A Just Society Is a Society Based on Political Liberty

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As we approach the calendar turn to 2021, many Americans’ thoughts will turn to New Year’s resolutions. Those I hear about from others typically revolve around things like getting in shape, quitting smoking, consuming fewer intoxicants, spending more time with family, etc. Of course, I have no objection to anyone trying to be better. But I also think that, at a time when proposals to undermine the rights that comprise our liberties have been ever more commonplace, resolutions to better defend and advance our liberties would make all of America better.

To help motivate such resolutions, I would turn to Lord Acton, who wrote, “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end…not for the sake of a good public administration…but for the security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.” And given the inexhaustible creativity politicians show in undermining our liberty, and with it our ability to pursue our own highest goals as we wish, one powerful weapon of defense is to focus on some absolutely essential aspects of a good life and a good society that are possible with liberty, but not in its absence.

So, with apologies to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, consider what only liberty offers individuals and the society they comprise, including what only economic liberty offers us.

Only Liberty

Only liberty is consistent with a society in which “thou shall not kill” and “thou shall not steal” are honored.

Only liberty is consistent with all individuals being of transcending importance, equally “made in the image of God.”

Only liberty provides equal respect for every individual’s inalienable rights.

Only liberty prevents some from ruling over others, who are sacrificed to the interests of those in power.

Only liberty is consistent with true peace between individuals and societies.

Only liberty allows moral and ethical development and improvement, increasing our integrity and generosity, because we cannot improve or grow without the freedom to make our own choices.

Only Economic Liberty
Only economic liberty—private property and free markets—allows the use of productive knowledge that no central planner, whether a single person or a group, can effectively employ.

Only economic liberty enables the greatest degree of human creativity and productive discovery, by allowing anyone the possibility to discover new and improved options and offer them to others without artificial restriction.

Only economic liberty guarantees that arrangements are mutually acceptable to those involved, given their circumstances and preferences, rather than coercive impositions by those more powerful on those less powerful.

Only economic liberty offers people the greatest incentives to do for others, even when they don’t know them or may not like them.

Only economic liberty allows adjustments to changed circumstances by way of price changes, without requiring coercion or nasty political battles for control.

Only economic liberty unlocks the potential for economic growth to the greatest possible extent, as history attests.

Asking what only liberty can do for us helps us see why resolving to better protect and advance it is so important. Liberty is essential to creating the most peaceful, prosperous, and profoundly improving society we can have. When combined with Acton’s recognition, that “Liberty alone demands, for its realization, the limitation of the public authority, for liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition,” it can lead people to ask, “How could I even think of giving up the irreplaceable benefits of liberty for things that are so much less valuable?” And that question is crucial because, as Leonard Read powerfully expressed it in “Freedom and the Fate of Nations”:

it is only in an essentially free society that certain trends have the possibility of prevailing: self-responsibility, improved morals, a passionate striving for intellectual excellence, a will to overcome obstacles, an energetic enthusiasm turned toward self-improvement, and abounding entrepreneurial spirit, competition and free pricing.