I haven’t spent much time engaging with contemporary politics. This doesn’t mean I don’t value living in the context of community, neither that I refrain from voluntary exchange in the marketplace. It simply means that I tend more to the philosophy that the personal is the political, live my life accordingly, and that’s that. Laissez-nous faire works fine for me. Let us be. Let us do!
But of late I am becoming increasingly concerned with my ability to simply get on with it. I seem to be bumping into Uncle Sam at every turn. Which given what I think is best for my country and me living in it, means that it’s time to pay attention to politics. It’s time to speak up.
I believe that what is best for our nation politically is self-government. As best I can make out, this isn’t a new approach – it’s where we started back in the 18th Century. I can easily remember the first part of what this means from that phrase learned in history class: “No taxation without representation.” If I’m a member of a society, I get to participate in it. This includes participating in deciding who’s in charge and what our intention is for putting them there.
The second part of what political self-government means to me is that as an individual in the society I have sovereignty over my own affairs. I am at liberty to be myself wisely – neither subject to the whims and wiles of a single leader, nor the interests of a minority, nor the attentions of the majority. This ties back to the first meaning of self-government, because for me, the intention of putting a government structure in place is to safe guard individual sovereignty.
I have been told that this position makes me at best selfish, and at worst an anarchist – that I hold it merely to serve my own agenda, that as a society we will suffer great misery if we grant anything but collective human rights or pursue anything but collective government palliatives.
It depends, I suppose, on how you characterize society. To me, society is a responsive, dynamic entity that exists in large part to help us survive amidst a world that is all change. For me, adherence to fixed, rote response is not wise and it ultimately will be a strategy that bodes ill for us.
In a society that employs dynamic responsiveness, individual liberty is crucial. In short, we need to try as many different approaches as possible. We need to bring to bear on our challenges the dreams, ideas and expertise of each of our citizens. Simplified, it goes something like this: “Never put all of your eggs in one basket.”
Interestingly, it is from the fields of mathematics and economics that I find like minds. H.B. Phillips, a former Chair of the Department of Mathematics at MIT, says this as quoted in The Constitution of Liberty by F.A. Hayek: “any restriction on liberty reduces the number of things tried and so reduces the rate of progress. In such a society freedom of action is granted to the individual, not because it gives him greater satisfaction but because if allowed to go his own way he will on the average serve the rest of us better than under any orders we know how to give.”
Again, Dr. Phillips isn’t saying anything new. John Dickinson, delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and chairman of the congressional committee that formed the Articles of Confederation, said the same thing in his Letters from a Farmer, published in late 1767 and early 1768:
“From my infancy I was taught to love humanity and liberty, Enquiry and experience have since confirmed my reverence for the lessons then given me, by convincing me more fully of their truth and excellence. Benevolence toward mankind, excites wishes for their welfare, and such wishes endear the means of fulfilling them. These can be found in liberty only, and therefore her sacred cause ought to be espoused by every man, on every occasion, to the utmost of his power.”
Two hundred and forty-five years later, I still have faith in us, fellow citizens. Let us not allow the grand experiment called Liberty and self-government to end on our watch. Check out my writings in Politics and Philosophy to travel with me as I explore liberty as a philosophical and political principle.
© Jennifer S. and harvestliberty.net, 2011.