Liberty and Prosperity

“The purpose of Government is to prevent men from injuring one another”.
Thus Thomas Jefferson in the transparent, straightforward language of his time.

It is worth considering this proposition in detail, for it has implications far beyond its apparent simplicity.

Clearly, Jefferson was not confining the term men to the male gender, any more than he was limiting injury to grievous bodily harm, for injury can take many forms which grow in number and complexity as the world develops.

There are many ways in which we can injure one another, in our personal activities, in commerce and industry, in our use (or misuse) of natural resources. In Jefferson’s view it is Government’s job to identify and define those actions leading to the injury of others, then to prevent them through appropriate Laws and Enforcement.

Thomas Jefferson was not inventing a new idea.

He was taking his place in a long line of political theorists and idealists from early Greeks, through Cicero, Bracton and Coke; he shared the same principles with his colleagues as Framers of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, and he was handing down a continuing tradition of fundamental rightness with which we are all, in our consciences, familiar.

We dislike meddlesome government; we find unnecessary regulation tiresome and annoying; we abhor oppressive government. Yet few would object to being told they may not do something, if it can be clearly shown that their action is in some way harmful or detrimental to others. And when a person is suffering injury at the hands of another, we would all accept that person’s right to remedy and protection in law.

The idea is well summarized by one of the 20th century’s leading figures in British justice, Lord Denning, in his book The Family Story: “Each man should be free to develop his own personality to the full; the only restrictions upon this freedom should be those which are necessary to enable everyone else to do the same.”

This view of Law as the prevention of injury between people reflects the fundamental limitation of social freedom. We cannot all have absolute freedom in our social relationships with one another. If one person is totally free to do whatever he likes, he is by definition free to limit or indeed eliminate the freedom of another, thereby reducing that second freedom possibly to zero.

The best we can do is to maximize freedom, and this we achieve when we all accept certain limitations on our individual freedoms so that we do not infringe the freedom of others.

To describe this concept of shared, limited freedom we use the word of Latin-Roman origin: Liberty.

A Land of Liberty is not a land in which we all have absolute freedom to do exactly as we please. That would be a land of anarchy, since everyone would be free to limit, or eliminate the freedom of anyone else.

A Land of Liberty is a land in which we are all subject to some restraint in those actions which are harmful or detrimental to others, so that we can all enjoy not absolute, but a measure of Liberty. In this way, the general Liberty can be maximized.

The Principle of “freedom up to, but not beyond the point where freedom infringes another freedom” is the Eternal Law of social conduct, the fundamental Principle of Liberty instinctively familiar to us all.

If this Principle were to be observed by citizens and applied by laws, Liberty would be maximized, and laws would enjoy the guidance of a Principle which fully reflects the age-old ideals of Natural Law, of non-injury, of respect, justice and fair dealings between people.

The Principle of Liberty requires in our personal relationships, in business and commerce, and in our use of natural resources, that we respect others as if they were ourselves, that we respect others as we would have others respect us. It will be recognized at once by anyone familiar with the Sermon on the Mount.

The Principle of Liberty may also be seen as an accurate reflection of the age-old ideal of “Natural Law”, the “Common Right or Reason”. It is universal rather than sectional in its approach and objectives; when accurately, honestly and consistently applied it seeks to maximize the general liberty for all rather than enhancing the wellbeing of some at the expense of others.

Only in Liberty will the flower of Civilization unfold. And liberty, true and full liberty, will be achieved only when all of the people understand, accept, and support with full knowledge and conviction the Principle that in the enjoyment of liberty each must respect, never infringe the liberty of others.


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