(Stillness in the Storm Editor) Freedom and justice are intimately linked. The freedom to do anything, from a lawful perspective, is derived from the fact you have rights, the same rights that other people have. Justice serves as the mechanism to ensure the rights of the individual are restored when violated. The laws of morality guide this process, but unlike natural laws, which are automatic in enforcement, moral laws have to be enforced by people.
In this way, the measure of justice in any society depends on how well that society protects the rights of the people via the legal system. Clearly, the systems of justice we have on earth are woefully inadequate. As a result, some have rejected law and justice entirely, espousing a kind of pseudo-anarchy that declares all rules are unjust and tyrannical. But this isn’t the case and it’s not really anarchy.
Anarchy is a Greek word that translates to no rulers, not no rules. In this sense, a ruler is one who is above the law, who can dictate justice at the stroke of a pen or the utterance of a word. Such a despotic ruler is not a true representation of justice, for true justice has to apply to all people equally. This means that no man or woman is ever above the law. As such, the anarchy principle is one axiom that addresses the tendency for kings and queens to become corrupt, thereby asserting that no one has the right to rule over others.
But it’s a fallacy to assert that rules themselves are the problem. Law isn’t the issue.
As matter of fact, without law, we couldn’t do anything. Laws govern life itself. If you try to fight the laws of gravity or biology, you’ll suffer greatly. But if you work with these laws, your quality of life improves, it gives you the freedom to act in a way that will work. In short, by aligning yourself to the law, you gain more freedom. Herein lies the paradox.
If laws are restrictions on my behavior, especially moral laws, how does this make me freer?
This is a long discussion, but in short, the principle is that knowledge of law gives you power to express your desires effectively, it gives you wisdom. For example, if you wanted to bake a cake, you’d need to understand the laws of chemistry and thermodynamics, at least at a functional level. You’d have to have knowledge of the limitations that govern the realities of baking a cake. If you tried to bake the cake, before mixing the ingredients properly, the result won’t be a cake, it will be something unexpected.
The laws of morality are the same, the only difference is that the effects of following moral laws don’t jump out as freedom improvements. This is primarily because, for the individual, moral laws are injunctions, we think of them as things we can’t or shouldn’t do. And rightly so.
For example, if you’re really hungry, and you are in a local farmers market, you’ll be tempted to steal some food. But if you possess knowledge of moral law, you’ll likely not act on that temptation. This is an injunction. You stop yourself from stealing the food. So who gains freedom in this situation? The farmer. They have the right to sell their goods at a fair price. Thus, by restraining your desire to steal from the farmer, you give them the freedom to exercise their rights to sell their produce. In other words, if you did steal the food, this would rob freedom from the farmer.
Taking this point into consideration, moral laws are meant to ensure people’s rights are protected so they can use those rights freely. A right is something you can do that doesn’t harm another person. Thus, by following the laws of morality, you actually help other people become freer by not violating their rights of freedom. And if they do the same for you, then you enjoy greater freedoms.
So why isn’t everyone protecting each other’s rights? Because justice is evolutionary. It slowly improves with time as a function of how well people understand and follow moral laws. We have to choose to be moral. Those who don’t, rob freedoms from others. History is a tapestry of this age-long struggle to realize true law and order on earth. But unlike in the past, via the internet and other mediums, the opportunity for us to push for true justice is arguably greater than ever.
Now the problem is, what do you do when you live on a world where only some people respect the rights of others? You might enable the freedoms of others by imposing moral injunctions on yourself, but if other people don’t do this for you, what then?
Again, addressing the full breadth of what this question asks is a long discussion. Defending our rights, when they have been violated or are about to be, is the answer. But how to do this in all ways is where things get tricky.
When someone’s running at you with a large knife, saying they’re going to kill you, it’s pretty easy to see you have a right to defend your life with force. You can kick, punch, and even kill the attacker if that’s what is required. Generally speaking, the laws of necessity dictate that you can violate another person’s rights, only if doing so ensures your rights are defended. But any harm we cause we’re still responsible for. Clearly, your right to life is yours, and no one can take that from you without your permission. But what about more complex situations?
How does a farmer defend their land when a company like Monsanto sues them for property rights violation when they discover the farmer has a copyrighted plant on their land? Monsanto changed the laws so that they could sue farmers for plants growing on their land, even if the plants weren’t planted by the farmer. In this situation, there’s corruption to deal with. The legal system was corrupted so that the rights of the farmer would be violated as a matter of public policy. And this was allowed to take place largely because the people let it happen, they didn’t fight the fraudulent legislation when it was making its way through Congress.
So who’s to blame?
Is it Monsanto, who used the corrupt laws to defraud the farmer? Is it the legal system that enabled this fraud to take place? Is it the people who let this fraud go unchecked?
As you can see, it isn’t so clear how to defend the rights of the farmer in this situation. But what should hopefully be clear is that freedoms of others are protected by others. That is, if we the people took action to defend the rights of farmers everywhere, by fighting corrupt legislation, we’d have prevented this situation. Monsanto wouldn’t have been able to sue the farmer.
