Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Principle of Freedom - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1982, vol. 5, No. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
The Principle of Freedom - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1982, vol. 5, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Principle of Freedom
The Freedom Principle. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1981.
The basic underlying principle of political philosophy is the equal right of every moral agent to be free. This right follows from taking seriously our duty to respect autonomy. This right has strong libertarian implications, since it in general serves to make a sharp distinction between positive and negative duties. Thus, while we may have a clear negative obligation not to coerce others, we have no positive obligation to aid them. As an example, the usual justification for social security fails the test suggested by the right of everyone to equal freedom. Proponents of social security argue that, unless all workers were forced to contribute to a system of retirement insurance, some would, on their own volition, fail to make provision for retirement. This would eventually be a burden on others. Without denying the possibility which advocates of social security have conjured up, we must still reject the program they propose. One has no right to coerce everyone to save simply because if one does not, a certain bad consequence (namely, some will not save at all) might follow. Rather than have a coercive system, the present social security system should be gradually phased out in favor of voluntary plans.
Similarly, compulsory licensing laws are of doubtful moral validity. If someone wishes a certain type of treatment, it is not proper for the state to prevent him or her from securing it. To do so, once more, is to violate his or her right to equal freedom. Since, however many people wish to patronize doctors, dentists, etc. of proven reliability, it is legitimate for the state to issue certification to those who pass prescribed tests, provided that the uncertified are not forbidden to practice. Such programs should be financed by voluntary contributions, since compulsory taxation unacceptably violates rights.
Before elaborating further on the social consequences of the right to equal freedom, two points should be made clear. First, why are bad consequences not taken as a sufficient reason for preventing an act? To do so would be to adopt a form of utilitarianism. But this is unacceptable as a moral system. For one thing, there are various kinds of pleasures which are incommeasurable. Exactly what sort of utilitarian pleasure should we maximize? Also, utilitarianism is sometimes inconsistent with a respect for autonomy, as it allows (or even mandates) sacrificing one moral agent for a sufficiently great good to others.
A second objection, as noted earlier, would be to deny that we have positive duties to aid others. This is not intended to deny the fact that aiding others is morally good. It is only that the person in need of aid has no moral right to compel someone else to help him or her. Positive duties should not be legally enforcible. (One exception to this principle is the parental duty to care for minor children).
Pollock's social system differs from most libertarian approaches on the issues of property rights. The commonly advocated Lockean principle of property acquisition (that one acquires unowned property if one mixes one's labor with it) is unsatisfactory to Pollock. He believes this principle tends unduly to favor agricultural activity. Instead, the right of equal freedom mandates a different principle. Every moral agent has an equal right to the natural resources present in society. This proposal should be implemented along the lines proposed by Henry George, i.e., a tax on the unearned values of land. The proceeds should be distributed equally.
Pollock reasons that because of the need for such a distribution of natural resources and the need for a common currency and defense, a state is necessary. He concludes that the correct foreign policy for a libertarian limited state would be non-intervention.