Friday, September 29, 2006

Liberty and Independence

In the post below, I wrote how the concept of liberty is rarely understood and found so seldom in human history. Slavery is the ultimate loss of liberty but being nominally free, in a legal sense, isn’t enough to say that one possess liberty (as we’ve seen in 20th century communism and fascism.) Often when a nation is fighting for independence journalists will write that the people are fighting for freedom even though in many impoverished nations they are only substituting local tyranny for foreign rule. Fifty years ago most of the nations of Africa became independent but few have liberty.

Through out history, nations have gone to war to help establish or maintain the dictatorial rule of one hereditary dynasty in the face of the threat of another tyrannical ruler. The rulers exploited fear, patriotism, avarice, and divine retribution (or reward,) to motivate the oppressed into defending their oppressor. But national independence rarely brought liberty for the individual who lived in these societies.

A recently published book by John Lewis, Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens, describes how the distinction of liberty and independence first came about. In the Iliad, “Freedom means living under King Priam’s rule, and slavery means being taken in personal bondage to work in a far off land. This is not political freedom; it is independence from foreign takeover.” But “[f]or Solon a free man is an Attic-speaking male whose personal autonomy inside the polis is protected from attacks by his fellows.”

Today, the notion of liberty (inherently individualistic) and mere independence (sovereign rule) is blurred by the dominant leftist notion of self-determination. For a leftist, self-determination is inherently collectivistic and applied to “a people” or nation and embedded in the institution of democracy. To this mindset, you have self-determination when you have to wait for millions of other people to agree with you on some Tuesday in November. Call what you want but liberty it is not.


Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason is right on, as he notes how the notion of liberty (which is individualistic) is conflated with the notion of self-determination (which is collectivist).

One has to give the left credit for knowing how to undermine concepts by conflating them with their opposite. For example, they replaced the classical view of liberalism (which embodies freedom of the individual from the state) with the modern view of liberalism (which embodies state control of the individual).

Similarly, the antidote to racism was once viewed as becoming color blind, whereas it is now viewed as taking race into account.

9/29/06, 9:02 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Perhaps the most pertinent example of what Jason writes, is the conflating of liberty with democracy in Iraq today. Here, we call it 'liberty' when the Iraqis vote for Islamic law, which renders it a crime for an individual to practice the religion of his choice, or to refrain from religion.

9/30/06, 7:05 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

That's a good example, W. I wrote about it in the early days of this blog. It's a point that's not made often enough.

9/30/06, 8:07 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

And this one.

9/30/06, 8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Job! Jason please send me an email, I need to ask you some important questions. I'm sorry but there is no email address listed here. Thank You, Jose

10/1/06, 10:05 AM  
Blogger JINGOIST said...

Jason you are one of the most thoughtful bloggers out there. Well done sir!
Africa is indeed exhibit one when pointing out the difference between liberty and independence. A goodly number of these former colonies were better off under colonial English or Dutch rule. The Portugese, French and Spanish tended to exploit their colonies more and leave a hollow shell in their wake. I've noticed that Marxists always blame local tyrannies on colonial hangover regardless of the truth.
The condition of sub-Saharan also leads to some VERY hard questions if one is going to be totally honest....

10/1/06, 12:39 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

It is a true post. However weingarten and Jason both give too much credit to the left in undermining. It equally serves the interests of a moralistic party to use collectivist politics to impose formalised morality on a nation.

10/1/06, 8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you fail to take into account though is the dis-uniting effect of individual liberty pushed to its' extreme. As Freud said, "Happiness is NO culture". This is the reason why "morality" suffers. Each person can do "their own thing". Nothing is "bad".

10/2/06, 9:43 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Liberty allows morality but doesn’t guarantee it. An individual can cultivate a character according to ethical principles or they can degenerate.

Libertarians tend to emphasize legal protections to insure individual liberty as if that was enough to insure a civil society. I believe it takes much more. I’d even go further and argue that without a proper culture with respect to ethical precepts, widely accepted within a society, neither liberty nor morality will prevail. Certain ethical fundamentals have to be broadly accepted if individual liberty is to be achieved and sustained.

10/2/06, 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree Jason. Only the philosophy of "post-modernism" works against those efforts. The ancients attempted to cultivate individual "virtue" imposed from within. Islam attempts to cultivate a collective "virtue", imposed from without. Post-Modernism attacks all virtue.

