What we call the political left and right are an advent of liberty and the human condition. Once people are free to express themselves, they will create a left and right.
In politics and philosophy liberty refers to the civil freedoms to which all people are entitled, in a state of nature it refers to total freedom. Given this we can say there are generally two types of liberty:
- Natural liberty: The complete freedom one has in a state of nature when not in a social compact with others.
- Civil liberty: Freedoms granted by the state, when one is in a social compact with others.
Liber in Latin means free, so Liberty broadly refers to the idea that all humans are born with inalienable rights (rather than these rights being bestowed upon them by a Government). The political philosophy born from the concept of liberty is “liberalism” (with conservatism being the push against this). See Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Burke, and Mill. The political philosophy that came after this addressed additional civil liberties necessary for a just state, and this is called social liberalism.
Although there is no agreement on the definition of Liberty (see nearly every political faction and war fought from 1688 on), we can broadly say liberty includes concepts such as: the social contract, freedom from kings, freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly, freedom of trade, and generally the freedom to consent to be governed. Or perhaps, in sum, simply the freedom to pursue happiness.
The Romanticist version sees all men as naturally good and applies liberty to emotions, libertines apply it to the freedom to enjoy life’s sensual pleasure, libertarians accept social injustice in exchange for individual liberty, social liberals say humans can’t have liberty if they live in squalor, some think democracy breeds liberty, others think it can only be obtained in a republic ruled by law, some even think Monarchy or Communism is the path toward liberty… some, to the frustration of most everyone else, use liberty as an excuse to push their own special interests (as what is natural liberty if not deregulatory?).
We all agree liberty is one of the most important underlying concepts of humanity, but rarely do we agree on its meaning or the mechanics that it takes to achieve it.
According to John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government:
- “In the state of nature, liberty consists of being free from any superior power on Earth. People are not under the will or lawmaking authority of others but have only the law of nature for their rule. In political society, liberty consists of being under no other lawmaking power except that established by consent in the commonwealth. People are free from the dominion of any will or legal restraint apart from that enacted by their own constituted lawmaking power according to the trust put in it. Thus, freedom is not as Sir Robert Filmer defines it: ‘A liberty for everyone to do what he likes, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws.’ Freedom is constrained by laws in both the state of nature and political society. Freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of nature. Freedom of people under government is to be under no restraint apart from standing rules to live by that are common to everyone in the society and made by the lawmaking power established in it. Persons have a right or liberty to (1) follow their own will in all things that the law has not prohibited and (2) not be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, and arbitrary wills of others.”
Or as Jefferson put it quoting Locke,
- “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
Of course this message isn’t much different than the one that Aristotle writes in his version of the Athenian Constitution (350 BC) where he quotes Solon (who lived in 600 BC). Or, that Aristotle himself writes in his masterwork Nicomachean Ethics.
- ‘The purpose of all human acts is to procure happiness’ – (rough translation) Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics book 1, section 7. A book on moral virtue as understood by Aristotle.
Factoids tagged with "Liberty"
Although we can consider Jeremy Bentham the founder of modern Utilitarianism, and his successor John Stuart Mill the one who popularized it, early Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Aristippus and Epicurus presented the original Utilitarian / Consequentialist / Greatest Happiness theories.
The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate and hosts more prison inmates than all other developed nations combined.
The song “Hail, Columbia” is one of several songs once considered an unofficial national anthem of the United States.
While the term Columbia sometimes refers to the whole New World (all the Americas), historically the United States of America was called Columbia specifically (especially after the 1730s when Christopher Columbus became increasingly idealized for his pioneering spirit).
Extreme equality and an extreme inequality are both equally as dangerous in a democratic society. In both cases it corrupts the government.
As James Madison said when discussing special interest factions and liberty in the Federalist #10, “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires”.
All collectives are comprised of individuals, and all individuals comprise collectives; thus we can never fully consider collectives without considering individuals, or vice versa.
Historically, Protestantism is like classical liberalism (individual liberties and rights) and Catholicism is like social liberalism (state enforced social justice).
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) can be read as a political metaphor where Dr. Frankenstein and his monster represent the philosophies and attitudes of the liberal revolutionaries, specifically those of the French Revolution and ensuing “Reign of Terror.”
