Whose Idea of Freedom Should We Use?
The following post was written by guest-author Pete Sisco.
It’s hard to find a politician anywhere who isn’t pro-freedom. Every political party in every country wants more freedom for the people it represents. Democrats want it, Republicans are sometimes emotional about it. Tories, Labour, Socialists, Greens, they all want freedom too.
Hitler wanted freedom for Germans – by killing more than twenty million people. Stalin wanted freedom for Russians – by killing more than twenty five million people. Mao wanted freedom for Chinese – by killing more than thirty million people. US Presidents Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Bush and Obama wanted freedom for Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – by killing millions of people.
I’m starting to wonder when democracy will have killed as many people as communism and fascism. Even then, will Christianity or Islam have the all-time record of freeing their people through the mass killing of others, or will it be democracy or communism? It’s hard to predict over the next century. Weapons of “freedom” are getting better, such that it is now possible to kill a million people in an afternoon. Every existing record could be broken by the biggest freedom force of all time.
And what exactly would total victory look like under these champions of freedom? What does freedom mean to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Bush and Obama? Is it the same freedom? Does everyone want the freedom of at least one of these great champions of humanity? Would Nixon’s world be the nearest to perfection? Or Obama’s? Or how about a Pope’s or Imam’s vision of global freedom? Which one is universally desired?
And who exactly do we have to kill to get it?
You might find my perspective amusing but I’ll wager you believe in freedom too. If you’re the kind of person who found this article and read this far (thank you) you might even hold some strong beliefs about freedom.
But here’s the problem. What’s your definition of freedom? Or whose is it like? One of the killers I just mentioned? Or is it the Libertarian or anarcho-capitalist or anarcho-pacifist or anarcho-syndicalist or the voluntaryist variety of freedom?
What is – in exact words – the definition of freedom we should be trying to achieve? Hmmmm? Does it trip off the tongue? It should if you really believe in it.
And here’s another challenge to your definition of freedom. People have a way of thinking about what freedom means to them and then engineering a definition that suits what they want. So an anarcho-capitalist will use a different definition than a Catholic, Muslim or a syndicalist might. But a durable definition of freedom needs to include all those people’s ability to live in freedom as well.
Your next door neighbor’s idea of living under Sharia law might be his optimum vision of living life with the freedom to pursue his happiness unimpeded by others. His close adherence to every edict of the Koran and to his Imam might be the deepest desire in his heart. True Freedom (yes, with a capital F) must accommodate him.
Your neighbor on the other side of you is a communist woman who’s concept of freedom (small f) is that nobody owns any physical or intellectual property nor can anyone own a natural resource. Her vision of living in freedom is one where there is no currency or money of any kind and everyone works hard for the mutual support of the community. Carpenters build houses without pay, farmers grow food without pay, teachers train physicians without pay and those physicians heal the sick without pay.
Perhaps you, living between these friendly, peaceful neighbors, think freedom can only be served in a system of laissez faire capitalism, strong protection of all property, and no coercive political rulers (is there any other kind?). To you, that would be freedom and the best way for you to live the rest of your life.
So Whose Idea of Freedom Should We Use?
How can seven billion people all live in Freedom when they have different concepts of what that Freedom would entail? Well, first of all we need a definition of Freedom with a very high degree of utility. And it, preferably, needs to be so precise that it can be measured with mathematical accuracy. Secondly, it needs to accommodate the desires of as many individuals as possible.
So here is the definition of Freedom (capital F) I use: Freedom is the societal condition that exists when every individual has 100% control of his own property.
Before you spend time thinking of why that definition doesn’t work, let me explain the ways it does work. First of all, you can see that we, despite the local propaganda in whatever country you are from, don’t live in condition where anyone controls 100% of his property, and therefore Freedom, as defined, does not exist anywhere. True. If a government backed by guns tells you to hand over 25% of your ‘net income from line 7′ then you don’t control your property. The same applies if a guy in a dark alley takes your money. So step one is we have to admit we don’t, contrary to what we’ve been told all our lives, life in the condition of Freedom.
Step two is we have to recognize that for everyone to be in control of his own property it means nobody can coercively interfere with us but also that we cannot coercively interfere with anyone else. I control all my property, you control all of yours. When one of us reaches for the other guy’s chips, it is a violation of the definition of Freedom.
