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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Can planning free us from care?

Can planning free us from care? 


Most planners who have seriously considered the practical aspects 
of their task have little doubt that a directed economy must be run 
on dictatorial lines, that the complex system of interrelated activi- 
ties must be directed by staffs of experts, with ultimate power in 
the hands of a commander-in-chief whose actions must not be 
fettered by democratic procedure. The consolation our planners 
offer us is that this authoritarian direction will apply ‘only’ to eco- 
nomic matters. This assurance is usually accompanied by the sug- 
gestion that, by giving up freedom in the less important aspects of 
our lives, we shall obtain freedom in the pursuit of higher values. 
On this ground people who abhor the idea of a political dictator- 
ship often clamour for a dictator in the economic field. 
The arguments used appeal to our best instincts. If planning 
really did free us from less important cares and so made it easier to 
render our existence one of plain living and high thinking, who 
would wish to belittle such an ideal? 
Unfortunately, purely economic ends cannot be separated 
from the other ends of life. What is misleadingly called the ‘eco- 
nomic motive’ means merely the desire for general opportunity. If 
we strive for money, it is because money offers us the widest choice 
in enjoying the fruits of our efforts– once earned, we are free to 
spend the money as we wish. 
Because it is through the limitation of our money incomes that 
we feel the restrictions which our relative poverty still imposes on 
us, many have come to hate money as the symbol of these restric- 
tions. Actually, money is one of the greatest instruments of free- 
dom ever invented by man. It is money which in existing society 
opens an astounding range of choice to the poor man– a range 
greater than that which not many generations ago was open to the 
We shall better understand the significance of the service of 
money if we consider what it would really mean if, as so many 
socialists characteristically propose, the ‘pecuniary motive’ were 
largely displaced by ‘non-economic incentives’. If all rewards, in- 
stead of being offered in money, were offered in the form of public 
distinctions, or privileges, positions of power over other men, bet- 
ter housing or food, opportunities for travel or education, this 
would merely mean that the recipient would no longer be allowed 
to choose, and that whoever fixed the reward would determine not 
only its size but the way in which it should be enjoyed. 
The so-called economic freedom which the planners promise 
us means precisely that we are to be relieved of the necessity of 
solving our own economic problems and that the bitter choices 
which this often involves are to be made for us. Since under mod- 
ern conditions we are for almost everything dependent on means 
which our fellow men provide, economic planning would involve 
direction of almost the whole of our life. There is hardly an aspect 
of it, from our primary needs to our relations with our family and 
friends, from the nature of our work to the use of our leisure, over 
which the planner would not exercise his ‘conscious control’. 
Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact 
that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to 
another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his mercy. And an 
authority directing the whole economic system would be the most 
powerful monopolist imaginable. 
It wouldhavecompletepowertodecidewhat wearetobe 
andcould, if itwished, discriminatebetweenpersonstoanyde- 
The will of the authority would shape and ‘guide’ our daily 
lives even more in our position as producers. For most of us the 
time we spend at our work is a large part of our whole lives, and 
our job usually determines the place where and the people among 
whom we live. Hence some freedom in choosing our work is prob- 
ably even more important for our happiness than freedom to 
spend our income during our hours of leisure. 
Even in the best of worlds this freedom will be limited. Few 
people ever have an abundance of choice of occupation. But what 
matters is that we have some choice, that we are not absolutely 
tied to a job which has been chosen for us, and that if one position 
becomes intolerable, or if we set our heart on another, there is 
always a way for the able, at some sacrifice, to achieve his goal. 
Nothing makes conditions more unbearable than the knowledge 
that no effort of ours can change them. It may be bad to be just a 
cog in a machine but it is infinitely worse if we can no longer leave 
it, if we are tied to our place and to the superiors who have been 
chosen for us. 
In our present world there is much that could be done to 
improve our opportunities of choice. But ‘planning’ would surely 
go in the opposite direction. Planning must control the entry into 
the different trades and occupations, or the terms of remun- 
eration, or both. In almost all known instances of planning, the 
establishment of such controls and restrictions was among the 
first measures taken. 
In a competitive society most things can be had at a price. It is 
often a cruelly high price. We must sacrifice one thing to attain 
another. The alternative, however, is not freedom of choice, but 
orders and prohibitions which must be obeyed. 
That people should wish to be relieved of the bitter choice 
which hard facts often impose on them is not surprising. But few 
want to be relieved through having the choice made for them by 
others. People just wish that the choice should not be necessary at 
all. And they are only too ready to believe that the choice is not 
really necessary, that it is imposed upon them merely by the 
particular economic system under which we live. What they resent 
is, in truth, that there is an economic problem. 
The wishful delusion that there is really no longer an economic 
problem has been furthered by the claim that a planned economy 
would produce a substantially larger output than the competitive 
system. This claim, however, is being progressively abandoned by 
most students of the problem. Even a good many economists with 
socialist views are now content to hope that a planned society will 
equal the efficiency of a competitive system. They advocate plan- 
ning because it will enable us to secure a more equitable distribu- 
tion of wealth. And it is indisputable that, if we want consciously 
to decide who is to have what, we must plan the whole economic 
But the question remains whether the price we should have to 
pay for the realization of somebody’s ideal of justice is not bound 
to be more discontent and more oppression than was ever caused 
by the much abused free play of economic forces. 
For when a government undertakes to distribute the wealth, 
by what principles will it or ought it to be guided? Is there a defi- 
nite answer to the innumerable questions of relative merits that 
will arise? 
Only one general principle, one simple rule, would provide 
such an answer: absolute equality of all individuals. If this were the 
goal, it would at least give the vague idea of distributive justice 
clear meaning. But people in general do not regard mechanical 
equality of this kind as desirable, and socialism promises not com- 
plete equality but ‘greater equality’. 
This formula answers practically no questions. It does not free 
us from the necessity of deciding in every particular instance be- 
tween the merits of particular individuals or groups, and it gives 
no help in that decision. All it tells us in effect is to take from the 
rich as much as we can. When it comes to the distribution of the 
spoils the problem is the same as if the formula of ‘greater equality’ 
had never been conceived. 
It is often said that political freedom is meaningless without 
economic freedom. This is true enough, but in a sense almost op- 
posite from that in which the phrase is used by our planners. The 
economic freedom which is the prerequisite of any other freedom 
cannot be the freedom from economic care which the socialists 
promise us and which can be obtained only by relieving us of the 
power of choice. It must be that freedom of economic activity 
which, together with the right of choice, carries also the risk and 
responsibility of that right. 

The Road to Serfdom 
The condensed version of The Road to Serfdom 
by F. A. Hayek as it appeared in the April 1945 
edition of Reader’s Digest 

Monday, January 30, 2012

History of Socialism from Marx to Obama

Traveling Down the Road to Serfdom:

History of Socialism from Marx to Obama | Yuri N. Maltsev


Is planning ‘inevitable’?

