Thursday, April 29, 2010


You hear that word bandied about a lot lately, from left and right, and from the founding fathers to Mel Gibson in his final scene in Braveheart... FREEEEDOMMMM!
... We want our Big Macs and Cardiac Catheterization too...

Negative Liberty

Many "freedoms" are documented in our Constitution, specifically in The Bill of Rights: freedom of religion,speech, the press, assembly, petition, the right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. These "freedoms" are clearly documented limitations on the ability of government to interfere with the individual; they are political freedoms protecting the sovereignty of the individual from coercion by the state. The freedoms in the Constitution are termed "negative liberties" or the freedom from restraint. These freedoms are somewhat unique in that once they are possessed they are generally retained at little to no cost. Defending them may have significant cost, but the freedom of religion in and of itself costs us practically nothing.

Po$itive Liberty

Lately on the left you have been hearing a lot about freedom and rights; freedom from poverty (housing, clothing, transportation, possessions?), freedom from illness (right to medical care), freedom from starvation (right to food). These freedoms are termed "positive liberties", and generally involve power. The power to achieve self-realization or the ability to fulfill one's potential. Positive liberty is often described as the ability or entitlement to achieve one's ends, while negative liberty is described as the freedom from being forcibly prevented from achieving those ends. Positive liberties generally come at a significant monetary cost to society at large, in that the group must pay for the individual.

The distinction between positive and negative liberty is perhaps the clearest distinction between social liberals on the left and classical liberals on the right. The minimalist government established by our founding fathers was one of negative liberty. Government was seen as a necessary evil and established within a framework of checks and balances designed to enforce its restrictions and limit its actions. The governments of FDR's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society were ones of positive liberty, a paternalistic government whose main objective was in taking care of its members.

The Freedom to Fail

As stated previously, negative liberties come with little monetary cost, they do however have a cost. The primary cost of negative liberty is tightly bound to the freedom it provides, and that is the freedom to fail. Negative liberty is a liberty of non-interference, you can, to steal from the Army, "Be all that you can be", but the flip side of that coin is you can be an abject and miserable failure as well. You can choose not to purchase medical insurance, you can take that money and invest it or spend it, but if you contract cancer or heart disease you will suffer the consequences of your freedom of action. If you used the money to buy a boat, or frittered it away on entertainment, you are going to die. If you had to spend it on food, that is also part of the consequences of the freedom to fail.

We seem to have become a very, very risk averse nation... or more precisely, consequence averse. We want the freedom to do whatever we want, but we want the safety net that prevents us from dying of AIDS in a culvert due to the choices that we have made; we want our Big Macs and our cardiac catheterization too. We also tend not to want to sacrifice the luxury SUV in order to pay for the medical insurance of the seven kids we've had.

What are you willing to pay?

We seem to be trending more and more towards positive liberties, but the price of positive liberty is our negative liberties, the freedom of interference in our lives by the state. Isaiah Berlin noted in "Two Concepts of Liberty" that the danger of the pursuit of positive liberty was the danger that a paternalistic state can force upon its people a certain way of life, because the state deems that way to be the rationale course of action and is what the people should desire, whether they desire it or not.

There is a lot of paternalistic state being bandied about lately, from the government mandating that you purchase health insurance to the government proposing to regulate the amount of salt that is allowed to be in your food. Is it that far a stretch to the government regulating the number of calories allowed to be in your meal? What with the "nationwide obesity epidemic"? Each positive liberty comes at the cost of the erosion of our negative liberties, comes with the cost of more and more government interference in every aspect of our lives.

Grow Up!

Paternalism is hard to argue against, each paternalistic action in and of itself is predominately good, is made with ostensibly the best of intentions. Your parents after all were, or should have been, paternalistic: "Don't touch that, it's hot", "don't eat all those jellybeans, you'll get sick", "don't stay out past ten, you won't be able to get up for school in the morning". Unless you are a sociopath you are socially, culturally, and biologically conditioned to be paternalistic. The problem is we are also conditioned to resist that paternalism at a certain point, we grow up, we rebel against mommy and daddy and their rules, move out, and make our own way in the world.

So you need to think, and ask yourself, what kind of parents do you want? Do you want parents that respect your growth and maturation, that give you the freedom to be yourself, that give you the freedom to make bad choices, fail, and learn from them? Or do you want mommy telling you to put your coat on when you go outside when you are 42? Or telling you not to put so much salt on your food at your 20th wedding anniversary?

What kind of government do you really want? Think about it!

The Sons of Liberty

As long as we are resurrecting flags of the Revolutionary War such as the Gadsen (Don't Tread On Me) Flag, the flag pictured above is the flag of "The Sons of Liberty" also known as the rebellious stripes flag and is believed to have been created by Samuel Adams in 1767 for the Stamp Act Rebellion. It is considered by some to be the first flag of the American Revolution.



Silverfiddle said...

You're dangerously subversive, Finntann, explaining the constitution in light of natural law and the founders' original intent...

People are slowing waking up to what you are saying. We have been in a progressive stupor for the past 100 years, and people are finally shaking the liberal cobwebs from our brains and realizing what has happened.

!Viva La Reconquista!

Journalizer said...

I love that you posted the "Sons of Liberty" flag. I am a member of The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution because my ancestors were in the American Revolution. Thank you for posting important information.

I hope you are correct. I hope people are beginning to wake up. Those people are hard to find in my neighborhood, but I am on a search to find these people so that I can live somewhere with the ideals of abundance, prosperity, tolerance.... liberty.

Journalizer said...

... so sad that I should have to search to find those people. It is amazing to me that people with this attitude are hard to find. They should be the majority of the populace in America. I thought it was this way until the 2008 election. I remember it being this way when I was a child growing up. Then the "American Dream" and pride in our country was typical. Now it seems that this attitude is hiding and I must search for it.

...I have only been an adult for about 10 years. So what's changed in that 10 years since life was patriotic in my childhood?

Silverfiddle said...

I think it's not just what changed, but what we were taught. I think our generation and the preceding ones were guilty of an empty, unthinking patriotism.

Not saying patriotism is wrong, but it should be an informed patriotism, that we are carrying the torch of enlightenment and freedoms of natural law that the founders lit for us.

We lost the reason and lapsed into a lazy jingoism. Again, I'm not throwing rocks. It was an easy thing to do. We won WW II after all!

Always On Watch said...

These freedoms are termed "positive liberties", and generally involve power....Positive liberties generally come at a significant monetary cost to society at large, in that the group must pay for the individual.

Excellent point.

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