The liberal rationale

I was asked by a friend to write a thousand word piece on liberty for this issue of the Oracle. I find the request deeply saddening. Liberty should not require a defendant. Liberty is that which you embraced when you embraced life. Most people quote ‘Equality’ and its violation verbatim- as if it were THE panacea for all resident evil. Equality is a myth and when enforced is dangerous.

When we speak of liberty—it becomes essential to qualify the word. To me liberty is the guaranteed amalgamation of individual rights (life, liberty and property), economic freedom (consent not coercion hence free trade), the rule of law and a limited government. Since this is not my space to take an economics or political science lesson I shall restrict myself to liberty and why it is first virtue of civilization. Let me, before I begin- state that none of these arguments are new or original!

Liberty is the freedom to act as you please so long as you don’t coerce others. Liberty means you can associate with others voluntarily, you can speak and publish freely, you can practice the religion of your choice (or none at all), keep what you earn, run your own business, and love and live as you please (so long as you don’t violate the rights of others). We need liberty to think, to create, and to fulfill our individual and unique potential. Liberty is as much a requirement of our psychological nature as food and air are requirements of our biological nature. When liberty is denied, economies stagnate, cultures deteriorate, science declines, living standards fall, and the human spirit languishes. Liberty is therefore essential for any humane society.

Liberty is tied very closely to the idea of the freedom to be. At the risk of being battered by Feminists (and as the student of an all-women institution)—let me elucidate. Some months ago a friend had been looked over for a job at the Indian version of an ivy-league school, namely IIT. His teaching experience spanned several years and he is a genuinely ‘nice’ guy– immensely popular – not only with the students but also within the department. Armed with a PhD of the highest order, an impending book, his qualifications were in good order….My friend is a HE; government regulation mandates that women be hired; regardless of lesser qualification and pea sized brains! Had my friend been a woman, he would have been able to sue the University for Unfair Employment. It is argued, women have historically been oppressed by men and so now they must now (as a class) bear the brunt of adjusting the balance.

They concept of affirmative action, distributive justice and the welfare state is based on the concept of socio-economic equality. This is where I disagree. Free people are not equal (in terms of income or opportunities) and equal people cannot be free! Especially if this concept of equality is forced onto individuals by a super-structure called the state.

Two other arguments (which base themselves on the more fundamental equality principle) often thrown-around to allow the coercion of people by the state is the idea social good and compensatory justice. The theory of a single, uniform conception of ‘social good’ is as absurd as any. People are different, needs are disparate and hence so is behavior. No one set of regulations can serve ‘social good’. Affirmative action suggests that it is ok to curb and even take away the right of an individual to guarantee the right of another.

What this theory does not look at is how the most repressed groups (for example; women and minorities) in question suffer as a result of affirmative action. Minorities who advance through merit are being victimized by preferential policies. They are not be given due credit for their accomplishments. The same is true of women. In short, affirmative action is not what economists call ‘a zero sum game’, by which wealth and power are simply transferred from one group to another. It is possible for everyone to be a loser in this sort of exchange.

The argument from compensatory justice claims that anyone who causes injury to an innocent other should remedy the damage. Affirmative action goes one step farther and claims that descendants of the injured parties deserve compensation as well. I have two basic objections to this argument: people receiving compensation are not the victims; and, the people being forced to pay the compensation have done nothing wrong. This is a classical case of distributive injustice!

The state is a form of group coercion which is not always recognized as bad: A government is an association of men and women authorized by society and the constitution to use force to compel obedience. The state ought to protect your freedom and uphold liberty. Morally and legally, the government is bound to protect our rights. Therefore when the state violates liberty it MUST be tried, like any other criminal – to preserve justice and the rule of law.
Therefore, to give government the power to police equality is more than ironic. It is dangerous and irresponsible. Equality is a myth and itself the worst possible form of discrimination possible. Freedom of association (the right to choose freely those you wish to interact with on the basis of your own standards and judgment) requires the right to discriminate.

Freedom has risks. One of them is that people may choose to deal with sensitive groups in a biased and offensive manner. But as long as this ‘discrimination’ is peaceful – that is it involves no physical injury or threat of harm – it is not a violation of rights. Such discrimination is simply ignorant behavior, which may show incredibly poor taste. But both freedom of speech and freedom of association guarantee that people have the right to be wrong and to be offensive.

Everyone reaches their own conclusions about other people. And, in general, you associate with those you favor and avoid those you consider objectionable – for whatever reason. Your decision may be biased. It may be wrong by society’s standards. But a free society allows individuals to make their own judgments and allocate their own resources.

Discriminating on any basis may well be unjust. Let’s look at gender discrimination for example. Even in this case, women will benefit more from a free-market system than from government regulation. If one employer refuses to hire a talented woman on the basis of sex, he will impoverish his labour pool to the benefit of his competitors.

As long as individual rights are respected – racism or sexism will have only a limited impact: enemies are powerless to block out mutually-beneficial transactions by their use of force. The critical question for an individual’s welfare is not which opportunities are lost but which are retained.

Equality is the product of collectivism. Collectivism is the doctrine that the social collective – called society, the people, the state, etc. – has rights, needs, or moral authority above and apart from the individuals who comprise it. We hear this idea continually championed in such familiar platitudes as “the needs of the people take precedence over the rights of the individual,” “production for people, not profits,” and “the common good.”

Collectivism often sounds humane because it stresses the importance of human needs. In reality, it is little more than a rationalization for sacrificing you and me to the desires of others. To achieve the communist utopia of economic equality and social justice, hundreds of millions of people were robbed, tortured, and slaughtered. Collectivists justify atrocities by assertions which tow the line of weak philosophical arguments in the vein of “the end justifies the means.”… No end ought to be justified by collective genocide!

Collections of people do not have unique consciousness or identities. “Society” and “the people” do not feel, need, think, or have rights. Only individuals exist. Collectivists claim to promote “higher” freedoms – such as “national security” and “economic equality” The graveyards of history are filled with the corpses of those deceived by such claims.

Countries which deny liberty to their citizens are the most brutal, poor, and miserable places on earth, a good example in this regard is to look homeward. With enormous economic regulations stifling the generation of wealth—India has little hope. In the end protectionist policies fail because they are based upon coercion and coercion is fundamentally incompatible with human nature.

We need others for most of what we want out of life: companionship, friendship, family, recreation, and wealth. There are only two ways of getting what you want from others: voluntarily or coercively. When you deal with others voluntarily, others deal with you because they want to, because they receive some benefit – material or psychological – by dealing with you. The tools of voluntarism are friendship, trade, compassion, and love. In coercive association, you get what you want from others by deception or fear. The tools of coercion are intimidation, threats, fraud, and physical violence. Voluntary association promotes trust and respect, and provides benefits for everyone. Coercive association creates fear and distrust, and victimizes some at the expense of others. A guiding principle of any free society is voluntary association.

The government’s attempt to regulate the peaceful behavior and attitudes of society is doomed. It is ridiculous to suppose that the complex, ever shifting interactions of society can be controlled. Equality does not mean privilege. Justice requires that all individuals receive what they deserve.