FFF: The Three Dangers to Liberty

In this essay at The Future of Freedom Foundation, Professor Richard Ebeling discusses John Stuart Mills 1859 essay On Liberty which discusses his three dangers to liberty: the tyranny of the minority, the tyranny of the majority, and social pressure to conform. Our US government was designed with the intent to mitigate both the first and second tyrannies. The executive branch would be balanced by the judicial and legislative branches. In the legislative branch itself, there would be both a Congress whose membership would be based on the population of a state which allows for a tyranny of the majority, but this would be balanced by the Senate whose membership would be equal regardless of the population. Likewise, the electoral college was created as a compromise between the danger of a tyranny of the majority that would be created by a straight popular vote and the danger of corrupted electors if the Congress were to select the president. In our current times there are people calling for both the destruction of the electoral college and changes to the Senate composition in order to make both more reflective of population which would directly reinstate these dangers of tyranny by the majority.

JOHN STUART MILL’S 1859 ESSAY “On Liberty” is one of the most enduring and powerful defenses of individual freedom ever penned. Both advocates and enemies of personal freedom have challenged either the premises or the logic in Mill’s argument. They have pointed out inconsistencies or incompleteness in his reasoning. But the fact remains that after almost 150 years, few essays continue to justify being read and pondered with the same care and attention as “On Liberty…”

But within the context of his own premises, Mill was a fairly strong advocate of much of what today we usually call civil liberties. Thus, for example, he opposed the attempt by some to prohibit the consumption of alcohol by others, insisting that it was an inappropriate restraint on individual freedom of choice.

Men of the most honest intentions and goodwill may reason with their fellow human beings and offer their own lives as examples of better ways of living.

But it would be an unjustifiable violation of another’s personal freedom to coercively attempt to prevent him from ingesting some substance that he — however wrong-headedly from the critic’s perspective — finds desirable, useful, or pleasurable.

But Mill, unfortunately, conceded to the government as necessary responsibilities far more powers of intervention into social and economic affairs than most modern classical liberals and libertarians consider justifiable.

Three forms of tyranny

And this gets to the issue of what can stifle or prevent an individual from exercising his personal freedom in the manner he wants. Mill argued that there were, historically, three forms of tyranny which have endangered liberty through the ages.

The oldest was the tyranny of the one or the few over the many. A single dictator or an oligarchy imposed prohibitions on or commanded certain forms of behavior over the majority of the society. The spontaneous individualism and individuality of each person was denied. The one or the few determined how others might live and what they might say and do and, therefore, in what forms their human potential would be allowed to develop.

The newer form of tyranny, Mill said, was the rule of the many over the one. The revolt against the tyranny of the one or the few resulted in the growing idea that the people should rule themselves. And since the people, surely, could not tyrannize themselves, the unrestrained will of the people became the ideal of those who advocated unlimited democracy.

But in practice this inevitably became the rule of the majority over the minority. Individual freedom was denied purely on the basis of numbers, that is, on the basis of which group or coalition of groups formed that larger number of people dominating the political process. Their ideas, ideals, and values were to be imposed on all those representing less than 50 percent of the electorate.

But whether it was the tyranny of the few over the many or the many over the few, the source of their tyrannical power was the control and use of political coercion. State power is what enabled some to deny liberty to others. The threat or the use of force by government is what enabled freedom to be taken away from individuals who believed in ideas, ideals, or values different from those holding the reins of political power.

The “tyranny” of custom and tradition

Mill also said that there was a third source of tyranny over the individual in society, and this was the tyranny of custom and tradition. He argued:

The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement, being in unceasing antagonism to that disposition to aim at something better than the customary, which is called, according to circumstances, the spirit of liberty, or that of progress or improvement…. Custom is there, in all things, the final appeal; justice and right mean conformity to custom…. All deviations … come to be considered impious, immoral, even monstrous and contrary to nature.

