Sometimes when discussing civil liberties, a line gets drawn between personal freedoms and economic ones. In fact, it is even seen as one of the defining characteristics between the political left and right. But while this certainly may be true of the policies that either side supports, I feel as though this misses the interaction between the two.
Let’s start with the First Amendment: Freedom of speech. This has been a hotly contested issue of late, with the Citizens United ruling several years ago. There was (and continues to be) much said about the validity of corporate money in the political arena. That in particular isn’t an issue I wish to focus on, but the interaction between speech and money is.
If an individual chooses to spend their money towards a political campaign, or flyers, or to self publish a book, those are all different forms of speech. To limit the amount of money that an individual is allowed to spend is akin to limiting the amount that they are allowed to say; the limitation on economic freedom becomes a limitation on personal freedom. The political left seems to think that while freedom of speech is beneficial for individuals, it is not the case for groups of those very same individuals; the reasoning behind this I cannot understand. Pragmatically, there is little reason to believe that the amount of money that one spends will guarantee a particular outcome. One must look no further than the current presidential election, where Jeb Bush outspent nearly every other candidate, and yet dropped out of the race dead last.
Another area that the two areas, personal and economic, interact is in trade. If I want to offer my carpentry services, it’s unfortunately not as simple as finding someone in need of my services, rendering them, and collecting payment. If I wish to keep the weight of the State off my back, I must first be licensed, register as a contractor, pay various fees, file my taxes quarterly, etc. There are numerous costs that I must incur before ever accepting that first payment. The economic restrictions become a restriction on my personal freedom by altering how I must spend my time in addition to my money.
Or what if I would like to hire somebody, but they’re not a citizen, or haven’t been through all the needed regulatory hurdles? That’s another restriction on my economic freedom, that is effecting my freedom of association as a consequence.
Liberty shouldn’t be seen as compartmentalized segments; it’s deep and dynamic, and restrictions on it have far reaching consequences.
A man that I knew recently passed away. I didn’t know him well, only having met his acquaintance through various parties and social gatherings over the years, but I always enjoyed his company when I was around him. He happened to do the same work as I, a carpenter, and we both enjoyed talking about music and, specifically, guitars.
His death was unexpected, stemming from an accident at work. He was working under a house in a tight area, and (probably while fumbling around), accidentally fired a nail from his nail gun into his heart. He was air lifted to a hospital, treated, went through rehab, and was sent home to recover further. Several days later, his wife arrived home from work to find him dead, looking “almost as if asleep”.
Moments like this in life, when an acquaintance, friend, or loved one passes away changes your perspective, if only for a little while. Our time here is limited, and while we struggle daily against that fact, eventually our bodies will decay, we will contract a disease, or suffer an accident, and suddenly we will be no more, our existence being extinguished like the flame of a candle being blown out.
As it turns out, this absurdity of life is something I happen to think about often. What makes life meaningful? Why? Is my life meaningful? Is there or can there be an objective standard of meaningfulness? I struggle to answer these questions, but increasingly I feel as though I am being pushed away from the things that I think are constraining me; work, money, etc. I wonder how much I am actually constrained by these things I worry about, and how much is dead weight that I am forcing myself to carry to my own detriment.
I can’t claim to know what makes life meaningful, but for me personally, I enjoy it the most when I feel free.
Life is short. Live freely.
I have been thinking about natural rights and their relation to political theory. Now, I have for quite a while now been in favor of a natural rights based approach, but lately have been questioning how viable it truly is. Most natural rights political theory begins with some form of the Non Aggression Principle, which according to Wikipedia is “… a moral stance which asserts that aggression is inherently illegitimate.”. Now that certainly sounds like a good starting point to me, but does it tell the whole story? Wikipedia goes further:
NAP and property rights are closely linked, since what aggression is depends on what a person’s rights are. Aggression, for the purposes of NAP, is defined as the initiation or threatening of violence against a person or legitimately-owned property of another. Specifically, any unsolicited actions of others that physically affect an individual’s property or person, no matter if the result of those actions is damaging, beneficial, or neutral to the owner, are considered violent or aggressive when they are against the owner’s free will and interfere with his right to self-determination and the principle of self-ownership.
There are several problems that I have currently. One, strict adherence to the NAP would necessarily lead to anarchism, since taxation is a function of the state, and is inherently coercive, thereby violating the NAP (Also, notice how a definition of property rights is presupposed in the NAP, at least as presented here. The definition is taken for granted while using it to support the very thing in question!). Now, I see no reason to dismiss anarchism prima facie, but it could be a tough pill to swallow for some, and intuitively I think most people are inclined (whether rightly or not) to dismiss it. However, I myself am not an anarchist; I do believe a minimal state is necessary to secure individual’s rights. In any case, the supporter of a minimal state now finds his or her self at odds with the common natural rights approach.
Is there a way natural rights can be reconciled with a state? I read an argument, presented by Mark Friedman, which goes as follows:
Quite clearly, deterring or preempting foreign attacks and international terrorism promotes rational agency in a way the basic scientific research does not…Therefore, the coercion of rational agents to support national defense is an exception to Nozickian side constraints because it can be justified in terms of the very value, rational agency, which generates those constraints.
At first I found this argument rather compelling, but of late have questioned it. If rights truly are an inherent part of being human, and are universal across a myriad of cultures and times, then why is a state necessary to secure them? It seems as though the state must exist prior to those rights if they are to be secured through the state. In the absence of a state, can individuals truly be said to have intrinsic rights if they are unable to effectively secure them? (It is at this point that anarcho-capitalists will chide me for thinking a state is required to protect rights. For reasons I don’t care to get into at the moment, I do not agree with them, though I’m sympathetic to their commitment to non-coercion.) It is true that individuals would be free to contract with others to provide them with protection services, but this leads to the “free-rider” problem: Would enough people contract with a particular agency in order to effectively provide security for a given area? I think it is likely that they would not, perhaps not seeing any immediate threats to their rights that would prompt them to want to. But the free-rider argument is itself a consequentialist one. What place does that have in a system of natural rights?
To me this is a significant problem. Can we really just pick and choose what types of arguments we want to use in any given moment, even if they are at times contradictory? It may work well in your average internet political battles, but hardly would withstand scrutiny enough to be considered a consistent political theory.
I am naturally disinclined towards consequentialism. At the root of it, I feel as though there is nothing in the way of an ever increasing leviathan of a government, that there is no universal framework with which to point to when government goes too far. However, I am coming to grips with the idea that I may be wrong; after all, people can just as easily reject the whole idea of natural rights, and either way it is a battle for liberty. There may not be, in fact, any universal framework at all, but only individual’s subjective thoughts, feelings, and opinions on certain matters. If another individual doesn’t feel as though I have a right to something, then I can’t expect my right to be respected by them, can I? In aggregate, this can mean that by default I do not have a right after all, even if I feel as though I should. It might be nice to appeal to natural rights in such a case, however if we still must at times appeal to consequentialist arguments, why hold to natural rights at all?
I still would like to see natural rights saved, if you will. I’m open to hearing arguments for and against, but more and more I’m leaning towards consequentialism.