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Monday, August 20, 2012

John Locke on The Virtues of liberty

As a society forgets it's requirements and it's virtues, it becomes ugly. Viciousness comes from the word vicious, which shares a common root with the word vice. A societies vices are the distorted mirror image, or shadow, of it's virtues. When we talk about wanting liberty, that is a virtuous thing. But the opposite of liberty is the attribute of oppression. Liberty is to be able to move freely, do what one pleases with only natural constraints, and to live one's life and pursue happiness.

The opposite of being able to move freely is to be oppressed, restrained. Complete oppression is slavery, when one isn't even able to own one's self. One is never, in this world, completely free; nor is one completely restrained until death. While in the material world every human being is both free and constrained to a degree.

6. "But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license; though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another’s pleasure."

Liberty and oppression are not absolutes, they aren't binary. To the degree that one has access to and control of the properties a person needs to be free to pursue happiness and achieve one's life's work and needs, one has liberty. To the extent these attributes are denied, one is not free. That is why imprisonment and slavery are the ultimate in oppression. Our own liberty should not impinge on others. As John Locke Says:

"6...Every one as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind, and not unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another."

Liberty is also associated with power. It requires power to pursue happiness, control properties, use tools and achieve one's goals. Powerlessness is associated with slavery. Rule is the exercise of power. To be truly free one must have power over one's own life. That is why self-rule is self-empowerment. At the same time a state of war starts when someone tries to utilize his power to take away the liberty of another. John Locke says;

17.."he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power does thereby put himself into a state of war with him;...He that in the state of Nature would take away the freedom that belongs to any one in that state must necessarily be supposed to have a design to take away everything else, that freedom being the foundation of all the rest; as he that in the state of society would take away the freedom"

Ironically just the act of recognizing where one is powerful and where one has no power is the first step in getting self rule. Even a prisoner who can rule his or her own mind cannot be completely shackled. Some of the greatest works of freedom were written in Jail. The virtue of liberty is that it starts inward and emanates outward. Liberty is not anarchism. John Locke said of liberty:

21...."The liberty of man in society is to be under no other legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth, nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact according to the trust put in it. Freedom, then, is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us: “A liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws”; but freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it. A liberty to follow my own will in all things where that rule prescribes not, not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man, as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of Nature."

The virtue of liberty is to be free within the boundaries of one's own swimlanes, one's own life, with rules everyone can understand. Libertarians get this wrong, and anarchists get this very wrong.

John Locke continues:

"57....For in all the states of created beings, capable of laws, where there is no law there is no freedom. For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be where there is no law; and is not, as we are told, “a liberty for every man to do what he lists.” For who could be free, when every other man’s humour might domineer over him? But a liberty to dispose and order freely as he lists his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own"

He says this in the context of a parent:

63. "The freedom then of man, and liberty of acting according to his own will, is grounded on his having reason, which is able to instruct him in that law he is to govern himself by, and make him know how far he is left to the freedom of his own will. To turn him loose to an unrestrained liberty, before he has reason to guide him, is not the allowing him the privilege of his nature to be free, but to thrust him out amongst brutes, and abandon him to a state as wretched and as much beneath that of a man as theirs."
Notes:
"9. “Human laws are measures in respect of men whose actions they must direct, howbeit such measures they are as have also their higher rules to be measured by, which rules are two—the law of God and the law of Nature; so that laws human must be made according to the general laws of Nature, and without contradiction to any positive law of Scripture, otherwise they are ill made.” Hooker, Eccl. Pol. iii. 9. “To constrain men to anything inconvenient doth seem unreasonable.” Ibid. i. 10."

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