Is planning ‘inevitable’? 

It is revealing that few planners today are content to say that cen- 
tral planning is desirable. Most of them affirm that we now are 
compelled to it by circumstances beyond our control. 
One argument frequently heard is that the complexity of mod- 
ern civilization creates new problems with which we cannot hope 
to deal effectively except by central planning. This argument is 
based upon a complete misapprehension of the working of com- 
petition. The very complexity of modern conditions makes com- 
petition the only method by which a coordination of affairs can be 
adequately achieved. 
There would be no difficulty about efficient control or plan- 
ning were conditions so simple that a single person or board could 
effectively survey all the facts. But as the factors which have to be 
taken into account become numerous and complex, no one centre 
can keep track of them. The constantly changing conditions of 
demand and supply of different commodities can never be fully 
known or quickly enough disseminated by any one centre. 
Under competition– and under no other economic order– the 
price system automatically records all the relevant data. Entre- 
preneurs, by watching the movement of comparatively few prices, 
as an engineer watches a few dials, can adjust their activities to 
those of their fellows. 
Compared with this method of solving the economic problem 
– by decentralization plus automatic coordination through the 
price system– the method of central direction is incredibly 
clumsy, primitive, and limited in scope. It is no exaggeration to say 
that if we had had to rely on central planning for the growth of our 
industrial system, it would never have reached the degree of differ- 
entiation and flexibility it has attained. Modern civilization has 
been possible precisely because it did not have to be consciously 
created. The division of labour has gone far beyond what could 
have been planned. Any further growth in economic complexity, 
far from making central direction more necessary, makes it more 
important than ever that we should use the technique of competi- 
tion and not depend on conscious control. 
It is also argued that technological changes have made compe- 
tition impossible in a constantly increasing number of fields and 
that our only choice is between control of production by private 
monopolies and direction by the government. The growth of 
monopoly, however, seems not so much a necessary consequence 
of the advance of technology as the result of the policies pursued 
inmost countries. 
The most comprehensive study of this situation is that by the 
Temporary National Economic Committee, which certainly 
cannot be accused of an unduly liberal bias. The committee 
The superior efficiency of large establishments has not been 
demonstrated; the advantages that are supposed to destroy 
competition have failed to manifest themselves in many 
fields ... the conclusion that the advantage of large-scale 
production must lead inevitably to the abolition of 
competition cannot be accepted ... It should be noted, 
moreover, that monopoly is frequently attained through 
collusive agreement and promoted by public policies. When 
these agreements are invalidated and these policies 
reversed, competitive conditions can be restored. 
Anyone who has observed how aspiring monopolists regularly 
seek the assistance of the state to make their control effective can 
have little doubt that there is nothing inevitable about this devel- 
opment. In the United States a highly protectionist policy aided 
the growth of monopolies. In Germany the growth of cartels has 
since 1878 been systematically fostered by deliberate policy. It was 
here that, with the help of the state, the first great experiment in 
‘scientific planning’ and ‘conscious organization of industry’ led to 
the creation of giant monopolies. The suppression of competition 
was a matter of deliberate policy in Germany, undertaken in the 
service of an ideal which we now call planning. 
Great danger lies in the policies of two powerful groups, orga- 
nized capital and organized labour, which support the monopolis- 
tic organization of industry. The recent growth of monopoly is 
largely the result of a deliberate collaboration of organized capital 
and organized labour where the privileged groups of labour share 
in the monopoly profits at the expense of the community and par- 
ticularly at the expense of those employed in the less well orga- 
nized industries. However, there is no reason to believe that this 
movement is inevitable. 
The movement toward planning is the result of deliberate ac- 
tion. No external necessities force us to it. 

The Road to Serfdom 
The condensed version of The Road to Serfdom 
by F. A. Hayek as it appeared in the April 1945 
edition of Reader’s Digest 

