Defending Liberty in All Its Forms

Americans pay ritual obeisance to liberty. But daily, they say “there ought to be a law” that restricts it. They have only the dimmest awareness of our founders’ views on this central issue and no knowledge of friends of freedom beyond our shores. That is a pity, because such investigation would yield much insight.

A good example is Belgian-born philosopher/economist Gustave de Molinari, born March 3, nearly two centuries ago. He has been described as defending “peace, free trade, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and liberty in all its forms.” His touchstones were private property and unrestricted markets–i.e., liberty–made possible by government limited to securing life, liberty and property.

A few examples cannot do justice to Molinari’s half-century defense of liberty, based on each person’s self-ownership. But it is worth reflecting on his vision of a world where government sovereignty, enforced via coercion, is replaced with individual sovereignty wherever possible.

[G]overnment should restrict itself to guaranteeing the security of its citizens…the freedom of labor and of trade should otherwise be whole and absolute.

Society is heavily taxed in the increased costs which follow government appropriation of products and services naturally belonging to the sphere of private enterprise.

[The enlarged] functions of the State…is the real explanation of the grossly inadequate performance of their first duty–protection of life and property of the individual.

The sovereign power of governments over the life and property of the individual is, in fact, the sole fount and spring of militaryism, policy, and protection…the abolishment of that “state” is the present, most urgent, need of society.

[A] careful examination of the facts will decide the problem of government more and more in favor of liberty…

Sovereignty rests in the property of the individual over his person and goods and in the liberty of disposing of them…naturally limited by the rights of equally sovereign individuals…

[G]overnment has abused its unlimited power over individual life and property…

However seriously he might be declared sovereign master of himself, his goods and life, the individual was still controlled by a power invested with rights which took precedence of his own…The sole possible remedy—to curtail this subjection with its priority of claims over those of the sovereignty of the individual…

Government must confine itself to the naturally collective functions of providing external and internal security.

[P]rogress will be…secured by measures extending the sphere of individual self-government…

What is the interest of the individual? It is to remain the absolute proprietor of his person and property and to retain the power to dispose of them at will…It is, in a word, to possess ‘individual sovereignty’ in the fullest…Each individual sovereignty has its natural frontiers within which it may operate and outside of which it may not pass without violating other sovereignties. These natural limits must be recognized and guaranteed…such is the purpose of “government.”

Sovereignty rests in the property of the individual over his person and goods and in the liberty of disposing of them…

The individual appropriates and possesses himself…This is liberty. Property and liberty are the two aspects or two constituents of sovereignty.

[T]he ills [ascribed] to liberty–or, to use an absolutely equivalent expression, to free competition–do not originate in liberty, but in monopoly and restriction…a society truly free–a society relieved from all restriction, from all barriers, unique as will be such a society in all the course of history–will be exempt from most of the ills, as we suffer them today…the organization of such a society will be the most just, the best, and the most favorable to the production and distribution of wealth that is attainable by mortal man.

The true remedy for most evils is none other than liberty, unlimited and complete liberty, liberty in every field of human endeavor.

Gustave de Molinari learned of “the destructive apparatus of the civilized State” from the French Revolution, “naively undertaken to establish a regime of liberty and prosperity for the benefit of humanity, end[ing]…in an increase in the servitude and burdens.” That inspired him to a long life of opposition to the destruction that goes with coercion, always looking forward to “an era of assured liberty.”

Molinari brought a natural rights objection to government abuses of their citizens that should not have been considered radical, but was—that “no one has ever thought that the laws which apply to [government] are the same as those which apply to the others.” He did so because he saw that “Everywhere, men resign themselves to the most extreme sacrifices rather than do without government and hence security, without realizing that in so doing, they misjudge their alternatives.” He saw that the alternatives included a vast expansion of liberty, and an accompanying explosion of human potential and the human spirit. That is something our age needs to be inspired toward, as well.