Morality is the intangible system of laws that, when taken up by the people, ensures that each individual’s rights and freedom are protected. The individual literally becomes the defender of the realm, personally protecting other people’s rights by restraining their own behavior. This is the definition of true sovereignty.
The problem is that most people don’t really understand what morality is and how it works. Most people have no problem violating the rights of another, or more to the point, letting another person or group violate the rights of others.
We can’t gain the benefit of improving freedom for all unless people know about the law and choose of their own free will to act in concert with it. This is why taking the time to learn of these things is so important.
Yes, we live in a world where most people could care less about defending your rights. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon the whole venture. The important thing is that you take it upon yourself to act morally and lawfully. You lead by example.
Strategically, I would argue, this is probably the most important thing we can do to positively contribute to making the world a better place. In addition, having discussions with our fellows about how we’ll manage all our rights is also important. We need to have discussions about law, rights, and how these things work. We need to share the truth with as many people as possible, in the form they can receive.
The good news is that people are becoming more interested in these things. Many people recognize corruption everywhere, consider all the talk about patriarchy and injustice in the system. But they likely don’t understand how to make things better.
Socialism is a good example. We recognize that a lot of people are suffering and we want to help them by providing goods and services. Socialism, as it has existed in the past, seeks to take the wealth of one person and give it to another, often by threat of violence. But is this right? And is it effective? Does giving people money actually make them more productive members of society? Again this is a long discussion, but studies show that handing money to people without providing them a real and effective way to gain competence so they can be independent only creates dependency.
The core point here is that in our quest to make the world a better place, we have to properly understand the causal factors and ensure our solutions don’t cause more problems than they solve.
The benefit of knowledge of the law is that it clears away seemingly good solutions by helping us see they might be reducing freedom instead of enhancing it.
During the Marxist revolution in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, landowners were villainized because they had something when others didn’t. The people at that time were incited to take the farmers land for themselves, under the justification that they would distribute these goods to everyone fairly. But what ended up happening is that millions of people were brutally killed and millions more died when no one worked the farm to produce food. In short, the Marxists in their zeal to make things better, who also lacked knowledge of moral law, violated the rights of their fellows and made things immeasurably worse.
Freedom and law are one and the same. Rights and responsibility are one and the same. If we want to make the world freer we’ll have to accept the moral duties that come with that better world. And if we can each take the time to do this in our own lives, we’ll move one step closer to true justice and prosperity for all.
Read more articles by Justin Deschamps.
by Gary Z McGee, August 28th, 2018
“Absolute freedom mocks justice. Absolute justice denies freedom. To be fruitful, the two ideas must find their limits in each other.” ~Albert Camus, The Rebel
Standing on the shoulder of the philosophical giant Albert Camus in order to see further is no easy task. But we’re going to attempt it anyway through use of metaphor, analogy and a story.
Setting the stage:
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as ours does, they will live at odds with the world.” ~Daniel Quinn
Imagine you and your partner are on a deserted island. You’ve not only been surviving but thriving. You are happy and healthy. Life is good. Then one day two more partners arrive. You figure: people are free. Nobody owns the island (the tragedy of the commons is for another article). I have no reason to hinder these people from traveling where they wish as long as they don’t try to hinder me or my partner. So, you cooperate. You get to know each other. Your group of four members gets along well and things actually get easier. You’re thriving even more than you were before. Life is good.
A week later two more people arrive. Then two more the week after that. Before you know it, you have a small tribe of 24 people who all get along with only the occasional bickering and misunderstanding. You are a thriving community. Life is good.
Then one day two new people show up on the island brandishing weapons and declaring the island their own. They try to use fear and the threat of violence to gain control of the tribe. And they declare from that point on that if anybody else shows up they will be killed on sight out of fear that they would destroy the tribe or the island. They also demand that each partnership gives them ten percent of their wealth in return for their “leadership” and for keeping the island safe.
Here is the critical crux, the precarious crossroads, where an important decision must be made. What do you do? Do you give in, thinking: Everyone is free to do what they want, including these two men. They are free to use violence to force the tribe under their control. Might makes right, and they have all the might. Who am I to question their authority?
Or, do you resist, thinking: everyone is free to do what they want up until the point that they become violent towards others. Otherwise, there is no justice. I must not only question their authority but defend what I love against it.
Absolute freedom mocks justice (scenario 1):
“When there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.” ~Gandhi
Luckily, you have training. You were a Navy SEAL before your travels. So, you are able to defend the island tribe against the would-be violent extremists. You’re forced to use violence, sure, but only in self-defense and in defense of the health of the tribe. And you only use the proper amount of violence for the occasion.
You are able to subdue the violent extremists without having to kill either of them. But you know that, had the circumstance been kill or be killed, or kill or allow the tribe to be ruled by violent extremists, you would have had to kill them. You are peaceful up until the point that you are forced into having no other choice to defend what you love with violence. Their freedom to brandish their weapons ended when they used those weapons in an attempt to hinder your freedom. Thus, allowing them absolute freedom to be violent would have made a mockery of justice.