Natural Law and Natural Rights II

Natural Law and Natural Rights

By James A. Donald


Natural law was discovered (not invented, not created, discovered) by the stoic philosophers. This was the answer (not their answer, the answer) to the logical problems raised by Socrates. The doctrines of the stoics were demonstrated successfully by experiment, but political circumstances (the Alexandrine empire and then the Roman empire) prevented a clear and decisive experiment.
Frequently politicians or revolutionaries use natural law theory, or some competing theory to create institutions. Such cases provide a powerful and direct test of theories. Advances in our understanding of natural law have come primarily from such experiments, and from the very common experience of the breakdown or forcible destruction of state imposed order.
The bloody and unsuccessful experiment of Socrates disciple, Critias, showed that the rule of law, not men, was correct. This renewed the question “What law, who's law.” Not all laws are arbitrary, there must be laws universally applicable, because of the universal nature of man. Laws governing human affairs, or at least some of those laws, must derive from some objective and external reality, not subject to the arbitrary will of the ruler or the people. If this was not so, then it would be impossible to make an unlawful law. Any law duly decreed by a legitimate ruling body, such as the Athenian assembly, would necessarily be lawful, yet history shows that this was obviously false. Some laws are clearly unlawful. Proof by contradiction.
“There is in fact a true law - namely, right reason - which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men, and is unchangeable and eternal.” (Cicero) Cicero successfully argued before a Roman court that one of the laws of Rome was unlawful, being contrary to natural law, creating a legal precedent that held throughout the western world for two thousand years. Although it was frequently violated, it was rarely openly rejected in the West until the twentieth century.
The arguments and reasoning of the Stoics were generally accepted, but not thoroughly put into practice and therefore not vigorously tested, for over a thousand years.
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, just as the deer that does not notice the tiger gets eaten, just as the Marxist philosophers who voluntarily returned to Cambodia to aid the revolution were for the most part murdered or tortured to death by the revolutionaries. The most extreme failure in recent times was the attempt of the Cambodian government to increase the rice harvest by central direction of irrigation, also known as “the Cambodian Autogenocide”.
During the dark ages, the knowledge of natural law, like much other ancient knowledge, was kept alive by the church. This knowledge proved very useful. Hordes of armed refugees wandered this way and that, thus tribal and customary law was often inadequate for resolving disputes. Sometimes a king would rise up and impose his peoples customary law on everyone around, but such kings came and went, and their laws and institutions faded swiftly.
In those days the church persistently and rightly claimed that natural law was above customary law, and that customary law was above tribal law and the law of the kings (fiat law). Natural law was taught in the great Universities of Oxford, Salamanca, Prague, and Krakow, and in many other places.
In England the theory of natural law led to the Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution, the declaration of right, and the English Enlightenment. It was the basis for the US revolution and the US bill of rights.
The next major advance in our knowledge of natural law after the dark ages came with the Dutch republic. The success of this experiment is almost as illuminating as the failure of Critias. The failure of Critias showed that the rule of law, not men was correct. The success of the Dutch Republic showed that the medieval understanding of natural law was sufficiently accurate.
The long revolution by the Dutch against Spain obliterated or gravely weakened those people and institutions responsible for enforcing customary law and fiat law, and little was done to replace these institutions for two generations. But it is everyone's right and duty to forcibly uphold natural law, thus in order to get a law enforced, or to get away with enforcing it oneself, ones lawyer had to argue natural law, rather than customary law. Thus the Netherlands came to be governed predominantly by natural law, rather than by men or by customary law.
Society ran itself smoothly. This showed that natural law was complete and logically consistent. Of course since natural law is external and objective it has to be complete and consistent, but our understanding of natural law is necessarily incomplete and imperfect, so our understanding of it might have been dangerously incomplete, inconsistent, or plain wrong. The experience of the Dutch strongly supports the belief that our understanding of natural law, the medieval theory of natural law as interpreted by medieval lawyers, is fairly close to the truth. If natural law was just something that somebody made up out of their heads, it would not have worked. Internal inconsistencies would have lead to conflicts that could not be resolved within natural law, requiring the man on horseback to apply fiat law or customary law to resolve them. Incompleteness would have lead to unacceptable lawless behavior. None of this happened, powerful evidence that natural law is not just something invented, but something external and objective that we are able to perceive, like the tiger, like the law of gravity.
For a long time people advocated natural law merely because they thought that if people pretended to believe it, it would lead to less bloodshed and other desirable consequences, and no great effort had been applied to the assumptions and methods of natural law theory. Now people started to advocate natural law because they had convincing evidence that our understanding of it was true. Thus came the English enlightenment, John Locke and Adam Smith.
John Locke made a major advance to our understanding of natural law, by emphasizing the nature of man as a maker of things, and a property owning animal. This leads to a more extensive concept of natural rights than the previous discussions of natural law. From the right to self defense comes the right to the rule of law, but from the right to property comes a multitude of like rights, such as the right to privacy “An Englishman's home is his castle.” Further, Locke repeatedly, in ringing words, reminded us that a ruler is legitimate so far as he upholds the law.
A ruler that violates natural law is illegitimate. He has no right to be obeyed, his commands are mere force and coercion. Rulers who act lawlessly, whose laws are unlawful, are mere criminals, and should be dealt with in accordance with natural law, as applied in a state of nature, in other words they and their servants should be killed as the opportunity presents, like the dangerous animals that they are, the common enemies of all mankind.
John Locke's writings were a call to arms, an assertion of the right and duty to forcibly and violently remove illegitimate rulers and their servants.
This provided the moral and legal basis for many great revolutions, and many governments. After the American revolution the North Americans were governed more or less in accordance with natural law for one hundred and thirty years.
John Locke was writing for an audience that mostly understood what natural law was, even those who disputed the existence and force of natural law knew what he was talking about, and they made valid and relevant criticisms. In the nineteenth century people started to forget what natural law was, and today he is often criticized on grounds that are irrelevant, foolish, and absurd.
Today many people imagine that natural law is a code of words, like the code of Hammurabi, or the twelve tables, written down somewhere, on the wall of an ancient Greek temple, or some medieval vellum manuscript, perhaps revealed by God or some divinely illuminated prophet. Then when they find that no such words exist, no such prophets are recorded, they say there is no such thing as natural law, because no one wrote down what it was.
Natural law is a method, not a code. One does not reason from words but from facts. The nearest thing to a written code of natural law is the vast body of natural law precedent. But a precedent only applies to similar cases, and is thus rooted in the particular time and circumstances of the particular case, whereas natural law is universal, applying to all free men at all times and all places.
In the middle ages the Medieval scholars defined natural law in a deliberately circular fashion. There was “Ius Divinum”, “Ius Commune”, and “Ius Naturale”. “Ius Divinum” means, more or less, the divinely revealed will of God. “Ius Commune” means, more or less, the long established customary law of nations, peoples, and states that are generally regarded as reasonably civilized.
Note that “Ius Naturale” does not derive from the customs of civilized peoples. Instead it provides with a ground on which to judge which peoples are civilized. It does not derive from the divinely revealed will of God. It provides us with a ground to judge the plausibility of claims of divine revelation concerning the will of God.
“Ius Naturale” is the law applicable to men in a state of nature. It precedes religions and kings both in time and in authority. “Ius Naturale” does not derive directly from the will of God. As Hugo Grotius pointed out in the early seventeenth century, even if there was no God, or if God was unreasonable or evil, natural law would still have moral force, and men would still spontaneously back it with physical force. God could not create men as they are, and at the same time make natural law other than what it is. A God that claimed to do that would be a mere tyrant, unworthy of worship.
Natural law derives from the method and approach then called natural philosophy. For thousands of years advocates of natural law would start with what is now the standard rationale for sociobiology, by pointing out how the wolf and the deer each have natures and inclinations appropriate for the kind of life they needed to live and to take proper care of their offspring. Today, in the language used by modern sociobiologists natural law is the ESS (Evolutionary Stable Strategy) for the use of force, employed by our species and by like species, applied by us by means of reason to problems and circumstances that confront us today. In older language, it comes from the tree of knowledge, which made us as gods.
