The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
“Liberty has never come from Government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it… The history of liberty is a history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.”
He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself.
What is the right to Liberty, and how should the government protect and provide for it?
I have spent time, off and on, over the past week trying to find the words to answer this question. My best thoughts amount to this: liberty, as we refer to it in terms of government and it’s citizens, is the space provided by the government, by which the citizens are allowed to explore and appreciate the ambitions of their hearts. Where this space exists, there is liberty; where it is absent, there is tyranny. The greater the space, the greater the liberty: every additional intrusion by the government into the private lives and personal governance of it’s citizens is a stripping of liberty.
Should the space be absolute, should the government be entirely restricted from inserting itself into our lives? The answer is obviously no! We are a people of law, and our government exists to protect us and allow us the peace necessary to make the space of liberty a good thing. Liberty without a government is not unlike the freedom of being homeless: with nothing to tie you down, the world is open to you; however, there is also nothing to shelter you from the harsh reality of the world. We need a home to protect us; in the same way, we need a government to serve as a safe-guard against the unfetered wrath of nature.
However, just as we would not be shut-in to our homes, never to venture out and appreciate all that the outdoors has to offer, so we will not be so encompassed in the safety of our government that it becomes impossible to enjoy the joys that exist apart from the government. Our government’s good is not the only or even the best good. We should not be limited to the vision of even a democratically elected representative for our future. Our personal prosperity, so closely tied to our ability to explore and expand our horizons, is not and should not be the priority of the government; the consequence of this reality, however, is that we need the government to give us a free hand to pursue prosperity. Less government oversight and regulations actually means broader horizons, and while there should be some safeguards, a nation where each individual is expected to make for themselves the most of the opportunities we have all been given is a nation of greater accountability and responsibility.
Our personal excellence should be allowed to flourish; likewise, we must also be permitted to pay the price of failing.
This last point might seem controversial. Where is the compassion in a government that allows it’s citizens to fail, and fail brutally? It’s a fair question…my answer is, the government’s role is not to show compassion to it’s citizens. That is the place of the citizens; we should (and do) minister to fellow citizens in need. In fact, charitable giving is higher when the government taxes it’s people less.
The happy result of having fewer government intrusions and restrictions to our livelihood is citizens who are more self-sufficent, more personally responsible, and more charitable. Liberty is not merely the privelege of a free society; it is integral for the survival and flourishing of such a society. Less government, more freedom!