10/2/06, 10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It "empowers" the individual. It doesn't tranfer each individuals "powers" to a central government for reapportionment and distribution. Only when the society is under attack does it need to centralize power and act collectively.

10/2/06, 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without a common culture, the concept of a "national" sense of "Duty/Honor/Country" is meaningless. Duty/Honor attaches to the culture of ther "group" that is locally powerful enough to provide "food/shelter and physical security" to the individual, be it clan, religious institution (al-Sadr), or labor union (socialists).

10/2/06, 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, guess my gossipy "womanly ways" got the better of me. My fit has passed. Edit away!

10/2/06, 11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, delete the reasons and just leave summaries of the answers. You really are an Aristotelian, Jason. That was my last comment. Scholarship is dead. Welcome to the "authentic" new PoMo world with its' "time horizon" restricted to the the daily newspaper (vice nouspaper). I recommend a new title for your blog. "Happiness". Liberty and Culture is an oxymoron here.

10/2/06, 12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


There is no Liberty under Islam. There is tolerance which must be purchased for a limited time. The rest of us term this extortion, but some Muslims think it is their divine right.

10/2/06, 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enter the Poultry.

Utopians of all stripes are a menace. Liberterians are reality based and do not have the history of gratuitous blood shed of Marxist goons or Jihadists. A Marxist railing about the evils of Liberterianism should be a party joke.

10/2/06, 4:56 PM  
Blogger JINGOIST said...

Well Beak, conservatism of one sort or another is a workable compromise. I hate to agree with Senor quackabout, but he's right in one sense when it comes to Libertarianism. It is utopian, like it or not. And believe me I admire a good deal of the Libertarian platform, especially where economics and Constitutionalism (is that a word?)are concerned. Unfortunately, like socialism it tends to ignore human nature.


10/2/06, 5:27 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

I’d even go further and argue that without a proper culture with respect to ethical precepts, widely accepted within a society, neither liberty nor morality will prevail. Certain ethical fundamentals have to be broadly accepted if individual liberty is to be achieved and sustained.

I totally agree with this comment, it disagrees with the post. It calls for "a broad acceptance of ethical approach to be a driving force towards a good society" or spoken in sinister language "a set of collective ideals to be used to bring about a just society". Self-determinism in the democratic process is not a leftist tool, it is a way of society formulating how it is to benefit most and be harmed the least by the degree to which it grants soveriegn power or civil freedoms or whatever.

10/3/06, 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mencken made a good observation about the difference between independence and liberty. He pointed out that when India was a British colony, even the most discriminated-against, lower-caste Indian had rights undreamed of under the rule of the Moghuls. Like the right not to be murdered at the whim of the ruler.
There's an amusing moment in the movie MICHAEL COLLINS after the British Crown recognizes the Irish Republic. Collins participates in a ceremony in which a regiment of the English army lowers the Union Jack and the Irish raise the flag of the Republic in its place. Collins then turns to his English counterpart and quips, "So that's what all the fuss was about, was it?" The implication, to me, is that if all that was involved was a change of flags (symbolizing a change of rulers, native-born for foreign), without any real extension of liberty, Collins and the other rebels might as well have stayed at home in bed.
And Ducky, as usual, is wrong. Libertarians do indeed recognize conflicts of interest. They just think the conflict should be handled without the threat of violence, whether individual violence or the State's. The main conflict of interest I'm interested in is between mine (my interest being to live without people pointing guns at my head), and people like Ducky's, whose interest is, shall we say, somewhat different.

10/3/06, 9:09 AM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

I believe that Jason stated an important proposition, namely "without a proper culture with respect to ethical precepts, widely accepted within a society, neither liberty nor morality will prevail." (Perhaps that is the main reason we need a nation, rather than a geographic area with borders.)

Some libertarians, anarchists, and Objectivists, believe that liberty suffices to provide a sound society. Now it is true that liberty is a prerequisite for morality, for absent liberty there cannot be morality (but only coerced activity). However *it is what people do with their liberty that matters*. Lord Acton phrased this by “Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

My qualms about the libertarians is that they are so focused on the reductions of liberty by government, that they sometimes pretend that our country does not face real threats that require governmental action. Here, they might pretend that if only our government did not get involved, other countries, and local barbarians, would cause us little harm.