Although natural law is an integral part of Christianity, at least of the Christianity of Thomas and Locke, Christianity is not an integral part of natural law. If you went through Locke's second treatise of Civil Government and substituted the phrase “chance and necessity” for the phrases “divine providence” and “judgment of heaven”, there would not be any great change in the meaning or force of his argument.
Many of the key themes of modern sociobiology first appeared in Locke's treatises on government, for example Second Treatise §79-81, First Treatise §56-57. Some parts of the second treatise are often consciously or unconsciously echoed on Public Broadcasting System nature and science videos whenever they discuss the family lives and social interactions of non human animals.
Locke and the other Christian advocates of natural law believe that natural law is in accordance with the will of God not because they claim a divine revelation concerning the will of God, but because they believe that the nature of man and the world reflects the will of God.
The stoics and Grotius believed in a universe governed by chance and necessity, with a God that created things, but refrained from subsequent interference. Thomas and Locke believed in a universe that reflects the continuing will of God. It makes little difference. The stoics and Saint Thomas Aquinas started from the same facts and came to the same conclusions from those facts. They merely used slightly different language to describe their reasoning.
Throughout most of our evolution, men have been in a state of nature, that is to say. without government, hierarchically organized religion, or an orderly and widely accepted means of resolving disputes. For the past four or five million years the capacity to discern evil lurking in the hearts of men has been an even more crucial survival capability than the capacity to discern tigers lurking in shadows.
The primary purpose of this capability was to guide us in who we should associate with, (so as to avoid having our throats cut in our sleep), who we should make alliance with (to avoid betrayal), who we should trade with, (to avoid being cheated), who we should avoid, who we should drive away, and who, to make ourselves safe, we should kill.
It would frequently happen that one man would, for some reason good or bad, use violence against another. When this happened those knowing of this event needed to decide whether it indicated that the person using force was brave and honorable, hence a potentially valuable ally, or foolish and eager for trouble, hence someone to be avoided, or a dangerous criminal, hence someone to be driven out or eliminated at the first safe opportunity to do so. Such decisions had to be made from time to time, and making them wrongly could be fatal, and often was fatal.
A secondary purpose of this capability was to guide us in our own conduct, to so conduct ourselves that others would be willing to associate with us, ally with us, do deals with us, and would refrain from driving us away or killing us.
Not all things that are evil, or contrary to nature, are violations of natural law. Violations of natural law are those evils that may rightly be opposed by force, by individual unorganized violence.
The Medievals took for granted that natural law was morally and legally binding on freeholder, Emperor and Pope alike, and during the dark ages and for a little time after, men often attempted to enforce natural law against the Holy Roman Emperor, and these attempts were sometimes successful. On one occasion the Holy Roman Emperor was briefly imprisoned for debt by an ordinary butcher, locked up with the beef and mutton, and held by the butcher until the bill was paid, and this action was mostly accepted as lawful and proper, though such actions were safer against some emperors than others.
The definition of natural law that I have just given is similar to that used in the middle ages, but this definition is not obviously scientific. It fails to show that natural law is legitimately part of science. To show that the study of natural law is part of science - part of sociobiology, it is necessary to restate the definition in the same value free, game theoretic, terminology that Reeve & Nonacs would use to describe the social contract in wasps.
Here follows a definition of natural law in properly scientific terms, value free terms:
An act is a violation of natural law if, were a man to commit such an act in a state of nature, (that is to say, in the absence of an orderly and widely accepted method of resolving disputes), a second man, knowing the facts and being a reasonable man, would reasonably conclude that the first man constituted a threat or danger to the second man, his family, or his property, and if a third man, knowing the facts and being a reasonable man, were to observe the second man getting rid of the first man, the third man would not reasonably conclude that the second man constituted a threat or danger to third man, his family, or his property.
Note that in order to define natural law in a value neutral fashion we require three people, not two.
This is well illustrated in the recent events in Dade county, Florida (September - October 1992, three months before I wrote this), where property holders gave other property holders guns in the well founded expectation that those guns would be used to prevent, rather than to facilitate, unlawful transfers of property. To define natural law in Dade county you would need one looter or one corrupt official, and two home owners. In value free language, one Dade county home owner and one corrupt official is a property dispute. Two Dade county home owners and one corrupt official is natural law in action. Two Dade county home owners with nobody bothering them is spontaneous order, and of course part of the definition of spontaneous order is that it is a stable order that arises spontaneously from the action of natural law.
The scientific definition is equivalent to the medieval definition because of the nature of man and the nature of the world. The two definitions are equivalent for our kind of animal, because if someone uses violence properly, and reasonably, he does not show himself to be dangerous to a reasonable man, but if someone uses violence improperly, he shows himself to be a danger. This is obvious by direct intuition, and there is also overwhelming historical evidence for this fact. For example compare the American revolution with the Russian or Cambodian revolution. The surviving American revolutionaries prospered. The communist revolutionaries were soon executed by their new masters. Almost everyone who played a significant role in the 1917 revolution was executed or died from brutal mistreatment.
The varying definitions of natural law are clearly consistent on the issue of individual violence. On the topic of collective violence, the questions of what are just grounds for making war, how may a just war be conducted, and what may a just victor do with an unjust loser, the various definitions of natural law often seem cloudy and contradictory. There are two reasons for this apparent cloudiness. One is that there is no natural definition of a collective entity, so it all depends on what gives the collective entity its substance and cohesion, how the individual is a participant in the acts of the collective entity. The Nuremberg trials contain extensive discussions of this point. The other reason is that there is a large difference between what the victor should do and what the victor may lawfully do. The victor should be magnanimous and lenient, as at Nuremberg, but may lawfully be strict and harsh. On the questions that most commonly arise in practice, all the different definitions of natural law give clear, consistent and straightforward answers: The usual reason for war is that one group defines another group as enemy, and then uses organized collective violence to seize the property of the members of that group, and to enslave or kill them. In such case it is open season on the aggressor because they constitute a clear danger to their neighbors. In a just war it lawful to napalm bomb enemy civilians in a defended city, though not to intentionally target enemy civilians, unlawful to bombard an open city, and unlawful to massacre prisoners under any circumstances, though individual prisoners may be executed for broad reasons. It is sometimes lawful to refuse to take prisoners, depending on the circumstances. The contradictions usually evaporate when we ask the questions that we are actually interested in, about the kind of situations that actually occur in practice. Arguments about whether a given military action was in accordance with the laws of war usually involve appeal to the facts, and arguments about the intentions and capabilities of the combatants, rather than appeal to differing concepts of the laws of war, indicating that our uncertainty concerning the laws of war is less than other sources of uncertainty.
When we apply the value free theory of iterated non zero sum two player games to the value free theory of evolution we get such value loaded concepts as trust, honor, and vengeance (Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby). In the same way, when we apply the value free theory of iterated three player non zero sum games we get such value loaded concepts as natural law.
Natural law theory is a valid part of science, because any n person natural law statement about values can be expressed as an explicitly scientific, value free statement about rational self interest, evolution, and n + 1 player game theory. It is also a valid part of the study of law and economics
In many fields of academia, straying in the direction of consideration natural law is apt to make your grants dry up, perhaps natural law theory tends to delegitimize most grant giving authorities.
Those academics who study sociobiology have been a little braver, perhaps because those who work in the hard sciences are sometimes better at looking after their own, or, as in the case of E.O. Wilson, they simply did not realize they were poking a hornets nest. Also hard science people sometimes seem to be tougher, more obstinate, stubborn, and intransigent than fuzzies.

Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual.

On Liberty - John Stuart Mill

Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the

What, then, is the rightful limit to the sovereignty of the individual over
himself? Where does the authority of society begin? How much of hu-
man life should be assigned to individuality, and how much to society?
Each will receive its proper share, if each has that which more par-
ticularly concerns it. To individuality should belong the part of life in
which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to society, the part
which chiefly interests society.
Though society is not founded on a contract, and though no good
purpose is answered by inventing a contract in order to deduce social
obligations from it, every one who receives the protection of society
owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society renders it
indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of
conduct towards the rest. This conduct consists, first, in not injuring the
interests of one another; or rather certain interests, which, either by
express legal provision or by tacit understanding, ought to be consid-
ered as rights; and secondly, in each person’s bearing his share (to be
fixed on some equitable principle) of the labours and sacrifices incurred
for defending the society or its members from injury and molestation.
These conditions society is justified in enforcing, at all costs to those
who endeavour to withhold fulfilment. Nor is this all that society may
do. The acts of an individual may be hurtful to others, or wanting in due
consideration for their welfare, without going to the length of violating
any of their constituted rights. The offender may then be justly punished
by opinion, though not by law. As soon as any part of a person’s con-
duct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction
over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be
promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion. But there
is no room for entertaining any such question when a person’s conduct
affects the interests of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect
them unless they like (all the persons concerned being of full age, and
the ordinary amount of understanding). In all such cases, there should
be perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and stand the con-
It would be a great misunderstanding of this doctrine to suppose
that it is one of selfish indifference, which pretends that human beings
have no business with each other’s conduct in life, and that they should
not concern themselves about the well-doing or well-being of one an-
other, unless their own interest is involved. Instead of any diminution,
there is need of a great increase of disinterested exertion to promote the
good of others. But disinterested benevolence can find other instruments
to persuade people to their good than whips and scourges, either of the
literal or the metaphorical sort. I am the last person to undervalue the
self-regarding virtues; they are only second in importance, if even sec-
ond, to the social. It is equally the business of education to cultivate
both. But even education works by conviction and persuasion as well as
by compulsion, and it is by the former only that, when the period of
education is passed, the self-regarding virtues should be inculcated.
Human beings owe to each other help to distinguish the better from the
worse, and encouragement to choose the former and avoid the latter.
They should be for ever stimulating each other to increased exercise of
their higher faculties, and increased direction of their feelings and aims
towards wise instead of foolish, elevating instead of degrading, objects
and contemplations. But neither one person, nor any number of persons,
is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he
shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with
it. He is the person most interested in his own well-being: the interest
which any other person, except in cases of strong personal attachment,
can have in it, is trifling, compared with that which he himself has; the
interest which society has in him individually (except as to his conduct
to others) is fractional, and altogether indirect; while with respect to his
own feelings and circumstances, the most ordinary man or woman has
means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be pos-
sessed by any one else. The interference of society to overrule his judg-
ment and purposes in what only regards himself must be grounded on
general presumptions; which may be altogether wrong, and even if right,
are as likely as not to be misapplied to individual cases, by persons no
better acquainted with the circumstances of such cases than those are
who look at them merely from without. In this department, therefore, of
On Liberty/71
human affairs, Individuality has its proper field of action. In the con-
duct of human beings towards one another it is necessary that general
rules should for the most part be observed, in order that people may
know what they have to expect: but in each person’s own concerns his
individual spontaneity is entitled to free exercise. Considerations to aid
his judgment, exhortations to strengthen his will, may be offered to him,
even obtruded on him, by others: but he himself is the final judge. All
errors which he is likely to commit against advice and warning are far
outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they
deem his good.
I do not mean that the feelings with which a person is regarded by
others ought not to be in any way affected by his self-regarding qualities
or deficiencies. This is neither possible nor desirable. If he is eminent in
any of the qualities which conduce to his own good, he is, so far, a
proper object of admiration. He is so much the nearer to the ideal per-
fection of human nature. If he is grossly deficient in those qualities, a
sentiment the opposite of admiration will follow. There is a degree of
folly, and a degree of what may be called (though the phrase is not
unobjectionable) lowness or depravation of taste, which, though it can-
not justify doing harm to the person who manifests it, renders him nec-
essarily and properly a subject of distaste, or, in extreme cases, even of
contempt: a person could not have the opposite qualities in due strength
without entertaining these feelings. Though doing no wrong to any one,
a person may so act as to compel us to judge him, and feel to him, as a
fool, or as a being of an inferior order: and since this judgment and
feeling are a fact which he would prefer to avoid, it is doing him a
service to warn him of it beforehand, as of any other disagreeable con-
sequence to which he exposes himself. It would be well, indeed, if this
good office were much more freely rendered than the common notions
of politeness at present permit, and if one person could honestly point
out to another that he thinks him in fault, without being considered un-
mannerly or presuming. We have a right, also, in various ways, to act
upon our unfavourable opinion of any one, not to the oppression of his
individuality, but in the exercise of ours. We are not bound, for ex-
ample, to seek his society; we have a right to avoid it (though not to
parade the avoidance), for we have a right to choose the society most
acceptable to us. We have a right, and it may be our duty, to caution
others against him, if we think his example or conversation likely to
have a pernicious effect on those with whom he associates. We may give
others a preference over him in optional good offices, except those which
tend to his improvement. In these various modes a person may suffer
very severe penalties at the hands of others for faults which directly
concern only himself; but he suffers these penalties only in so far as they
are the natural and, as it were, the spontaneous consequences of the
faults themselves, not because they are purposely inflicted on him for
the sake of punishment. A person who shows rashness, obstinacy, self-
conceit—who cannot live within moderate means—who cannot restrain
himself from hurtful indulgences—who pursues animal pleasures at the
expense of those of feeling and intellect—must expect to be lowered in
the opinion of others, and to have a less share of their favourable senti-
ments; but of this he has no right to complain, unless he has merited
their favour by special excellence in his social relations, and has thus
established a title to their good offices, which is not affected by his
demerits towards himself.
What I contend for is, that the inconveniences which are strictly
inseparable from the unfavourable judgment of others, are the only ones
to which a person should ever be subjected for that portion of his con-
duct and character which concerns his own good, but which does not
affect the interest of others in their relations with him. Acts injurious to
others require a totally different treatment. Encroachment on their rights;
infliction on them of any loss or damage not justified by his own rights;
falsehood or duplicity in dealing with them; unfair or ungenerous use of
advantages over them; even selfish abstinence from defending them
