Freedom is Not an Intellectual Pursuit

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

Every once in a while, I get tired of arguments around here, trying in some way or other to justify freedom and liberty. One can go overboard with this stuff.
After all, does one need a PhD in Philosophy to understand freedom? Of course not. Everybody already understands it. It’s just doing whatever the Hell you want to do. No justification is needed.
Of course we always seem driven to include the extraneous qualification, “as long as we don’t harm others’ ability to do the same thing”--as if people are too dumb to figure that out. One can imagine a rolling of the eyes...
Yes, we have seen the attempts to make freedom look like a law of Physics. Lots of arm-waving is usually involved in this; Molyneux has made probably the most famous attempt. Then there are of course the expected responses disproving (or attempting to disprove) it. Other folks seem driven to try to shoehorn the whole idea into some kind of “natural law.” Why? Who the Hell knows? I guess they figure something called “law” is more respectable, or maybe they are uncomfortable living their life without law, just as some people are uncomfortable living without rights, or without a Constitution, or without even a flag! Hooray for Old Glory! So to speak...
Invariably there are quotes thrown around from French guys dead 300 years; that always helps the argument!
I recall long, passionate discussions in the leadership of the Libertarian Party of Oregon over obscure points of dogma, with everybody seeming to mistrust or hate each other, and completely missing the point of what it would really be like to live free. That was when I was a freedom newbie; still I would sit and watch this behavior, bemused.
Well, OK, I’ve done it too. Sometimes it’s hard not to be drawn into arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But we shouldn’t deceive ourselves about how important these arguments are; they are a sideshow.
The real show is what is going on in the minds of ordinary people, who neither know nor care about dead French philosophers. The question is, when do they give up on the propaganda that no longer even roughly appears to describe reality? When do they start getting angry? When do they decide not to put up with crap any more?
Freedom is doing what you want to do. That, and not letting anyone push you around. All you really need to know.
When I tire of these arguments, I find myself looking for a bit more earthy company. You know, folks who probably won’t wet their pants if anyone ever knocks on their door at 3 a.m. People who can put a bullet in a target at 500 meters, even in a stiff breeze.
One favorite place of mine is Michael and Neema’s and DJ’s FreedomFeens, where you can just listen to two guys talking about freedom and laughing at current examples of state idiocy. My all-time favorite episode is Two Killdozers in Every Garage. And by all means, see their film “Guns and Weed.” These folks are friends of mine.
Another place I like to hang out is Sipsey Street Irregulars. Now, Mike Vanderboegh is not even an anarchist; in fact, he’s kinda irritated at anarchists, and is more of a Constitutionalist; but he sure gives the ruling class Hell-- the current embarrassment over the “Fast & Furious” fiasco roiling Congress is mostly his doing. I’d give my left arm to be able to write and blog like he does. And, he’s coming out with a killer book in just a few days that everyone really, really needs to buy: Absolved.
Will Grigg is another “take no prisoners” blogger I like. He really has a line on the criminal justice system.
Finally, I spend plenty of time in the Free State Wyoming forum and the Montana Alliance for Liberty email list. The former does indulge in a few philosophical masturbations now and then, but that is a small minority of what’s there. And today we were just talking about the advantages of the .338 Win Mag compared to .30-06 for killing grizzly bear on the Montana list. Ah, now that’s what I really needed!
I hope people who visit STR don’t get the impression that freedom and liberty are complicated things. They are not. These sites I mention probably reach a lot more people than arcane and esoteric arguments do.


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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Paul's picture

For some reason Rob edited my comment about Will Grigg. It should read, "He really has a line on the criminal Justice System." I intentionally uncapitalized "criminal", turning what was part of the name of this system, into an adjective.

John T. Kennedy's picture

"The question is, when do they give up on the propaganda that no longer even roughly appears to describe reality? When do they start getting angry? When do they decide not to put up with crap any more?"

When changing their mind clearly benefits them. Often it doesn't.

For instance: The income tax is crap, but I don't judge it will benefit me to stop paying. For the same reason there's not much incentive for someone who mistakenly thinks that the income tax isn't crap to even change their mind about it.

Paul's picture

"When changing their mind clearly benefits them."

Or when following the standard narrative clearly doesn't. Lots of people waking up these days. Hard to say what nudges them in the right direction - an irritation at being treated like a peon, or mere exposure to Ron Paul, or being out of a job, or being tased by a cop, or who knows what. Or a combination. Lots of people might even figure out the income tax really is crap after all, when they see their taxes going to crony bailouts and worthless wars.

Benefit is not measured only in monetary terms, by the way. A person still has to be able to look at himself in the mirror every morning.

Anyway this article is just a suggestion we not lose track of the main thing here. I don't think endless nattering over justifications for freedom is very helpful in the big picture.

Suverans2's picture

"I hope people who visit STR don’t get the impression that freedom and liberty are complicated things. They are not." ~ Paul Bonneau

Not to worry, Paul, natural rights and natural law are not "complicated things". Most people know and understand them without even knowing what they are called.

"Children learn the fundamental principles of natural law at a very early age. Thus they very early understand that one child must not, without just cause, strike or otherwise hurt, another; that one child must not assume any arbitrary control or domination over another; that one child must not, either by force, deceit, or stealth, obtain possession of anything that belongs to another; that if one child commits any of these wrongs against another, it is not only the right of the injured child to resist, and, if need be, punish the wrongdoer, and compel him to make reparation, but that it is also the right, and the moral duty, of all other children, and all other persons, to assist the injured party in defending his rights, and redressing his wrongs. These are fundamental principles of natural law, which govern the most important transactions of man with man. Yet children learn them earlier than they learn that three and three are six, or five and five ten. Their childish plays, even, could not be carried on without a constant regard to them; and it is equally impossible for persons of any age to live together in peace on any other conditions." ~ Natural Law; or the Science of Justice by Lysander Spooner

"Children learn the fundamental principles of natural law at a very early age," because, ″Natural law is that body of rules which Man is able to discover by the use of his reason.″ ~ Hugo Grotius

"A philosopher can choose to disbelieve in Newton's laws, but this will not enable him to fly. He can disbelieve in natural law, but political and social institutions built on false law will fail, just as a bridge built on false physical law will fall..." ~ James A. Donald

Introduction to Natural Law by Murray N. Rothbard

"The natural law and the positive law are not alternative systems of rules that apply to the same thing. The natural law is the law of natural persons and positive law is a law of artificial persons." ~ Natural Law by Frank van Dun, Ph.D., Dr.Jur. - Senior lecturer Philosophy of Law

"The natural law always buries its undertakers." ~ Etienne Gilson