On What Basis Liberty? Part 1

declaration-of-independenceFor those of my readers who are originally from or live in the United States, we understand the rich rhetoric that praises a heritage of liberty, from the extravagance of 4th of July celebrations to an anthem that climaxes with “over the land of the free, and the home of the brave” at every major sport’s event.

Attempts to inspire patriotism aside, what I will talk about here and in the next few posts are the foundations and basics of the ideas of libertarianism.

True enough, libertarianism has been presented as a range opposite authoritarianism, and this holds. Still, libertarianism is a political philosophy that is based on principle. Many readers will be familiar with these ideas, which I acknowledge with an attempt to assuage possible insult. This and the next two posts are largely for those who may not have otherwise heard these ideas.

The evangelical Christian (of whom I am one) will frequently claim the language of the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain unalienable rights, that among these are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They will reference that these rights, foundationally, come from the fact that we are created in the imago dei—image of God.

As a bit of a necessary discussion for my Christian readers, let me present an argument within a Christian worldview. I enjoy posing this question to my students in class: do we really have inalienable rights? In the Christian context, this question is often split along two lines of argument. First is that mentioned above: that because people are made in the image of God, the affirmative is correct. The opposite is that because we are bent toward sin and inevitably sinful, we have forfeited all rights. An interesting debate, to be sure! But not one that requires a full dissertation here. Why?

Let me make my case on this issue quickly before going on: If you believe the first of these arguments, then you are in alignment with the remainder of my arguments in this and the next post already. If you are of the second argument, then may I propose that by concluding that people are not endowed with inalienable rights in no way allows for the inherent right of some to dominate others. To claim this is to adhere to a logical fallacy. In other words, whether or not people have inherent rights as those created in God’s image, there is no basis on which some can claim arbitrary power over others. I cannot make my neighbors my slaves on the basis that they don’t have rights. To say I have a “right” to do so is entirely incompatible with the original argument that we have don’t have rights in the first place.

Either way you fall with this argument of inalienable rights still logically leads to advocacy of liberty: in the first, you cannot rule over me because I have an inherent right to liberty, and in the second, you cannot rule over me because you have no inherent right to do so.

(Why bother following that tangent? I believe it is a legitimate discussion, and one that some readers may raise as I go on. But regardless, I believe the key importance of the debate is related to the implications it holds for what the proper response to authoritarianism and power is. If my neighbor enslaves me, to what extent am I allowed to defend myself? Or if the government chooses to enslave me? Or merely chooses to tax me?)

That is a different discussion for a different day. For now, I merely wanted to lay to rest that there is a solid argument to be made in favor of liberty either way you fall on the question of inalienable rights. This allows for the clear connection to basic libertarian principles.

And what are these basic principles?

First, property rights.

And second, as a natural extension of the first (or what we might also argue is the basis for the first), what is often called “the non-aggression principle.”

More on those in the next two posts.



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2 Responses to On What Basis Liberty? Part 1

  1. Jeff Gaddy says:

    Very thought-provoking, Lukas! I can’t help but wonder if Thomas Jefferson struggled with these same points (or at least considered them) when he was wording that portion of The Declaration of Independence. Of course, it’s possible he would have said you are just wrong. Haha. Good stuff!

    • L.C.Keagy says:

      Interestingly enough, I’m not sure Jefferson was terribly concerned with these questions as he wrote the Declaration. His views were generally deistic, unfortunately, despite what even some of our renown Christian historians say (to the point that he physically cut out the miracles of Christ in his Bible). The phrase “endowed by our Creator” was added, I believe, by John Adams or another. Jefferson’s original language in his draft said, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

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