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Giuliano Taverna

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The liberty question
« on: May 27, 2009, 05:13:21 pm »
The liberty question

How we balance individual liberty with the public welfare

In American society we have a tradition of negative rights and a strong belief in protection from government, property rights, and self determination. However we also have a tradition of serving and providing for the public welfare. It inevitably becomes necessary to reconcile these seemingly contradictory elements of the American system. First however we must understand the positions of both sides

Libertarianism is the individual liberty side of the debate. Libertarians believe that property rights are absolute, and the government cannot under any circumstance the negative rights of individuals. They believe the only place of the government is to enforce the law, supply national defense, and to some extent create an environment in which business and entrepreneurship can flourish. They are against regulation of business, for limited, equal, and or voluntary taxation, opposed to social programs, and to laws engaged in morality or social justice. They tend to oppose both labor unions, and private public partnership, they believe in a separation between government, and the economy. And a separation between government and the individual.

Progressives are for the public welfare. They believe in improving society by way of government intervention in the economy, and the union of people through cooperative democratic organizations both private and public. They come in many varieties, but generally support government programs and laws that protect individuals from exploitation and from their own ignorance. They tend to support prohibition of drugs, alcohol, sometimes support media censorship. They support the formation of labor unions, and the creation of social programs designed to bring about financial, gender, and racial equality. They would like higher taxation especially on the extremely wealth or those perceived to be of privilege.

Now fundamentally we must ask the question that Aristotle asked in his landmark book, “the politics.” That is, should property be public, or private? Aristotle states the following "Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private; for, when everyone has a distinct interest, men will not complain of one another, and they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business. And yet by reason of goodness, and in respect of use, 'Friends,' as the proverb says, 'will have all things common.' Even now there are traces of such a principle, showing that it is not impracticable, but, in well-ordered states, exists already to a certain extent and may be carried further. For, although every man has his own property, some things he will place at the disposal of his friends, while of others he shares the use with them."

To extrapolate Aristotle’s suggestion, we should logically conclude that collectivization of property is to be avoided, but charity is to be encouraged. And to that extend, some manner of welfare is acceptable. But we must come up with an idea of what the limit is to property rights. I would say that individual liberty trumps the public welfare unless the majority of people are disadvantaged by it. An example can be found in the following thought experiment. You have a village; the villagers wish to build a road that will bring trade and commerce improving their quality of life. However one villager has a house in the path of the road, he refuses to move. Because all but one of the villagers support this, and the one persons opposition is irrational and selfish. They are justified in overruling his rights. I would quantify this a step further and using the two thirds majority principle of our congress. I would say democracy may override negative rights when two thirds of the people are in favor of the motion. If the one third disagrees it is their responsibility to make a case compelling enough to persuade the two thirds, if they cannot then they must either submit to the social contract, or leave the society. Because of our federal system, it is possible for some states to create alternatives, and thus people the one third may move to a place where they are better represented. And if their states succeed, then it may become a model for their position, and be adopted by others. This aspect of federalism must be encouraged, thus federal mandates should be discouraged in favor of more local programs. Welfare and progressivism is best when it is local, and personal, from the bottom up rather than the top down. After all social justice cannot be considered justice if it is not the settling of a personal dispute.

I would also advise against class, race, or gender division. Such notions serve to prevent progress rather than further it. The generalization and demonization of entire groups is neither just nor rational for it assumes that people are guilty by virtue of their perceived belonging to a group, rather than their actions. Thus taxing the rich should be discouraged and replaced with taxing the unjust rich, or better yet simply the unjust.

Also the libertarians must give up on the “I win by default” mentality. Very few people find the principle of liberty a compelling argument against helping the poor, or preventing economic collapse. Indeed the very idea is absurd. Instead they must adopt a compelling alternative that fits their ideology and serves the goals of the progressives. They must come up with their own ideas on how to lift up the poor, empower the disenfranchised, and protect people from the scourge of drugs, alcohol and corrupting media influences.

Above all, both sides must argue with logic, pragmatism, and not ideology, it is far too common place for demonizing. Both sides accuse the other of fascism, and words like socialist, anarchist, revisionist, collectivist, and tyrannical are thrown around so often and so arbitrarily that their true meaning is lost.

The debate must continue, but as always I recommend neither side, but a logical compromise between the two. The American system was, is, and should remain a mixture of individual liberty and public welfare.
"It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them." Tiberius Caesar

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