Monday, November 10, 2008


I recently began reading von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom and, while I have yet to finish it and therefore cannot give an analysis or review, it started me thinking. What is freedom?
Freedom would seem like it is a very simple concept. Yet, even when you look up the definition, it gets complicated quickly. In a political sense does freedom mean merely an absence of confinement or does it mean the ability to choose one's actions, thoughts, and words? The Declaration of Independence is often thought of when somebody asks about documents of freedom, but it actually never uses the word and only has the word "free" twice. Once in saying "A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people." and once describing the colonies as "Free and Independent States." This tells me that the writers of the Declaration already had a concrete idea of what Freedom means.

"Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the Author of nature, because necessary for his own sustenance." --Thomas Jefferson: Legal Argument, 1770.
"Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual."--Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819.

When you put those two comments together, you get the image that the word freedom meant the right to live your life as you see fit and to have no one but you responsible for how it turns out. The only restrictions that can morally be placed on your individual freedom is when your actions abridge the liberty and freedom of another individual.

What does this say about government's role in the life of the people? What does it mean when the government is called to care for the "general welfare" of society? Does it mean that government must help the less fortunate members of society or does it mean that government is only there to prevent those who would take advantage of the less fortunate of society from doing so? If government chooses to support the poorer people is that an abridgement of the poor's right to living their own life and their duty as free people to take responsibility for themselves?

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