Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Liberty and justice for all: Continued

As man is free, we say he exists for his own sake and not for another's
Aristotle, "Metaphysics"

My previous article on liberty and justice (which I also re-posted on a popular political website Alexandria) received a number of responses - including a post specifically written as a direct criticism of my letter.  I will try to write a response to this post as soon as the time permits - but as a quick summary I must confess to be astonished that a post so verbose, and which clearly required some effort from the author was amazingly brilliant at completely missing the point of my original post.

But the most confused and therefore more delightful response to my article was produced by the Wired Sisters, a regular writer (or a group of writers) at Alexandria, and I decided to reproduce it here in its entirety (see below):

Whose freedom? Must the Catholic church be “free” to keep its employees from getting contraceptives on their employer’s health insurance, or should those employees be “free” to spend their health care dollars any way they deem appropriate? Should the slave owners in the antebellum South have been “free” to own their slaves, or should the slaves have been free to choose their own work and homes? Should Lester Maddox have been “free” to decide who all got to eat in his fried chicken place, or should African-American citizens of the state of Georgia have been free to decide where to eat lunch? There is no such thing as absolute freedom. Everybody’s freedom can conceivably, at some point, intersect with and impede somebody else’s. Justice lies in the balancing act between them.
At first I thought that Wired Sisters was rather confused in her discussion of liberty, that she refused to discuss "liberty" as a term with an actual meaning and instead attempted to build an emotional argument against my article. But then I thought about it some more, and reached a different conclusion - while somewhat confused, Wired Sister's did follow a certain pattern, which will become obvious when her reply is put in the proper context. In order to trace the roots of Wired Sister's thinking, I will reach into the past and seek enlightenment from our great forefathers. For example, Abraham Lincoln, the founder of the Republican Party, addressed the very question of liberty in 1864, and had this to say:

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name———liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names———liberty and tyranny.

It is known which definition of liberty Lincoln and his Republican Party believed in 1864, while it's also apparent what the pro-slavery party, the DNC chose as their version of "liberty". The most remarkable thing is that in spite of all the amazing changes that we have seen in our nation during the last 150 years, the demarcation line between the main political parties remains largely unaltered.

It's beyond any doubt today which party believes that liberty is "for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor", and which party thinks that liberty is "for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor." As if to demonstrate the first line of thinking, Friedrich Hayek, an intellectual leader of modern day conservatism who influenced such major historical figures as Churchill, Goldwater, Thatcher and Reagan, defines liberty as:  "The state in which a man is not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of another or others". He continues: "Freedom thus presupposes that the individual has some assured private sphere, that there is some set of circumstances in his environment with which others cannot interfere".

Barack Obama famously counters this with "You did not build that" and "I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money". Rawls, a famous liberal philosopher argued (as summarized by Richard Posner) that "no one should be allowed to keep more of his earnings than necessary to 'incentivize' him to exert himself in a way that will maximize the social product."

It is quite obvious that the definition that Hayek and Lincoln used -  could not or would not resolve ALL the issues that society may need to confront in regards to individual liberty, but it is undeniable that we can use it as a guiding star in our discussion. For example, it's easy to see that freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association are obvious components of the general freedom that we are discussing, while "freedom to handouts" is clearly not.

And this brings me back to the series of questions asked by the Wired Sisters - and it becomes apparent that it can be easily answered based on the values and views of the Republican Party of Lincoln and Hayek.

Of course, freedom is a gift for everyone. And yes, Catholic Church may choose which medical insurance plans it offers to its employees for obvious reasons. No one is forced to become an employee of the Catholic Church, and no one has a right to force Catholic Church to buy any particular insurance for their employees. Anyone who does not like the insurance which is provided by the Catholic Church is free to seek other employment. This is the only policy that would protect the freedom of the Catholic Church and its employees.

When the government is prescribing the type of medical insurance or payment that Catholic Church provides to its employees, it is clearly violating the freedom of association. It's quite obvious that employees have no inherent right to be provided with a specific (or any) type of insurance as a reward for their work - because that would clearly violate the rights of the Catholic Church.

The alternative to freedom of association is to have someone to coerce Catholic Church at gun point to buy an insurance chosen by a third party - which is clearly morally wrong and unjust. And let's not forget, this is exactly what the Lincoln enemies in 1864 believed in - "for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor."

In order to underline the contrast between the Lincoln's Party and the Party of slavers, let me quote two significant economists from each camp. Frank Hyneman, a famous conservative economist and supporter of individual liberty said: "The primary function of government is to prevent coercion and so guarantee to every man the right to live his own life on terms of free association with his fellows".

Paul Krugman, a liberal icon had this to say: "“I believe in a relatively equal society, supported by institutions that limit extremes of wealth and poverty. I believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law. That makes me a liberal, and I’m proud of it.” 

While it's relatively clear how a legal system can built in accordance with ideas of Frank Hyneman, Krugman's "rule of law" clearly cannot coexist with the ill-defined institutions "that limit extremes of wealth and poverty", since neither can be defined, and the government will be operating based on the whims of the electorate.

Wired Sisters' questions about the slavery are actually quite peculiar. It is true that some White people in the South (and the North) believed that Black people were inherently inferior, and thus could not be trusted to attend to his own affairs, and required the elite to be their "keepers". Moreover, freeing the slaves was supposed to be detrimental to the economy, and the "common good", and the blacks were better off as being a property of the  kind-hearted white elites than being free people competing for employment  with evil non-feeling capitalists. Apparently, it was preferable being an actual slave than being a "wage slave" (a term popular with Democrat slavers 150 years ago and Democrat liberals of today).  It's quite uncanny how DNC arguments against freedom for slaves  in the 19th century shown here and here were preserved to become the arguments against individual liberty in the 20th century.

The most amazing thing is that Lincoln's arguments targeting the Democrat Party could be used today when debating individual liberty. For example this passage from Lincoln's speech would make any supporter of individual liberty smile, because it perfectly explains why left-wing belief in anointed elites running the lives of hoi polloi is silly:
You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.

Wired's Sisters issues with Lester Maddox can too be easily resolved if we follow Lincoln and Hayek. While Maddox bigotry against Black customers is shameful, he has a right to refuse service to anyone. While I surely sympathise with the people who are upset about his behavior, it's undeniable that no one, Black or White has an inherent right to demand someone to work for them - and this includes cooking food at the restaurant. You simply cannot force other people to associate with you - your freedom ends exactly where other man's freedom begins. No one can have a claim on other people's labor - and Lester Maddox may be an evil man, but he is no one's slave.

Wired Sisters is, of course, correct that no one's freedom is absolute, and we may think of many different situations where the definition of liberty used in this article may prove to be insufficient. And yet, the words of Lincoln and Hayek must be our guarding light, and it is quite clear that all the situations that Wired Sisters was able to conjure are easily resolved without any conflict between the freedoms of different people.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that contrary to liberal view, there is also no inherent conflict between justice and liberty, and justice may only exist in a free society, where people are free to choose. One may also claim that  liberty and justice are inseparable...

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