against injury—these are fit objects of moral reprobation, and, in grave
cases, of moral retribution and punishment. And not only these acts, but
the dispositions which lead to them, are properly immoral, and fit sub-
jects of disapprobation which may rise to abhorrence. Cruelty of dispo-
sition; malice and ill-nature; that most anti-social and odious of all pas-
sions, envy; dissimulation and insincerity, irascibility on insufficient
cause, and resentment disproportioned to the provocation; the love of
domineering over others; the desire to engross more than one’s share of
advantages (the pleonexia of the Greeks); the pride which derives grati-
fication from the abasement of others; the egotism which thinks self and
its concerns more important than everything else, and decides all doubt-
ful questions in its own favour;—these are moral vices, and constitute a
bad and odious moral character: unlike the self-regarding faults previ-
ously mentioned, which are not properly immoralities, and to whatever
pitch they may be carried, do not constitute wickedness. They may be
proofs of any amount of folly, or want of personal dignity and self-
respect; but they are only a subject of moral reprobation when they
involve a breach of duty to others, for whose sake the individual is
bound to have care for himself. What are called duties to ourselves are
not socially obligatory, unless circumstances render them at the same
time duties to others. The term duty to oneself, when it means anything
more than prudence, means self-respect or self-development, and for
none of these is any one accountable to his fellow creatures, because for
none of them is it for the good of mankind that he be held accountable to
The distinction between the loss of consideration which a person
may rightly incur by defect of prudence or of personal dignity, and the
reprobation which is due to him for an offence against the rights of
others, is not a merely nominal distinction. It makes a vast difference
both in our feelings and in our conduct towards him whether he dis-
pleases us in things in which we think we have a right to control him, or
in things in which we know that we have not. If he displeases us, we
may express our distaste, and we may stand aloof from a person as well
as from a thing that displeases us; but we shall not therefore feel called
on to make his life uncomfortable. We shall reflect that he already bears,
or will bear, the whole penalty of his error; if he spoils his life by mis-
management, we shall not, for that reason, desire to spoil it still further:
instead of wishing to punish him, we shall rather endeavour to alleviate
his punishment, by showing him how he may avoid or cure the evils his
conduct tends to bring upon him. He may be to us an object of pity,
perhaps of dislike, but not of anger or resentment; we shall not treat him
like an enemy of society: the worst we shall think ourselves justified in
doing is leaving him to himself, if we do not interfere benevolently by
showing interest or concern for him. It is far otherwise if he has in-
fringed the rules necessary for the protection of his fellow creatures,
individually or collectively. The evil consequences of his acts do not
then fall on himself, but on others; and society, as the protector of all its
members, must retaliate on him; must inflict pain on him for the express
purpose of punishment, and must take care that it be sufficiently severe.
In the one case, he is an offender at our bar, and we are called on not
only to sit in judgment on him, but, in one shape or another, to execute
our own sentence: in the other case, it is not our part to inflict any
suffering on him, except what may incidentally follow from our using
the same liberty in the regulation of our own affairs, which we allow to
him in his.
The distinction here pointed out between the part of a person’s life
which concerns only himself, and that which concerns others, many
persons will refuse to admit. How (it may be asked) can any part of the
conduct of a member of society be a matter of indifference to the other
members? No person is an entirely isolated being; it is impossible for a
person to do anything seriously or permanently hurtful to himself, with-
out mischief reaching at least to his near connections, and often far
beyond them. If he injures his property, he does harm to those who
directly or indirectly derived support from it, and usually diminishes, by
a greater or less amount, the general resource; of the community. If he
deteriorates his bodily or mental faculties, he not only brings evil upon
all who depended on him for any portion of their happiness, but dis-
qualifies himself for rendering the services which he owes to his fellow
creatures generally; perhaps becomes a burthen on their affection or
benevolence; and if such conduct were very frequent, hardly any of-
fence that is committed would detract more from the general sum of
good. Finally, if by his vices or follies a person does no direct harm to
others, he is nevertheless (it may be said) injurious by his example; and
ought to be compelled to control himself, for the sake of those whom the
sight or knowledge of his conduct might corrupt or mislead.
And even (it will be added) if the consequences of misconduct could
be confined to the vicious or thoughtless individual, ought society to
abandon to their own guidance those who are manifestly unfit for it? If
protection against themselves is confessedly due to children and persons
under age, is not society equally bound to afford it to persons of mature
years who are equally incapable of self-government? If gambling, or
drunkenness, or incontinence, or idleness, or uncleanliness, are as inju-
rious to happiness, and as great a hindrance to improvement, as many
or most of the acts prohibited by law, why (it may be asked) should not
law, so far as is consistent with practicability and social convenience,
endeavour to repress these also? And as a supplement to the unavoid-
able imperfections of law, ought not opinion at least to organise a pow-
erful police against these vices, and visit rigidly with social penalties
those who are known to practise them? There is no question here (it may
be said) about restricting individuality, or impeding the trial of new and
original experiments in living. The only things it is sought to prevent are
things which have been tried and condemned from the beginning of the
world until now; things which experience has shown not to be useful or
suitable to any person’s individuality. There must be some length of
time and amount of experience after which a moral or prudential truth
may be regarded as established: and it is merely desired to prevent gen-
eration after generation from falling over the same precipice which has
been fatal to their predecessors.
I fully admit that the mischief which a person does to himself may
seriously affect, both through their sympathies and their interests, those
nearly connected with him and, in a minor degree, society at large. When,
by conduct of this sort, a person is led to violate a distinct and assign-
able obligation to any other person or persons, the case is taken out of
the self-regarding class, and becomes amenable to moral disapproba-
tion in the proper sense of the term. If, for example, a man, through
intemperance or extravagance, becomes unable to pay his debts, or,
having undertaken the moral responsibility of a family, becomes from
the same cause incapable of supporting or educating them, he is deserv-
edly reprobated, and might be justly punished; but it is for the breach of
duty to his family or creditors, not for the extravagance. If the resources
which ought to have been devoted to them, had been diverted from them
for the most prudent investment, the moral culpability would have been
the same. George Barnwell murdered his uncle to get money for his
mistress, but if he had done it to set himself up in business, he would
equally have been hanged. Again, in the frequent case of a man who
causes grief to his family by addiction to bad habits, he deserves re-
proach for his unkindness or ingratitude; but so he may for cultivating
habits not in themselves vicious, if they are painful to those with whom
he passes his life, who from personal ties are dependent on him for their
comfort. Whoever fails in the consideration generally due to the inter-
ests and feelings of others, not being compelled by some more impera-
tive duty, or justified by allowable self-preference, is a subject of moral
disapprobation for that failure, but not for the cause of it, nor for the
errors, merely personal to himself, which may have remotely led to it. In
like manner, when a person disables himself, by conduct purely self-
regarding, from the performance of some definite duty incumbent on
him to the public, he is guilty of a social offence. No person ought to be
punished simply for being drunk; but a soldier or a policeman should be
punished for being drunk on duty. Whenever, in short, there is a definite
damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the
public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that
of morality or law.
But with regard to the merely contingent, or, as it may be called,
