28 February 2012

The Limits of Freedom


I believe it is now time for Western Christians and non-Christians alike to acknowledge that men such as Alexis de Tocqueville were correct and various concepts such as free expression, freedom of association, and other hallowed concepts of Western civilization simply do not translate outside of Western Christian culture. What was once theoretical is now empirical thanks to more than sixty years of evidence that strongly suggests conventional Western views of human liberty are simply not compatible with non-Christian, non-Western cultures.

I’ve noted elsewhere that not everyone wants to be free.  Furthermore, there are those who may desire freedom for themselves while simultaneously wishing that others did not have freedom.  Thus, there are a large number of people who simply do not want freedom.  As such, there are very real limits to freedom simply because not everyone wants freedom.

Because there are limits to humans’ desire for freedom, it necessarily follows that there will be practical limits to the exercise of freedom, which in turn means that freedom is both relative and, in a sense, finite.  The goal, then, is to maximize the amount of freedom that can be exercised at a given point in time.  Paradoxically, this will mean restricting the rights and freedoms of some people.

For starters, if freedom is going to be preserved to any degree, there will be a need for some form of the state because the state, by definition, has coercive powers that do not exist in a state of freedom.  The need to concentrate power in the state stems from the willingness of those who are anti-freedom to use force to attain their goals.  From a practical standpoint, the main defense of freedom will be a complete and total willingness to kill people who would strive against freedom.

In the second place, there must be limits to citizenship within the geographical parameters of the state.   By this I mean that people from societies that have a history of being anti-freedom should be prohibited from making their home among the free.  The surest way to lose freedom is to allow the seductive arguments of authoritarianism to have a say among the free.  Additionally, it would be wise to avoid democracy as a political system, if for no other reason than to ensure that those who oppose freedom have no say in the governance of the state.

Finally, the state must be limited in scope and power.  It’s only responsibilities should be the preservation of liberty and justice. The state should not be authorized to spend massive amounts of money, nor should the state be authorized to micro-manage people’s lives.  The state should not be expected do much of anything, except defend liberty whenever it is threatened or attacked.  Additionally, the state should be ruthless in defense of liberty.

This is but a starter list of the practical prerequisites of liberty.  While perfect, complete liberty is a deserving ideal, it will not be possible as long as there exist those who oppose liberty.  As such, the defenders of liberty should keep in mind that liberty can only be optimized, not attained, and adjust their policies and prescriptions accordingly.

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