10/3/06, 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My problem with the Acton quote is that there are always people who think they know what I "ought" and "ought not" be doing, and are more than willing to compel me to follow their "oughts."

10/3/06, 12:24 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Bilwick's concern with the Acton quote is that there are those who 'are more than willing to compel [him] to follow their "oughts." ' However, such was not Acton's intent, for compulsion is surely antithetic to liberty (and morality). To view the 'right' to do what one ought, as the compulsion to carry out the dictates of others, would not be a 'right', but an obligation.

The essence of Acton's view is that one's conscience should dictate what he does with his liberty, thereby viewing it as an indispensable means, rather than as an end.

10/3/06, 12:58 PM  
Blogger JINGOIST said...

Well said Weingarten. Your qualms about Libertarianism mirror mine.
Their drive to peel away government "layers" is indeed admirable, but they go too far.
The sane 85% who consider these things understand that there is a balance to be struck concerning government interference in our lives. The remaining 15% are either communists or radical Libertarians.
Also the Libertarian stance on national defense is totally insane given today's realities.


10/3/06, 4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, jingoist, tell us more about this "balance" that must be struck between "good" coercion and "bad" coercion. I'm going to guess that "bad" coercion is basically any coercion in support of causes or for purposes you don't like, while "good" coercion is in support of causes or for purposes you do like. That, in my experience, is how it usually works, when you cut through either the collectivist or traditionalist-conservative rhetoric. But I could be wrong. Pray enlighten me.

10/3/06, 8:30 PM  
Blogger JINGOIST said...

Bilwick I think it's possible that you mistake my intent. I was speaking of the compromise we strike in order to live in civilization. We institute laws to protect our freedoms from government and to protect ourselves from each other. These laws necessarily infringe on your freedoms, hopefully as little as possible.
I may be mistaken, but it seems you worry more about moral policing than anything else since you speak of "oughts" and ought nots. That wasn't my intent.
A small percentage on the religious right (Christians and Jews like me) and a majority on the left would impose their religious "oughts" on you in a New York minute. Either in the form of biblical teachings or in the form of hate crime and hate speech legislation. You're right to worry about that.
On the opposite end of that stultifying existence is radical Libertarianism and Anarchists. They have more in common than you may care to acknowledge.
So when I speak of a balance to be struck where government interference is concerned I'm talking about it's role in our lives. And believe it or not there's already a brilliant roadmap. It's the original intent of the US Constitution. This admittedly imperfect document is still the greatest way we have to govern ourselves. Maybe we could give it to the Iraqis, we're not using it.


10/4/06, 7:27 AM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

I agree with Morgan, my fellow jingoist and Jew. Yet Bilwick has raised some fundamental issues that warrant further investigation. Allow me to reformulate his concerns, so as to deal with the issue of coercion in a more comprehensive manner.

The government is supposed to protect rights, so how can one justify its violation of rights? It is immoral to coerce, so how can one justify state coercion? Why not have voluntary forms of governance, so that force is confined to punishing violations that have been agreed upon? Even if one accepts the inevitability of state coercion, isn’t it arbitrary to decide when to coerce, and when not to?

Now, I agree that: government’s purpose is to protect rights; it is immoral to coerce; force should primarily prosecute what has been agreed upon; and we need a guide for when to coerce, and when not to. Moreover, I agree with George Washington that “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” How then can we justify coercion, especially when employed by government?

*There is only one basis on which to violate morality, and that is for “survival”.* No nation can be formed, operated, or sustained, without some violation of rights. Yet it is necessary to have a nation, including the force of government, or rights cannot be ensured. When America was formed, there were surely those who did not want it. When the Declaration of Independence permitted slavery, there were those who were victimized. When the government was funded, there were those who didn’t want to pay. Yet for a nation and its government to survive, it is necessary to violate some rights, in order to preserve others.

So the criteria is “survival” where to ensure the nation, its government, and citizenry, one must employ the immorality of coercion. Here, coercion is a last resort, where the burden of proof is upon those who call for it. It is to be eschewed for other purposes, such as to ostensibly aid the well-being of the country or its citizens.

In sum: government is justified solely by survival (or necessity), rather than by morality; coercion should be precluded, except when there is a compelling case for its necessity.

10/4/06, 2:45 PM  

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