Finally, true Freedom could be pretty far off in the future if all seven billion people need to have ‘it’ for ‘it’ to exist. The definition says “every individual” has “100% control” and that is a mighty tall order, to be sure. Perhaps it approaches a practical definition of impossible. (Definition of impossible I use: defies a natural law.) While no known physical law of nature would preclude everyone controlling his own property, all it would take is one crime somewhere on earth to reduce the 100% condition to 99.999999% and therefore thrust everyone into the condition of not-quite-Freedom.
All true. Nevertheless, the utility of the definition is apparent because it provides a measurable quantification of Freedom that is not subject to propaganda or wide misunderstanding.
So here’s how everyone gets true Freedom, as he subjectively sees it.
Individuals voluntarily organize themselves into what I call Contractual Republics. Every republic operates on a minimum of one principle; it does not use or support coercion. That is, it does not use or support the attempted, intentional interference with another person’s property.
Note to libertarians and anarchists; I did not say ‘initiation of coercion,’ I said does not use. As in, ever. As in, even when coercion is initiated against your property you still don’t use coercion to retaliate or get restitution or justice. There is a better way and it most certainly does not involve turning the other cheek – unless you want to. I don’t. I want full protection of my property and if any of it is robbed from me I want it back and maybe a little extra for my inconvenience and worry. Contractual Republics make that possible. That is exactly for what they are designed. A network of Contractual Republics is a giant property protection system.
Again, every Contractual Republic operates on at least this one principle. No coercion used or supported. Many republics will function with no other contractual terms to the members. None. No laws, no rules, no elected officials, no administration of the Republic itself. Everyone in that republic is free to live his life as he sees fit. They interact with each other voluntarily under whatever contractual conditions they mutually agree to. Protections alleged to have been previously provided by a coercive State are now just written into contracts. In the case of breaches only the letter of the agreement need be adjudicated, not centuries of legal interpretation and precedents in your little geographic area.
Your neighbor, the nice communist lady, might elect to join a Contractual Republic that not only respected the non-coercion principle but also adds hundreds of additional conditions. Perhaps everyone who belongs to the republic must agree to surrender all their personal property to the republic and to not seek any payment for any labor they perform for the rest of their lives. They could agree to elect a bureau of Commissars who centrally plan what to goals the republic will aspire and what work each person should do. Every concept of a worker’s paradise and fulfillment of collective dreams could be taken into consideration. The individual would be subservient to the collective inside the republic. Of course, this republic cannot coercively take property from any other republic or individual outside of those who contractually agreed to all those terms.
Your other neighbor might join a Muslim Contractual Republic. There he could live with the satisfaction that every butcher, baker, and software coder he spent money on is a person who shares his deep love of Allah. His money could never be used to harm a fellow Muslim nor anyone else in the world. He could sleep well knowing he was living a proper life as defined by his religion. His republic would reflect the values not just of Islam but his specific sect, perhaps based on centuries of his family’s history. He could live his life and practice his personal religion in exact accord and harmony with the principles most important to him and to everyone in his republic.
Muslims of other sects would form different Contractual Republics. And by the way, that means if a man agreed, by voluntary contract, to suffer the death penalty for apostasy then he would be free to have his head removed in a public square. That’s how Free he would be. He would own his life, no one else would.
Many thousands of Contractual Republics flourish under the individual desires of the people in those republics. Every conceivable division of human categorization can be accommodated, including those iconoclasts who wish to join no republic but only to trade with as few as possible; a republic of one person. Every race, religion, ethnicity, economic philosophy, political viewpoint (without coercive politicians, mind you) can be facilitated.
There is more complexity than I can explain here. But perhaps you can already imagine what happens in the event of a coercive act. Every other individual inside the republic stops trading with the offender until restitution is made. That is a dire situation for the bad guy. He cannot trade with a single person, company or organization inside the republic because they are all bound by contract to not support coercion.
An entire republic that goes rogue and acts coercively is cut off from trading with every other republic on earth. So unless they can mine their own minerals, make the mining machinery to do that, plus refine oil for fuel, grow all their food, make all their pharmaceuticals and provide every technology from electricity to microchip production, that republic will not get far in its coercion.
In a Contractual Republic it always pays to respect agreements and it never pays to act coercively. That is how, over perhaps a century or two, humankind works its way up the number scale from the astronomic degree of coercion we suffer under today toward the other end of the scale where we have very nearly 100% control of our own property and the condition of living in true Freedom for the first time in our history. True Freedom is achievable once we build the social mechanisms that make coercion unprofitable. Contractual Republics are an anti-coercion, property protection technology.
Once true Freedom is built it cannot be coercively destroyed. That’s my idea of Freedom.