On The Subject of Freedom

How many of you have stopped to consider what the word freedom means?

Webster’s defines it as:

1 : the quality or state of being free: as a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another

I consider that a rather dry and uninformative definition as to freedom’s real nature.  That definition fails to provide us with a fundamental philosophy from which to base a free society off of.  Does freedom from necessity mean we should use force to ensure our necessities are met?  Does freedom from coercion and constraint mean we should never use coercion and constraint against anyone for any reason?  Obviously the answer to both of those is no.  In answering no, that leaves us open to some serious problems as to defining when it is proper to use coercion and constraint, and how to bring about freedom from necessity.

Thankfully some very bright men in our nations past took the time to ponder these questions thoroughly and provide us with some enlightening answers.

Jefferson defines freedom (liberty) thusly:

“Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.” –Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819.

In modern English, he’s saying we have a right to do whatever it is we want to do as long as whatever it is we are doing is not violating the civil rights of others.  Then he adds that the right to do what we want supersedes the laws of man – a bold statement indeed.  I shall refer to this definition as “rightful liberty” as it is defined as a right.

His statement requires some further context to fully understand.  The founding fathers saw that “rightful liberty” is a right drawn from the inherent laws of nature, not granted to us by government.  This understanding of how rights are derived is essential to a proper working philosophy of freedom from which to base a society off of.

Jefferson expounds:

“Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the Author of nature, because necessary for his own sustenance.” –Thomas Jefferson: Legal Argument, 1770. FE 1:376

“A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” –Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774. ME 1:209, Papers 1:134

That is to say, we derive our rightful liberty from the very fact we exist within the natural world.  Often the founding fathers used euphemisms to refer to our rights as coming from God.  Whether you are an atheist or not is immaterial to this discussion.  The terms “Maker”, “Author of nature”, “The Creator”, or “God”, which you’ll find littered throughout US organic law, are made in reference to the fact that man’s rights come from the very fact we are alive within nature and not from a King’s decree.

This understanding of where rights come from is essential.  By this definition, there is only ONE right we have.  All other so-called rights we find enumerated within the US Constitution really aren’t “rights” that stand on their own; they are off-shoots of our fundamental natural right to do what we want, so long as whatever it is we are doing is not violating other people’s ability to do what they want.

Jefferson also gives insight as to what freedom from necessity means.  The founding fathers saw that freedom from necessity does not mean the government feeds, clothes, and houses you.  It means that in order to properly provide for your necessities, you must be unobstructed in your actions.  You must have “rightful liberty” in order to ensure your necessities are met.  Nature’s very existence ensures your necessities are available; rightful liberty ensures you have free access to those necessities.

Now we have a real working definition of freedom from which all laws can be based.  The 9th amendment of our constitution hammers the definition of freedom I just described home:

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

With that amendment, they secured our rightful liberty.  People often refer to the 10th amendment as granting the individual states sovereignty and that in so doing, the states have the ability to make any law they wish, that our federal constitution only constrains the federal government and not the states.  This is not true at all.  The 9th amendment shows us that rightful liberty is retained by the people, not the states, that the states must obey this natural law when legislating law.

“Natural rights [are] the objects for the protection of which society is formed and municipal laws established.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1797. ME 9:422

The fathers saw that all laws made by man must obey this natural law of rightful liberty and that when government violates this fundamental natural right, they engage in tyranny.  Man’s natural right of free action supersedes all laws, as it is the foundation from which the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is based.  The US Constitution protects our rights of free action and creates a government with the sole purpose of protecting our rightful liberty.  – The government serves no purpose other than this.

From this we arrive at a definition of when coercion and constraint are necessary and proper.  They are proper when a person or government is interfering with other people’s rightful liberty.  They are proper to ensure a government exists that protects our rightful liberty from coercion and constraint by others or from other governments.  That is the ONLY time they are proper.

When the government engages in coercion or constraint outside of this definition, it is engaging in tyranny.  It is violating our rightful liberty.  The founding fathers were well aware that the biggest threat to our rightful liberty comes from government itself, which is why they went to such great lengths to constrain government.

This famous Jefferson quote is often thrown around by people who feel our fiat monetary system is fraudulent, but with our new understanding of how our founding fathers saw freedom; the “standing armies” portion of this quote begins to make sense:

“And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies…”–Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 28 May 1816

The Constitution’s reference to congress creating “armies” is a bit quirky if you don’t understand where the founders are coming from.  They saw that armies were only to be created when a nation or group was threatening the rightful liberty of the citizenry and that to have standing armies, because of their very nature, was threatening to the citizens’ rightful liberty.  Not only because they could be used to usurp power, but because the cost involved required coercion which violates our rightful liberty.  An industrial complex must be built around armies and forceful allocation of resources is required.  Armies are the antithesis of freedom.

Now that you have been informed as to how the founding fathers saw what freedom meant, I hope you take some time to think about what our government is engaged in today.  The fundamental right of free action is where capitalism is derived from.  Everything the government does, it does through coercive force.  This is why you’ll often hear libertarian organizations state they are “working toward a voluntary society.”  Contrary to popular belief, a real “free” market works to reduce all profits to zero.  Only through the coercive force of government does this not occur.  Real capitalism is PURELY voluntary.  Force is only called upon when someone is acting fraudulently or harming others through their actions.

We do not have a capitalist society today, which I believe is primary cause of our problems.  A capitalist society can not exist when interest rates and the issuance of money is not controlled by the markets, but controlled by a cartel of private banks.  At our nations founding, the Treasury’s sole function was to coin the gold and silver brought to it by the public and to ensure the weights and measures of that coin.  The markets decided what interest rates should be and how much gold should be mined based on its cost.  There was no use of force or coercion; people were simply allowed to act freely throughout this system of free exchange.

Fundamental liberty, our rightful liberty, demands we be allowed to act and transact freely with others.  That force is limited ONLY to those times when fraud or harm to others occurs.  That ALL LAWS must obey these fundamental principles.

Only then will we be free.