Mill argued with great passion that societal customs and traditions could, indeed, very often be the worst tyranny of all. They were binding rules on conduct and belief that owed their force not to coercion but to their being the shared ideas of the right and proper held by the vast majority in the society. They represent what the ancient Greek Pericles referred to as “that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.”

Customs and traditions weigh down on the individual, they stifle his sense and desire to be different, to experiment with the new, to creatively design ways of doing things that have not been tried before, and to break out of the confinement of conformity. Custom and tradition can be the straitjacket that restricts a person’s cry for his peaceful and nonviolent individuality…

The danger to liberty arises when those who resent breaches of tradition cry for coercion to be used to impose obedience to custom. Only then does the tyranny of custom, as understood by Mill, become the coercion of the many over the few. Only then is freedom denied, indeed suffocated, by politically enforced conformity.

It is the misuse and abuse of political power — the threat or the application of legitimized force by a government within a geographical area — that always has been the greatest threat to liberty. All tyranny, whether it be the few over the many or the many over the few, results from the use of force to make others conform to the conduct desired by the rulers, even when those being coerced have done nothing to violate the rights of others…

Click here to read the entire essay at FFF.org.

Imprimis: Freedom and Obligation

The excerpt below comes from a commencement address given by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas at Hillsdale College back in 2016. In order to have liberty our freedom must be tempered by the duties and responsibilities that we have.

…In my youth, we had a small farm. I am convinced that the time I spent there had much to do with my firm resolve never to farm again. Work seemed to spring eternal, like the weeds that consumed so much of our time and efforts. One of the messages constantly conveyed in those days was our obligation to take care of the land and to use it to produce food for ourselves and for others. If there was to be independence, self-sufficiency, or freedom, then we first had to understand, accept, and discharge our responsibilities. The latter were the necessary (but not always sufficient) antecedents or precursors of the former. The only guarantee was that if you did not discharge your responsibilities, there could be no independence, no self-sufficiency, and no freedom.

In a broader context, we were obligated in our neighborhood to be good neighbors so that the neighborhood would thrive. Whether there was to be a clean, thriving neighborhood was directly connected to our efforts. So there was always, to our way of thinking, a connection between the things we valued most and our personal obligations or efforts. There could be no freedom without each of us discharging our responsibilities. When we heard the words duty, honor, and country, no more needed to be said. But that is a bygone era. Today, we rarely hear of our personal responsibilities in discussions of broad notions such as freedom or liberty. It is as though freedom and liberty exist wholly independent of anything we do, as if they are predestined…

America’s Founders and many successive generations believed in natural rights. To establish a government based on the consent of the governed, as the Declaration of Independence makes clear, they gave up only that portion of their rights necessary to create a limited government of the kind needed to secure all of their rights. The Founders then structured that government so that it could not jeopardize the liberty that flowed from natural rights. Even though this liberty is inherent, it is not guaranteed. Indeed, the founding documents of our country are an assertion of this liberty against the King of England—arguably the most powerful man in the world at the time—at the risk of the Founders’ lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. Over the lifespan of our great country, many occasions have arisen that required this liberty, and the form of government that ensures it, to be defended if it was to survive.

At the risk of understating what is necessary to preserve liberty and our form of government, I think more and more that it depends on good citizens discharging their daily duties and obligations…

Today, when it seems that grievance rather than responsibility is the main means of elevation, my grandfather’s beliefs may sound odd or discordant. But he and others like him at the time resolved to conduct themselves in a way consistent with America’s ideals. They were law-abiding, hardworking, and disciplined. They discharged their responsibilities to their families and neighbors as best they could. They taught us that despite unfair treatment, we were to be good citizens and good people. If we were to have a functioning neighborhood, we first had to be good neighbors. If we were to have a good city, state, and country, we first had to be good citizens. The same went for our school and our church. We were to keep in mind the corporal works of mercy and the great commandment: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Being wronged by others did not justify reciprocal conduct. Right was right, and two wrongs did not make a right. What we wanted to do did not define what was right—nor, I might add, did our capacious litany of wants define liberty. Rather, what was right defined what we were required to do and what we were permitted to do. It defined our duties and our responsibilities. Whether those duties meant cutting our neighbor’s lawn, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, or going off to war as my brother did, we were to discharge them honorably…

if we continue to consume the benefits of a free society without replenishing or nourishing that society, we will eventually deplete that as well.  If we are content to let others do the  work of replenishing and defending liberty while we consume the benefits, we will someday run out of other people’s willingness to sacrifice—or even out of courageous people willing to make the sacrifice…

Click here to read the entire article at Imprimis.