So. You give them a choice. Either they leave on their own account or they remain and choose to be non-violent against the otherwise peaceful tribe. Any further acts of violence will either result in death or imprisonment. Your courage-based lifestyle prevents you from worrying if they will come back with an armada or not. You refuse to live a fear-based lifestyle. The world is a dangerous place. So be it. You take danger as it comes. Your conscience is clear as long as you don’t harm anyone (outside of self-defense) and as long as you live a courage-based life despite the fear, violence, and cowardice of others.
But, there are others in the tribe who are afraid. They demand that you kill the violent extremists. “We don’t have your training” they say. “What if they come back with bigger guns?” “What if they come back with an army?” To which you reply: “What if we get hit by a tsunami or a hurricane?” “What if we run out of food?” “What if we all come down with some strange disease?” The answer to my questions is the same as the answer to your questions: We do our best. We prepare. We defend ourselves. We remain healthy. And the first step in remaining healthy is having a clear conscience.”
Absolute justice denies freedom (scenario 2):
“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
Too bad you don’t have any self-defense training. And nobody else in your tribe seems to either. Sadly, everyone lives in fear. Your once thriving community is still thriving, but now it’s in a depressed state of soft-slavery. Sure, you’re on a beautiful island eating well and comfortable enough and the so-called leaders only take ten percent of your food and water and valuables, but it could be worse. You could be dead.
One guy tried to disarm the violent extremists and he got shot dead. What an idiot. What was he thinking? Why rock the boat? Why risk your own life? You suppose, there’s a fine line between courage and stupidity and that guy fell on the wrong side of the line.
A week later two more new people sailed up in their boat, just like everyone else had. And sure enough, the two violent extremists killed them! Just like that. Shot them on the shoreline. Their personal journey ended by naked violence. Their freedom of movement cut off by naked tyranny.
You are able to convince your new “leaders” that maybe we shouldn’t kill the new people. That it’s too extreme and it’s causing the rest of the tribe to be unproductive. They take your advice and decide to initially detain anyone who arrives and wishes to stay. As long as they obey their laws and pay ten percent to the “leaders” they can roam freely. Otherwise, they must leave or be killed.
They also decide to make you third in charge for your sound advice. They say it’s because there was a noticeable production increase since they changed their confrontation tactics. You are also tasked with keeping the tribe in line. You decide to roll with it.
You now eat better and have better quarters than anyone other than the “leaders.” You’re comfortable and secure under their hyper violent safety. You’ve become indifferent to their laws. You’ve become apathetic to the plight of other travelers. Absolute justice has denied true freedom, but at least you’re not dead.
Freedom and justice must find their limits in each other:
“Research indicates that when we’re angry at others, we aim for retaliation or revenge. But when we’re angry for others, we seek out justice and a better system. We don’t just want to punish; we want to help.” ~Adam Grant
Which “you” would you choose to be? Obviously, there are many different scenarios that could have unfolded. For example: you could have been untrained in self-defense and still found ways to undermine their authority: going rogue, counting coup, silent mutiny, civil disobedience, convincing others to revolt. You get the point.
Notice the common theme: That which violates the non-aggression principle tends to be unhealthy, immoral, and unjust; and that which honors the non-aggression principle tends to be healthy, moral, and just.
It seems that violence is the dividing line. One’s freedom is paramount up until the point that one becomes violent and thus violates the non-aggression principle.
Caveat: Just as one should not believe in absolute justice or absolute freedom, one should not take the non-aggression principle as an absolute. The non-aggression principle is merely a guide through the thick brambles of the human condition. It is a solid standard to practice but must be used flexibly on rare occasions like when it comes to property rights and the tragedy of the commons. Proceed with nonviolent caution.
Other than the tension between freedom and justice, another interesting point the story brings up is the tug-o-war between courage and fear. Notice how powerful a force fear is. Killing someone out of fear that if you don’t kill them now they may come back later and try to kill you again is just plain cowardice. It may seem “smart,” but it’s merely a logical fallacy known as the slippery slope. It leads to a fear-based lifestyle filled with unnecessary anxiety, paranoia, xenophobia, and irrational thinking. Which can all lead to violence. Worst of all, if you did convince yourself to kill the perp, you’d have to live with your bad conscience. Life is too short to live that way. Better to just be courageous. Take life as it comes. Be prepared for the worst but hope for the best.
At the end of the day, freedom must find its limit in justice and justice must find its limit in freedom. Otherwise, we either find ourselves living in a free-for-all state where anybody can do anything without any consequences (think the movie The Purge), or we’re living in a violent authoritarian state with oppressive laws and little freedom (think statism). If I had to choose between the two, I’d definitely go with the former. Let the chips fall where they may. But, ideally, reasonably, morally, freedom balanced with justice and justice balanced with freedom is the healthiest way.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
This article (The Paradox of Freedom and Justice) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.
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