constructive injury which a person causes to society, by conduct which
neither violates any specific duty to the public, nor occasions percep-
tible hurt to any assignable individual except himself; the inconvenience
is one which society can afford to bear, for the sake of the greater good
of human freedom. If grown persons are to be punished for not taking
proper care of themselves, I would rather it were for their own sake,
than under pretence of preventing them from impairing their capacity or
rendering to society benefits which society does not pretend it has a
right to exact. But I cannot consent to argue the point as if society had
no means of bringing its weaker members up to its ordinary standard of
rational conduct, except waiting till they do something irrational, and
then punishing them, legally or morally, for it. Society has had absolute
power over them during all the early portion of their existence: it has
had the whole period of childhood and nonage in which to try whether it
could make them capable of rational conduct in life. The existing gen-
eration is master both of the training and the entire circumstances of the
generation to come; it cannot indeed make them perfectly wise and good,
because it is itself so lamentably deficient in goodness and wisdom; and
its best efforts are not always, in individual cases, its most successful
ones; but it is perfectly well able to make the rising generation, as a
whole, as good as, and a little better than, itself. If society lets any
considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable
of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society
has itself to blame for the consequences. Armed not only with all the
powers of education, but with the ascendency which the authority of a
received opinion always exercises over the minds who are least fitted to
judge for themselves; and aided by the natural penalties which cannot
be prevented from falling on those who incur the distaste or the con-
tempt of those who know them; let not society pretend that it needs,
besides all this, the power to issue commands and enforce obedience in
the personal concerns of individuals, in which, on all principles of jus-
tice and policy, the decision ought to rest with those who are to abide the
Nor is there anything which tends more to discredit and frustrate
the better means of influencing conduct than a resort to the worse. If
there be among those whom it is attempted to coerce into prudence or
temperance any of the material of which vigorous and independent char-
acters are made, they will infallibly rebel against the yoke. No such
person will ever feel that others have a right to control him in his con-
cerns, such as they have to prevent him from injuring them in theirs; and
it easily comes to be considered a mark of spirit and courage to fly in the
face of such usurped authority, and do with ostentation the exact oppo-
site of what it enjoins; as in the fashion of grossness which succeeded, in
the time of Charles II., to the fanatical moral intolerance of the Puritans.
With respect to what is said of the necessity of protecting society from
the bad example set to others by the vicious or the self-indulgent; it is
true that bad example may have a pernicious effect, especially the ex-
ample of doing wrong to others with impunity to the wrong-doer. But
we are now speaking of conduct which, while it does no wrong to oth-
ers, is supposed to do great harm to the agent himself: and I do not see
how those who believe this can think otherwise than that the example,
on the whole, must be more salutary than hurtful, since, if it displays the
misconduct, it displays also the painful or degrading consequences which,
if the conduct is justly censured, must be supposed to be in all or most
cases attendant on it.
But the strongest of all the arguments against the interference of the
public with purely personal conduct is that, when it does interfere, the
odds are that it interferes wrongly, and in the wrong place. On questions
of social morality, of duty to others, the opinion of the public, that is, of
an overruling majority, though of wrong, is likely to be still oftener
right; because on such questions they are only required to judge of their
own interests; of the manner in which some mode of conduct, if allowed
to be practised, would effect themselves. But the opinion of a similar
majority, imposed as a law on the minority, on questions of self-regard-
ing conduct, is quite as likely to be wrong as right; for in these cases
public opinion means, at the best, some people’s opinion of what is good
or bad for other people; while very of it does not even mean that; the
public, with the most perfect indifference, passing over the pleasure or
convenience of those whose conduct they censure, and considering only
their own preference. There are many who consider as an injury to them-
selves any conduct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an
outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot, when charged with disre-
garding the religious feelings of others, has been known to retort that
they disregard his feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or
creed. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own
opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no
more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of
the right owner to keep it. And a person’s taste is as much his own
peculiar concern as his opinion or his purse. It is easy for any one to
imagine an ideal public which leaves the freedom and choice of indi-
viduals in all uncertain matters undisturbed, and only requires them to
abstain from modes of conduct which universal experience has con-
demned. But where has there been seen a public which set any such limit
to its censorship? or when does the public trouble itself about universal
experience? In its interferences with personal conduct it is seldom think-
ing of anything but the enormity of acting or feeling differently from
itself; and this standard of judgment, thinly disguised, is held up to man-
kind as the dictate of religion and philosophy, by nine-tenths of all mor-
alists and speculative writers. These teach that things are right because
they are right; because we feel them to be so. They tell us to search in
our own minds and hearts for laws of conduct binding on ourselves and
on all others. What can the poor public do but apply these instructions,
and make their own personal feelings of good and evil, if they are toler-
ably unanimous in them, obligatory on all the world?
The evil here pointed out is not one which exists only in theory; and
it may perhaps be expected that I should specify the instances in which
the public of this age and country improperly invests its own prefer-
ences with the character of moral laws. I am not writing an essay on the
aberrations of existing moral feeling. That is too weighty a subject to be
discussed parenthetically, and by way of illustration. Yet examples are
necessary to show that the principle I maintain is of serious and practi-
cal moment, and that I am not endeavouring to erect a barrier against
imaginary evils. And it is not difficult to show, by abundant instances,
that to extend the bounds of what may be called moral police, until it
encroaches on the most unquestionably legitimate liberty of the indi-
vidual, is one of the most universal of all human propensities.
As a first instance, consider the antipathies which men cherish on
no better grounds than that persons whose religious opinions are differ-
ent from theirs do not practise their religious observances, especially
their religious abstinences. To cite a rather trivial example, nothing in
the creed or practice of Christians does more to envenom the hatred of
Mahomedans against them than the fact of their eating pork. There are
few acts which Christians and Europeans regard with more unaffected
disgust than Mussulmans regard this particular mode of satisfying hun-
ger. It is, in the first place, an offence against their religion; but this
circumstance by no means explains either the degree or the kind of their
repugnance; for wine also is forbidden by their religion, and to partake
of it is by all Mussulmans accounted wrong, but not disgusting. Their
aversion to the flesh of the “unclean beast” is, on the contrary, of that
peculiar character, resembling an instinctive antipathy, which the idea
of uncleanness, when once it thoroughly sinks into the feelings, seems
always to excite even in those whose personal habits are anything but
scrupulously cleanly, and of which the sentiment of religious impurity,
so intense in the Hindoos, is a remarkable example. Suppose now that in
a people, of whom the majority were Mussulmans, that majority should
insist upon not permitting pork to be eaten within the limits of the coun-
try. This would be nothing new in Mahomedan countries.9 Would it be a
legitimate exercise of the moral authority of public opinion? and if not,
why not? The practice is really revolting to such a public. They also
sincerely think that it is forbidden and abhorred by the Deity. Neither
could the prohibition be censured as religious persecution. It might be
