"Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest." ~ John Stuart Mill
A Book Review of Jerome L. Wright’s 'Equal Freedom'
Column by Mark Davis.
Exclusive to STR
“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” ~ Albert Einstein
A new book by Jerome L. Wright would have made Einstein proud. The book is Equal Freedom – The Principle of Equal Freedom and Noncoercive Government. It breaks new ground in the libertarian intellectual movement currently sweeping the world as it encompasses and then goes beyond the “Non-Aggression Principle.” The book looks at the contributions of the great libertarian thinkers such as Locke, Paine, Spencer, Molinari and Rothbard, including a wealth of pertinent quotes throughout the book, in a way that builds on his thesis. The thesis is that “free societies not only provide justice and opportunity for people, but that they are essential for the long-term survival of humanity” and thus “free society needs a clear statement upon which its freedom is based.” This book explains what follows from the principle of equal freedom.
First, full disclosure: I know Jerry. If I didn’t know him then I could have easily missed out on reading this book. But I do and would like to let you know about it. This reading experience has also opened my eyes to seeking out more current works after years of focusing on the classics by historically renowned writers. Equal Freedom has a modern and forward-looking relevance that is refreshing. I recommend it to anybody interested in making this a better world, die-hard statists and avid freedom lovers alike. I especially think it would be a marvelous civics textbook for homeschoolers.
Equal Freedom is written and organized much like a technical manual, a sort of a “How To” book on how society can achieve noncoercive government. This reflects on the author’s engineering background, and there is a clear emphasis on attention to detail. He was literally a rocket scientist that worked on the propulsion systems for NASA during the space program. The book covers the multitude of questions that I’ve been asked over the years trying to explain how society could function without a central planning authority. Equal Freedom has helped me to hone my arguments and explanations and should be a handy reference for years to come.
Trying to explain to statists what the world would be like without coercive government is frustrating. A lot of my frustration has been of my own doing because of either the terms I use (e.g., anarchy) that carry a lot of baggage to overcome or because I expect people to have a fundamental understanding of logic. This book is able to appeal to progressive egalitarians as well as conservative utilitarians that both eat, sleep and breathe the mythology that necessitates the primacy of authoritarian institutions. The methodical approach building his case step by step using everyday language is very convincing.
Equal Freedom begins in Part One with a discussion of the concepts, possibilities, principles and corollaries that society must have as a basis for equal freedom and how they apply to society. This includes a definition of terms and an overview of the history of the foundations, justifications and conditions (e.g., Natural Law, The Golden Rule) for society, civilization and the state. The book builds a solid common ground of understanding that most anyone should easily understand.
Part Two is dedicated to examining how the individual will live and function in a world based on the Principle of Equal Freedom. It does not go off on a utopian journey or have even a whiff of fantasy. The nuts and bolts of human interactions are painstakingly crafted together in such a way that one wonders why we haven’t already taken that path.
Part Three addresses the recognition of societal services that are commonly believed to be governmental services. This part is where everything begins to come together, at least in my mind. For years I have argued for the elimination of the state and the need for society to rely on the free market, only to get a typical response of “We must have a government or we would have chaos.” This semantic trap can now be avoided. One of the brilliant tactics used in this book is to discuss how noncoercive governments operate as opposed to coercive governments; so simple, yet profound.
Part Four is totally forward thinking yet provides a satisfying feeling of inevitability. The explanations of how corporations, registrars, contracts, associations and other non-coercive government (social) institutions compete and cooperate, not in a vacuum, but with responsibility, is excellent. The discussion addresses wealth, power, relationships and even the “Free-rider non-problem” in a way that doesn’t sound like the typical economics professor’s lecture. “Implementation and Transition” is one of the final chapters that tops-off the now towering structure built floor by floor upon a solid foundation. The prospects for a free society are discussed in both sober and optimistic terms:
“The civilization we have at present is seriously flawed and has what should be regarded as an unacceptably low probability of survival. While the cosmos does not provide a certainty of survival for life, even for life more intelligent than humanity, the probability of survival of our civilization and humanity itself can be greatly improved.”
“Full and equal freedom will come. Ethics and rationality will replace coercion and fraud as the dominant characteristics of civilization. Survival in this Universe demands the best that we can do, and that will happen only in a civilization of freedom.”
The book has one recurring argument that I don’t fully agree with: perpetual intellectual property. As an inventor and writer, this concept appears dear to the author, as he projects that in a free society, it will survive the coercive monopoly status it now enjoys. He makes a fine argument based on the tradition of Spencer and Spooner, but I didn’t find his argument for paying royalties to the estates of long dead authors and inventors in perpetuity totally convincing. Still, the implementation of protecting intellectual property through private registration, contract for use agreements and non-coercive enforcement are consistent with his principle. Respect, incentives and voluntary compliance are important concepts to flush out in a free society for all types of property, especially when definitions of property are at odds. This is a relatively new debate that is heating up in libertarian circles and a small nit to pick in a fine book.
The old institutional power tools of war, fiat money, central planning and obedience to authority are losing their hypnotic potency thanks largely to the Internet. We are living during a historic age that will decide where we go from here. The book Equal Freedom -- The Principle of Equal Freedom and Noncoercive Government by Jerome L. Wright is a concise, yet comprehensive treatise on how and why we must overcome the status quo of coercive government and what should be put in its place. The road that modern civilization has been on for centuries leads to the extinction of our species. The faith men have in coercion and the need for monopoly authority is not only misplaced, it is fatal. We must first recognize and then replace this paradigm with one based on the principle of equal freedom. This daunting task was just made easier by this book.