with our efforts to adjust to it. The progress of liberty depends upon our advancement in the knowledge of natural justice, and progressively living more and more nearly in exact conformity to its demands. The ideal liberty can be attained only when every human knows all there is to know about the natural law of the social organism, and when everybody is willing to allow everybody else to live in harmony with that law, then every one will be his own legislator and his own governor. Only then will the absolute of natural liberty be possible, because only then will no one be tempted to exercise the right to invade the greatest liberty consistent with an equality of liberty.