Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Individual Freedom and Liberty Will Survive Only If Sustained By a Proper Moral Code

by: Les Carpenter
Rational Nation USA
Liberty -vs- Tyranny

Having forever been one who values freedom and individual liberty I cannot help but question if my grandchildren will enjoy the same freedoms an individual liberties I, as well as millions of others have enjoyed. Considering the ever expanding and more intrusive role government plays in our lives it is both reasonable to question the likelihood and be very doubtful at the same time.

It has always been clear, at least to this writer, for freedom and liberty to survive and flourish they must be based on ethical and moral principles that are understood and accepted by a vast majority of any given society.

When thinking about freedom and liberty it seems only natural that one consider and reflect on the views of John Stewart Mill, one of the 19th century's preeminent philosophers. The following is an excerpt from John Stuart Mill and the Three Dangers to Liberty
by Richard M. Ebeling, June 2001.

JOHN STUART MILL’S 1859 ESSAY “On Liberty” is one of the most enduring and powerful defenses of individual freedom ever penned. Both advocates and enemies of personal freedom have challenged either the premises or the logic in Mill’s argument. They have pointed out inconsistencies or incompleteness in his reasoning. But the fact remains that after almost 150 years, few essays continue to justify being read and pondered with the same care and attention as “On Liberty.”

Mill defended freedom of thought on several grounds. First, we should accept the fact that none of us can claim an infallibility of knowledge or a final and definite insight into ultimate truth. Thus, we should value and defend liberty of thought and argument because a dissenter or a critic of conventional and generally accepted views may offer reasons for disagreeing that correct our own errors of knowledge and mistakes in judgment about the truth of things.

Second, sometimes the truth about things exists as half-truths held by different people, and through controversy the truth in the parts can be made into a great unified truth of the whole.

And, third, even if we are really certain that we have the truth and a correct understanding of things, unless we are open to challenging and rethinking that which we take for granted, our ideas and beliefs can easily become atrophied dogmas. The people in each generation must be taught to think and reason for themselves. If ideas and beliefs are to remain living and meaningful, people must arrive at their own conclusions through reflection and thought.

Mill not only defended freedom of thought but liberty of action as well. To make men conform to a uniformity in their conduct would prevent that which is an inherent hallmark of each of us as a human being: our individuality. Mill’s point on this theme was once neatly expressed by the libertarian political philosopher and free-market economist Murray Rothbard:

If men were like ants, there would be no interest in human freedom. If individual men, like ants, were uniform, interchangeable, devoid of specific personality traits of their own, then who would care whether they were free or not? Who, indeed, would care if they lived or died? The glory of the human race is the uniqueness of each individual, the fact that every person, though similar in many ways to others, possesses a completely individuated personality of his own. It is the fact of each person’s uniqueness — the fact that no two people can be wholly interchangeable — that makes each and every man irreplaceable and that makes us care whether he lives or dies, whether he is happy or oppressed. And, finally, it is the fact that these unique personalities need freedom for their full development that constitutes one of the major arguments for a free society....

Every man must have freedom, must have the scope to form, test, and act upon his own choices for any sort of development of his own personality to take place. He must, in short, be free in order that he may be fully human.

Classical liberals and libertarians have often pointed out that a weak link in Mill’s argument is the vagueness or inconsistency in how he defines the arena within which the individual may claim protection from political infringements on his individual freedom of action.

But in the broadest sense, Mill defines the range of a person’s right to unrestrained liberty over his own choices as extending to that point at which his actions would infringe upon and violate the equal rights of other people to their freedom.

And the weakest point in Mill’s defense of individual liberty is his failure to clearly align his case for human freedom with the right to private property and its use in all ways that do not violate the comparable individual rights of others. {Read More}

The Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States of America provide the foundation that has kept this nation free and able to enjoy the individual liberties all people are entitled to. However the question to be answered is... do We the People continue to have the will to act as independent individuals in defense of our freedoms and individual and personal liberties?

The future, if nothing else should prove to be interesting.


  1. Mill did not clearly delineate limits, but his point was more to logically justify human liberty, and his reasoning is sound.

    Why don't they teach this stuff in school?

    Oh, I know why... It is antithetical to progressivism's marching ants dogma.

  2. What class did you first read Mills?

  3. I read this in Philosophy 101 (along with Kant's "Prolegamena to Any Future Metaphysic", Hume's "An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding" and Descarte's something something) 37 years ago and I still have the book. I should probably dig it out again.

  4. Silver, I read Mill in High School. I can only hope today's students are getting this stuff. I wouldn't blame the schools if they're not, though. I'd blame our anti-intellectual culture.

    Les, you sited the Ayn Rand 'lexicon' regarding "moral principles," but very few scholars of morality would find Rand's interpretation of morality as even vaguely definitive.

    Morality is, by definition, a social code. And plenty of people find it in their own subjectively "rational" interests to disobey any particular code of morality, and those codes, of course, vary from society to society, place to place, home to home, person to person.

    Ethics are another matter, but again, really, speak to social needs.

    It could be argued that we as a culture are far too absorbed with morality and not nearly enough with ethics. But it's almost as pointless as arguing the difference between ethics and morality in the first place.

    The problem with Rand's theory is spelled out in the clear oxymoron that is the name: "rational self-interest." RATIONAL SELF-INTEREST.

    She may as well have called it "objective subjectivity."


    1. jmj... What you don't understand is this, I do not give a rat's a*s what "very few scholars" think. Or don't think for that matter.

      You are free, as are others to interpret, or should I say misinterpret in your specific, case Ayn Rand's philosophy and the concept of rational self interest. Feel free to do so to your hearts desire.

      As LCR mentioned in on of his comment in a prior post here in response to your comment... look up the meaning of Freudian slip. Taken in the context in which LCR suggested it said probably explains you comment here.

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