Liberty Blitzkrieg: Humans Are Creating Their Own Narratives

Michael Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg has an article on how the US government, including the FBI and the military, are becoming involved in policing what you think and talk about because the government believes that conspiracy theories pose a domestic terrorism threat… Or maybe the government just wants more control over what you do and say to make sure that people can only hear the government’s own narrative. Here’s an excerpt from Humans Are Creating Their Own Narratives.

Somewhere between the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein and his extremely suspicious death in a Department of Justice operated prison, the public learned that an FBI intelligence bulletin published by the bureau’s Phoenix field office mentioned for the first time that conspiracy theories pose a domestic terrorism threat. This was followed up last week by a Bloomberg article discussing a new project by the U.S. military (DARPA) to identify fake news and disinformation.

We learned:

Fake news and social media posts are such a threat to U.S. security that the Defense Department is launching a project to repel “large-scale, automated disinformation attacks,” as the top Republican in Congress blocks efforts to protect the integrity of elections.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants custom software that can unearth fakes hidden among more than 500,000 stories, photos, videos and audio clips. If successful, the system after four years of trials may expand to detect malicious intent and prevent viral fake news from polarizing society.

Recall that after the 2016 election, focus was on social media companies and we saw tremendous pressure placed on these platforms by national security state politicians and distressed Democrats to “do something” about the supposed fake news epidemic. Fast forward three years and it’s now apparently the U.S. military’s job to police human content on the internet. This is the sort of natural regression a society will witness so long as it puts up with incremental censorship and the demonization of any thought which goes against the official narrative.

Before we dissect what’s really going on, allow me to point out the glaringly obvious, which is that politicians, pundits, mass media and the U.S. military don’t actually care about the societal harm of fake news or conspiracy theories. We know this based on how the media sold government lies in order to advocate for the Iraq war, and how many of the biggest proponents of that blatant war crime have gone on to spectacularly lucrative careers in subsequent years. There were zero consequences, proving the point that this has nothing to do with the dangers of fake news or conspiracy theories, and everything to do with protecting the establishment grip on narrative creation and propagation.

The above tweet summarizes what’s really going on. It’s a provable fact that the harm caused by some crazy person reacting to viral “fake news” on social media doesn’t compare with the destruction and criminality perpetrated by oligarchs like Jeffrey Epstein, or governments which destroy entire countries and murder millions without flinching. It’s the extremely wealthy and powerful, as a consequence of their societal status and influence, who are in a position to do the most harm. This isn’t debatable, yet the U.S. military and media don’t seem particularly bothered by this sort of thing. What really keeps them up at night is a realization that the powerless masses of humanity are suddenly talking to one another across borders and coming to their own conclusions about how the world works. You’re supposed to be told what to think, not to think for yourself...

Click here to read the entire article.

Lies of Omission, Freedom Documentary, Now Available on DVD

http://www.liesofomission.com/

The one thing this documentary is not, is a hysterical, finger-pointing accusation, it is more of a reasoned, compelling argument for freedom, individual rights and an explanation of how they are disappearing and why they need to be defended. This is a message that the next generation of this battle is not being taught in school and even if it were, it would not be taught by people who truly understand the nuances like this community does. We are seeking a diversity of points of view to help drive the message home so that no matter where the viewer lands on the spectrum of beliefs, they will have a voice and a reason to consider the arguments.

Interviewees in the documentary include Kit Perez, David Codrea, Mike Vanderboegh, Claire Wolfe, Larry Pratt, and Matt Bracken

Click here for a table of contents