Madison drafted both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but he wasn’t the sole author of either, both were debated and approved by committees.
Niccolò Machiavelli can be considered the father of modern political science, and his book The Prince one of the first works of modern political philosophy (if not just modern philosophy).
Thomas Jefferson never said, “every generation needs a new revolution”, but he did say, “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”
Blog Posts tagged with "Liberty"
In his Republic (Books VIII and IX), Plato examines how different forms of governments, including Democracy, can lead to Tyranny.
The problem with unsubstantiated information is that it is unverified as true, and often leaked by sources with plausible deniability, which is confusing.
On this page we discuss the concepts of fairness, justice, morality, and ethics as they relate to Utilitarianism.
We explain Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes Day, and the symbolism behind the the Guy Fawkes mask, the fifth of November, and the Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot.
We explain Civil Religion (the national iconography, ritual, and symbolism of a state) by looking at American Civil Religion (like the national anthem, Lady Liberty, and other Americana), at past Civil Religions (like Athena in Athens), and at Rousseau’s original concept of Civic Religion.
In modern history political factions have often been represented by color. Whether its Russian Reds and Whites, or American Blue-state and Red-state, this phenomena merits examination.
Below we explain neoliberalism, globalization, nativism, and protectionism and the pros and cons of neoliberal globalization and nativist protectionism.
The Optimates like Pompey (aristocrats) and Populares like Julius Caesar (populists) were two opposing political factions at the onset of the fall of the Roman Republic.
Below is the Federalist #10, written by James Madison, and reprinted in full. We explain, annotate, and offer context on the Federalist #10.
The four “elements” (or “powers”) that form the foundation of government can roughly be expressed as: citizens, executive, legislative, and judicial.
We often attribute the origin of the state of nature argument to Hobbes, but it can be traced to thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, and the Sophists in the 300’s BC, and is then mused on by other early philosophers.
Modern banking originated in Italy around 1150 as Jews fleeing persecution brought new practices, including “discounting”, to the merchant banks of the Italian piazzas.
Below we present an annotated version of Andrew Carnegie’s 1889 essay Wealth (better known as the Gospel of Wealth).
The state of nature is the state humans lived in before forming the first societies. By examining the state of nature we can better understand the implicit and explicit social contracts which govern societies.
Below is a list of the types of governments, including the classical forms of government: Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, and the many complex forms derived from them.
In practice, human action often has paradoxical or unintended effects. Sometimes effects or side effects even have the exact opposite effect as intended.
We examine political and economic inequality in terms of their effects on society, such as the social unrest that led to historic revolutions like those of Athens, Rome, France, and even America.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the General Will roughly means “that which is in the best interest of the people” or “the public good”, and not just popular consensus.
Naturally occurring social systems are systems that naturally arise when societies form, such as politics, economics, mathematics, and language.
We explain the basic classical forms of government and the many types of governments that can be derived from the classical forms.
Social Contract Theory is the theory of why people form governments based on how people lived in a State of Nature before government.
We explain liberalism and conservatism, including the different social and classical types of liberalism and conservatism.
Collectivism describes ideology (political or otherwise) that favors the collective, like-wise Individualism describes ideology that favors the individual.
Adam Smith is best known as the father of modern economics, but his moral philosophy lies at the core of his economic philosophy.
We explain populism, globalization, nativism, nationalism, neoliberalism, modernization, and other terms important for understanding modern world politics.
The Federalists and Anti-Federalists were America’s first political factions. They arose out of a debate over the ratification of the 1787 Constitution and went on to form the basis of our current two-party system.
We present a summary of the history of human rights documents including the Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, Declaration of Rights and Man, and English Bill of Rights.
The Constitution protects our Liberty, but the law has placed limits on this. Those limits are sometimes enforced with large legal fees. To what effect this promotes social justice, and to what effect this harms social justice by creating opposition is debated.
Classic liberalism arose in opposition to state-imposed religion and aristocracy in the 1600 – 1700’s during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and America.
On this page, we look at political parties from a historical perspective to better understand the underlying left-right politics all political parties are based on.