Among my heroes, the great Herbert Spencer (1820-1902) stands very high indeed, not far behind Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Jefferson, and whoever it was that invented pasta. At one time, Spencer was the most popular writer in the English-speaking world. Two of his books, Social Statics and The Man Versus The State, are considered indispensable to anyone with an interest in political theory and its development.
In the first of those two books, Spencer propounded what would later be called the Law of Equal Freedom:
Let each have freedom to do all that he wills,
Provided only that he not infringe upon
The equal freedom of any other man.
This was among the first concise and definitive statements on the political-ethical requirement of individual freedom. It was so widely celebrated and embraced as a limiting principle for political action that a Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes himself, felt compelled to write in his dissent to Lochner v. New York that “The Fourteenth Amendment did not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.” Indeed, if recognized as a binding limitation on governments, it would forbid virtually everything they do today, leaving only the enforcement of the laws against aggressive violence and fraud, and the defense of the nation against invaders.
Sounds pretty good to me, but of course, statists will always claim that “we have to make an exception in this case.” The arguments advanced for such exceptions generally hinge on one of the following pseudo-justifications:
- An emergency condition: for example, a war;
- An offense against “morality” or “decency;”
- Public safety / “National security.”
After a sufficient number of such pseudo-justifications have been rammed forcibly down the public’s throat, people generally stop resisting. They allow the Rulers to do as they please, and strive only not to be caught in their crosshairs. This retreat from resistance and resort to “turtling” has been the pattern in these United States since before World War II.
The full thrust of the thing was first made plain by none other than the disgraced Spiro Agnew:
What can we do? We can exert our governmental authority to protect the people who placed us in these positions of responsibility. This requires firm decisive action and a willingness to withstand the criticism of the liberal community who are presently so blinded by total dedication to individual freedom that they cannot see the steady erosion of the collective freedom that is the capstone of a law-abiding society. This, of course, means acting within the law. [Spiro Agnew, speech to the National Governors’ Conference, 1970]
But what on Earth is “collective freedom?” Can we define it in any way that distinguishes it from “majority will?” And if “majority will” has the power – let’s not consider the question of rights just yet – to infringe upon individuals’ freedom, what limiting principle must it observe?
But of course, by “collective freedom” Vice-President Agnew didn’t mean “majority will.” He meant the intentions, decisions, and actions of the ruling cadre. He simply couldn’t say so out loud. It would have been too much of a “giveaway.”
(An aside: Among the great ironies of Agnew’s statement is that his speech was a defense of completely justified Nixon Administration decisions. In particular, President Nixon had only recently decided to use an intensified bombing campaign (Operation Rolling Thunder) to protect South Vietnam from the North Vietnamese Army, while the Army withdrew the overwhelming majority of American troops from the theater of conflict. Nixon was steadily reversing the ever-enlarging commitment of American men to the conflict that characterized the Kennedy and Johnson years, just as he had committed to do while campaigning for the presidency. But the media, then as now firmly opposed to conservatism in general and the Republican Party in particular, characterized it as a widening of the war.)
Concerning freedom in our nation and our time: A graphic that’s been making the rounds of the Web says that if the government is allowed to break the rules during an emergency, it will contrive one emergency after another as a justification for breaking the rules. And it is so. The “pandemic” is merely the most recent example.
The major difference between the current “emergency” and most of the others that have been used to expand the power of the federal government beyond what the Constitution allows is that it was engineered in collaboration with a hostile foreign power: Communist China. Now that the evidence of the deliberate creation of the COVID-19 virus in a military research lab in Wuhan is beyond refutation, the edifice is crumbling. People are steadily distancing themselves, not from one another, but from Washington’s ukases and “mandates” supposedly issued to “protect us.”
It’s not a recognized political movement. It might not even be a conscious decision on the part of most who do so. Whatever the case, Americans are reclaiming the individual freedom that was taken from them. In a nationwide adoption of what Glenn Reynolds and others have called “Irish democracy,” they’re simply ignoring the decrees of the Omnipotent State and getting on with their lives.
Of course, not everyone is happy about that:
I maintain that further comment is not required. Freedom is possible and achievable. Freedom’s opposite is coercive power. To be exercised effectively, political power requires the consent of the subject over whom it is to be wielded. Without that consent, no government can function.
Deny the Usurpers your consent.
Support others who do likewise.