Posts Tagged ‘The Quest for Liberty’

The Sliding Scale of Liberty (New Strategies 3)

October 21, 2012

The Sliding Scale of Liberty

I define liberty as the Constitutional right of individuals to make their own choices about their behaviors and life-styles, without interference from the forces of government.

The concept of liberty is one that resides on a “sliding scale”.  If there are no restrictions or mandates from a governmental entity, be it small or large, population behavioral chaos will prevail. On the other hand, if governmental restrictions and mandates are increased to very high levels, or encroach into areas that most people find too restrictive, inconvenient, frustrating or anger-evoking, rioting becomes more likely and population behavioral chaos may again prevail.

Individual’s choices about their behaviors and life-styles can be restricted by family, friends, work settings and churches, or other social organizations they may belong to. However, if such associations become so restrictive as to become largely aversive to them, they can leave them to find others more to their liking.

In America, the escape from excessive governmental restrictions is more easily accomplished at the community, county, and state levels. The great problem occurs when restrictions on individual liberty are imposed by the federal government and therefore becomes the rule for the entire Socioculture. Escape from tyranny then becomes a much more difficult challenge

Unfortunately, the matter of liberty and its ideal location on the liberty sliding scale of liberty is far more complicated than the number of restrictions or mandates imposed upon a population by their chosen associations, or by their government. Debates on issues of liberty rapidly devolve into arguments about exactly which behaviors in a population are to be prohibited or mandated. It is likely that such matters have frustrated intelligent and moral analysis from the very beginnings of human social behavior.

Further complicating matters is a saying that I remember my dear mother repeating from time to time: “Laws are the chains that set men free”. It is true that many restrictions and mandates upon our behavior actually guarantee greater liberty for the vast majority of citizens. Laws and sanctions against murder, rape, robbery, assault, and other felonies and misdemeanors, etc., are examples. Also, governments normally mandate that citizens pay taxes to subsidize a host of actions and outcomes that benefit “the common good”. The common good is often served by infrastructural construction and maintenance as well as care for the unemployed, homeless or disabled, etc.  

There are further restrictions and mandates imposed by our governments and also various professional organizations such as the licensure of important skill sets that benefit the general population (M.D., Psychologists, Lawyers, teachers, etc.). Other examples have to do with driver licensing, food preparation and cleanliness standards, water quality, automobile safety, and much more. After-all, how much liberty do we enjoy when we suffer because of criminal predation or poor performance in these and other important services and actions that impact our lives.

In the final analysis, some restrictions and mandates upon individual choices about behaviors and life-styles generally restrict individual liberty and some generally increase individual liberty.

The difficulty we face is to learn the good restrictions and mandates from the bad ones, and then find humane ways to implement them within a Constitutional Republic such as America.


V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.


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