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The first great struggle for liberty was in the realm of thought. The libertarians reasoned that freedom of thought would be good for mankind; it would promote knowledge, and increased knowledge would advance civilization. But the authoritarians protested that freedom of thought would be dangerous, that people would think wrong, that a few were divinely appointed to think for the people.
If all men had the same interests, there would be less harm in permitting a part of the people to legislate for all; but this is not the case. There is a great conflict of interests between the possessed and the dispossessed, between the poor and the rich, between the weak and the strong, between the ruler and the ruled, between the worker and the shirkers, between the producer and the appropriator, which is apparent in existing laws, always made by those powerful enough to take advantage of the State and of the law-abiding sentiment of the people. That their laws conflict with justice is no concern of theirs, for profit and not justice is their object. The object is legitimate because they make it legitimate. The game they play is lawful because they make the law to uphold their game; but they raise a hue and cry for "law and order" if they find any game conflicting with theirs, and declare it unlawful. It is easy to see that laws thus enacted are unjust, for to be just a law must be enacted for the benefit of all; thus it is in no wise logical to presume that the "legal" is the just.
And here is the difference between the Libertarians and the Authoritarians: the latter have no confidence in liberty; they believe in compelling people to be good, assuming that people are totally depraved; the former believe in letting people be good, and maintain that humanity grows better and better as it gains more and more liberty. If Libertarians were merely to ask that liberty be tried in any one of the other fields of human expression they would meet the same opposition as their pioneer predecessors; but such is their confidence in the advantages of liberty that they demand, not that it be tried in one more instance only, but that it be universally adopted.
The history of civilized man is the history of the incessant conflict between liberty and authority. Each victory for liberty marked a new step in the world's progress; so we can measure the advance of civilization by the amount of freedom acquired by human institutions.
Does it not seem a vast waste of valuable human material that the pioneers of thought, those who by their genius dare to clear unknown paths in the arts and sciences and in government, should have to conform to the dictates of that non-creative, slow-moving mass, the majority? An appeal to the majority is a resort to force and not an appeal to intelligence; the majority is always ignorant, and by increasing the majority we multiply ignorance. The majority is incapable of initiative, its attitude being one of opposition toward everything that is new. If it had been left to the majority, the world would never have had the steamboat, the railroad, the telegraph, or any of the conveniences of modern life.
Although the legal and ethical definitions of right are the antithesis of each other, most writers use them as synonyms. They confuse power with goodness, and mistake law for justice.
The Law of Equal Freedom, as Adopted by The Libertarian League
Since life itself contains the impulse of physical growth and the development of faculties and therefore needs room and freedom to function; and since liberty is necessary to the exercise of faculties; and since the exercise of faculties is essential to happiness; therefore, to attain happiness one must have liberty. And since liberty, being essential to the individual, is also necessary to the race; and since this necessitates limiting the liberty of each to the like liberty of all, we therefore arrive at the sociological Law of Equal Freedom.
Freedom of thought is essential to the discovery of truth.
Freedom of speech is essential to the vindication of truth.
Freedom of the press is requisite for the dissemination of knowledge.
Freedom of assembly is essential for the discussion of public questions.
Freedom in education is essential to the development of correct principles of study and teaching.
Freedom in science is essential to the demonstration of fact, through investigation and experimentation.
Freedom in literature, art and music is necessary for the highest expression of conceptions and emotions.
Freedom in amusements and sports is essential to the fullest enjoyment of recreation.
Freedom in religion is necessary to avert persecution (as, e.g., for adopting and professing religious opinions, and for worshiping or not worshiping, according to the dictates of conscience).
Freedom of initiative and association is necessary for efficiency and economic in individual or co-operative enterprise.
A reasonable action on the part of the majority is very rare, while the evidence of mob stupidity and brutality is overwhelming. The majority in power make laws for their own financial benefit, disregarding the interests of the minority, and when the weak minority, by adding to its numbers, becomes powerful, it, in turn, does the same thing; thus, by appealing to power to settle their conflicting interests, the conflict would go on forever.
Custom may suffice as the basis of law, but is inadequate as the basis of justice. Tyranny, not liberty, has been the custom in the past; and so Libertarians reject custom as a guiding principle, just as they reject power or might. They know that justice is not something that was, or is, but that is to be.
A political convention illustrates the workings of majority rule: If the minority in a party advocate a progressive move which is defeated when put to a vote in the convention, the minority are prohibited from advancing it during the campaign; if this minority refuse to advocate what the convention has decided to be right, they are barred from the platform and press, the cry of majority rule is raised against them, and they are called "traitors to the party;" but if they abandon their progressive ideas and advocate the wishes of the majority they are rewarded with office. Thus majority rule develops the dishonest politician: in order to rule sometime, he consents to being ruled at other times. The desire to rule and the willingness to be ruled ends in degradation; and no one who accepts the principles of equal liberty can endorse majority rule.
The greatest violator of the principle of equal liberty is the State. Its functions are to control, to rule, to dictate, to regulate, and in exercising these functions it interferes with and injures individuals who have done no wrong. The objection to government is, not that it controls those who invade the liberty of others, but that it controls the non-invader. It may be necessary to govern one who will not govern himself, but that in no wise justifies governing one who is capable of and willing to govern himself. To argue that because some need restraint all must be restrained is neither consistent nor logical.
Ethical right is largely abstract; legal right is mostly concrete. Ethical right the just man wishes to be established; legal right is already established. Ethical right and legal right mutually exclude each other; where one prevails, the other cannot endure. One is founded on power, on might; the other on justice, on equality. One appeals to the sword to settle matters, the other appeals to the judgment of men. For illustration: Governments have the right to do wrong; that is, they have the power, the legal right, to do anything they choose, regardless of whether it is good or bad — and their choice is usually bad from the ethical standpoint. Governments can and do invade nations, rob the people of their property, enslave or kill the inhabitants; all in perfect accord with legal rights, but in gross violation of ethical right. Let it be understood that the right of a government is coextensive with its power; it has not the right to invade, enslave or kill the people of a stronger nation or government, for it lacks the power on which this right is based; but, having the power, it has the right to commit these acts against a weaker nation. Let us not mistake things as they are for things as they ought to be.
When we compare the laws made today and the method and purpose of their making, with those of the past, we find them to be in perfect harmony. It was the law and custom of the past to provide for a class of idlers, it was customary for the powerful to enslave the weak, for the rich to rob the poor, for the unscrupulous to make laws in their own interests, even as it is the law and custom today. Surely it must be evident that law does not have its basis in justice, but rather in custom. To both law and custom, justice is a total stranger.
Charles T. Sprading Quotes 1-13 out of 13