July 18, 2003

The Axioms of Liberty

The first nation to come to grips with personal freedom was England. Over a period of several hundred years, the institutions necessary to allow ordinary individuals to attain wealth and some measure of independence came into being, in a bitterly-contested battle between the supporters of the monarcy, and the various populist factions which arose over time. But England most emphatically did not want to extend these rights to overseas colonies. The pressures that this put on the American colonies, where the colonists were after all British citizens and subjects, led to the Declaration of Independence, which was perhaps the most elegant statement of Liberty ever conceived:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Today, throughout the world, these very basic freedoms are under threat even in nations nominally free. The progressive, fascist, socialist and communist movements which rose in America and Europe in the late 19th and throughout the 20th centuries, have undoubtedly brought advances in our knowledge and experience; they have also in many ways weakened the fundamental commitment to Liberty of these nations. In the US, it is in some places not legal to defend one's own life, or the life of one's family. In England and Australia and across Europe, the situation is more dire than that. In many countries in Europe, the ability to express an opinion is hindered by hate crimes laws, so that putting up a poster can get you banned from the EU.

I assert that it is self-evidently true, that each person is sovereign unto themselves, and possessed of innumerable rights, including

To live without fear of arbitrary violence, or arbitrary confinement, or loss of liberty, or of involuntary servitude;

To be free of compulsion, except to adhere to a contract freely agreed, or as adjudged by a court under due process of law;

To live in whatever manner they choose, so long as in doing so they do not infringe on another's right to do the same;

To accumulate property and wealth, and to use that property and wealth in whatever manner they desire, so long as such use does not foreclose others the use of their own property; and to sell, lease, rent or transfer that property without restriction;

To associate with other people or groups of their choice, in the manner of their choosing, and to peaceably assemble in the place and at the time of their choosing;

To observe their religious beliefs as they choose;

To hold and express opinions, to state facts, to express judgements and to disseminate these in any manner they desire;

To participate in the operation of their government, by being eligible for election to office, and to vote at election regardless of personal circumstance, provided that they have obtained a sufficient age as determined by law;

To raise their children according to the dictates of their conscience;

To be free from the threat of searches and seizures, except upon presentation of a warrant, drawn by a court of law upon the affirmation of their involvement in the commission of a crime;

To be free from the threat of repeated prosecution for the same event;

To be free from the threat of torture, or of any other cruel or unusual treatment, either under questioning, or for punishment, or for any other purpose;

To be represented at any trial to which they should be subjected; to confront their accusers; to bring forth evidence in their favor; to be tried in an area local to them by a jury of their peers; to be free of the compulsion to testify against themselves; to be tried within a short time of accusation; to be free of the threat of accusation for any event which happened in the distant past, and against which it is therefore difficult to defend;

To defend their person, property and rights by any necessary means, and to that end to be able to keep and bear arms sufficient to the purpose.

The only legitimate purpose of government is to secure those rights and liberties. To do so, a government must

Draw its powers from the consent of the governed;

Provide for, and itself be subject to, the rule of law;

Ensure that each person is equally subject to, and equally protected by, the law, and no person receive any special or particular benefits or penalties on account of their position, notoriety, race, gender, place of origin, or age, except that an age of majority may be fixed by law, and used for such purposes as the law may allow;

Provide for the selection of its officers, and of the representatives of its citizens, by free and fair election;

Restrict the exercise of its powers in proportion to the number of people over which that power has an effect, and in particular to exercise its powers as locally as possible;

Be so constituted that its officers serve at the pleasure of the people, or of their representatives, subject to recall or impeachment of any officer, and repeal or amendment of any law by referendum;

Implement any source of revenue, or raise any rate of revenue, without the consent of the people, or the consent of the overwhelming majority of the people's representatives;

Vest control of the military in the hands of the civil authority, and prohibit the military from enforcing domestic law, except on the explicit request of the people's representatives;

Provide that at any level, the power to make laws, to enforce them, and to adjudicate them shall be held by different bodies;

Prohibit the accumulation of power in the hands of certain individuals, by limiting the amount of time during which a person may consecutively serve as a civil officer of government or as a representative of the people;

Vest all power of the making of laws, regulations and statutes in those bodies which have legislative power, such that no person is bound by a law unless it is consented to by a legislature in which they are represented;

Provide no mechanism for the suspension of laws, without the consent of the representatives, or of the people, and in all ways resist such suspensions;

Prohibit any law, regulation or act from applying only to a named person, or to a group so limited as to contain only one person;

Prohibit any law from having retroactive effect;

Reserve all rights and powers to the people, except those delegated by the people to the government by constitution, law, or by referendum;

Provide methods for its citizens to alter, reform or abolish the government peacefully, should the government infringe upon the rights of the people, or be unable to provide for the peace and ability to seek happiness of the people.

Any government must be judged according to its adherence to these principles, and its ability to protect and record of protecting these rights and freedoms.

Posted by Jeff at July 18, 2003 01:48 AM | Link Cosmos


Posted by: Francis W. Porretto on July 18, 2003 04:35 PM

"The little lights aren't twinkling."

One minor quibble: "To live without fear of..."

I don't think you can have a right to live without fear of anything. Certainly no government can guarantee you that "right". At best you can require that you not live without fear of government imposing "arbitrary violence, or arbitrary confinement, or loss of liberty, or of involuntary servitude," and even then "loss of liberty" and "involuntary servitude" tend to be the methods of punishment for legal transgressions. I assume, then that what you intended was the arbitrary application of these evils by government?

Posted by: Kevin Baker on July 23, 2003 10:07 PM

Yes, I was specifically referring to the threat of arbitrary government imposition of violence, loss of liberty and so on. I should have phrased that more clearly. (Shows what I get posting extemporaneously at almost 2 in the morning. That, of course, is a feeble excuse.)

Posted by: Jeff on July 23, 2003 10:53 PM

The fact that this received a one word comment from noted comment essayist Francis W. Porretto is an indication of how close to perfection it comes.

Posted by: triticale on July 24, 2003 07:29 AM
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