religious in its origin, but it would not be persecution for religion, since
nobody’s religion makes it a duty to eat pork. The only tenable ground
of condemnation would be that with the personal tastes and self-regard-
ing concerns of individuals the public has no business to interfere.
To come somewhat nearer home: the majority of Spaniards con-
sider it a gross impiety, offensive in the highest degree to the Supreme
Being, to worship him in any other manner than the Roman Catholic;
and no other public worship is lawful on Spanish soil. The people of all
Southern Europe look upon a married clergy as not only irreligious, but
unchaste, indecent, gross, disgusting. What do Protestants think of these
perfectly sincere feelings, and of the attempt to enforce them against
non-Catholics? Yet, if mankind are justified in interfering with each
other’s liberty in things which do not concern the interests of others, on
what principle is it possible consistently to exclude these cases? or who
can blame people for desiring to suppress what they regard as a scandal
in the sight of God and man? No stronger case can be shown for prohib-
iting anything which is regarded as a personal immorality, than is made
out for suppressing these practices in the eyes of those who regard them
as impieties; and unless we are willing to adopt the logic of persecutors,
and to say that we may persecute others because we are right, and that
they must not persecute us because they are wrong, we must beware of
admitting a principle of which we should resent as a gross injustice the
application to ourselves.
The preceding instances may be objected to, although unreasonably,
as drawn from contingencies impossible among us: opinion, in this
country, not being likely to enforce abstinence from meats, or to inter-
fere with people for worshipping, and for either marrying or not marry-
ing, according to their creed or inclination. The next example, however,
shall be taken from an interference with liberty which we have by no
means passed all danger of. Wherever the Puritans have been suffi-
ciently powerful, as in New England, and in Great Britain at the time of
the Commonwealth, they have endeavoured, with considerable success,
to put down all public, and nearly all private, amusements: especially
music, dancing, public games, or other assemblages for purposes of
diversion, and the theatre. There are still in this country large bodies of
persons by whose notions of morality and religion these recreations are
condemned; and those persons belonging chiefly to the middle class,
who are the ascendant power in the present social and political condi-
tion of the kingdom, it is by no means impossible that persons of these
sentiments may at some time or other command a majority in Parlia-
ment. How will the remaining portion of the community like to have the
amusements that shall be permitted to them regulated by the religious
and moral sentiments of the stricter Calvinists and Methodists? Would
they not, with considerable peremptoriness, desire these intrusively pi-
ous members of society to mind their own business? This is precisely
what should be said to every government and every public, who have
the pretension that no person shall enjoy any pleasure which they think
wrong. But if the principle of the pretension be admitted, no one can
reasonably object to its being acted on in the sense of the majority, or
other preponderating power in the country; and all persons must be ready
to conform to the idea of a Christian commonwealth, as understood by
the early settlers in New England, if a religious profession similar to
theirs should ever succeed in regaining its lost ground, as religions sup-
posed to be declining have so often been known to do.
To imagine another contingency, perhaps more likely to be realised
than the one last mentioned. There is confessedly a strong tendency in
the modern world towards a democratic constitution of society, accom-
panied or not by popular political institutions. It is affirmed that in the
country where this tendency is most completely realised- where both
society and the government are most democratic—the United States—
the feeling of the majority, to whom any appearance of a more showy or
costly style of living than they can hope to rival is disagreeable, oper-
ates as a tolerably effectual sumptuary law, and that in many parts of
the Union it is really difficult for a person possessing a very large in-
come to find any mode of spending it which will not incur popular dis-
approbation. Though such statements as these are doubtless much ex-
aggerated as a representation of existing facts, the state of things they
describe is not only a conceivable and possible, but a probable result of
democratic feeling, combined with the notion that the public has a right
to a veto on the manner in which individuals shall spend their incomes.
We have only further to suppose a considerable diffusion of Socialist
opinions, and it may become infamous in the eyes of the majority to
possess more property than some very small amount, or any income not
earned by manual labour. Opinions similar in principle to these already
prevail widely among the artisan class, and weigh oppressively on those
who are amenable to the opinion chiefly of that class, namely, its own
members. It is known that the bad workmen who form the majority of
the operatives in many branches of industry, are decidedly of opinion
that bad workmen ought to receive the same wages as good, and that no
one ought to be allowed, through piecework or otherwise, to earn by
superior skill or industry more than others can without it. And they
employ a moral police, which occasionally becomes a physical one, to
deter skilful workmen from receiving, and employers from giving, a
larger remuneration for a more useful service. If the public have any
jurisdiction over private concerns, I cannot see that these people are in
fault, or that any individual’s particular public can be blamed for as-
serting the same authority over his individual conduct which the general
public asserts over people in general.
But, without dwelling upon supposititious cases, there are, in our
own day, gross usurpations upon the liberty of private life actually prac-
tised, and still greater ones threatened with some expectation of success,
and opinions propounded which assert an unlimited right in the public
not only to prohibit by law everything which it thinks wrong, but, in
order to get at what it thinks wrong, to prohibit a number of things
which it admits to be innocent.
Under the name of preventing intemperance, the people of one En-
glish colony, and of nearly half the United States, have been interdicted
by law from making any use whatever of fermented drinks, except for
medical purposes: for prohibition of their sale is in fact, as it is intended
to be, prohibition of their use. And though the impracticability of ex-
ecuting the law has caused its repeal in several of the States which had
adopted it, including the one from which it derives its name, an attempt
has notwithstanding been commenced, and is prosecuted with consider-
able zeal by many of the professed philanthropists, to agitate for a similar
law in this country. The association, or “Alliance” as it terms itself,
which has been formed for this purpose, has acquired some notoriety
through the publicity given to a correspondence between its secretary
and one of the very few English public men who hold that a politician’s
opinions ought to be founded on principles. Lord Stanley’s share in this
correspondence is calculated to strengthen the hopes already built on
him, by those who know how rare such qualities as are manifested in
some of his public appearances unhappily are among those who figure
in political life. The organ of the Alliance, who would “deeply deplore
the recognition of any principle which could be wrested to justify bigotry
and persecution,” undertakes to point out the “broad and impassable
barrier” which divides such principles from those of the association.
“All matters relating to thought, opinion, conscience, appear to
me,” he says, “to be without the sphere of legislation; all pertaining to
social act, habit, relation, subject only to a discretionary power vested
in the State itself, and not in the individual, to be within it.”
No mention is made of a third class, different from either of these,
viz., acts and habits which are not social, but individual; although it is
to this class, surely, that the act of drinking fermented liquors belongs.
Selling fermented liquors, however, is trading, and trading is a social
act. But the infringement complained of is not on the liberty of the seller,
but on that of the buyer and consumer; since the State might just as well
forbid him to drink wine as purposely make it impossible for him to
obtain it. The secretary, however, says, “I claim, as a citizen, a right to
legislate whenever my social rights are invaded by the social act of another.”
And now for the definition of these “social rights.” “If anything
invades my social rights, certainly the traffic in strong drink does. It
destroys my primary right of security, by constantly creating and stimulating
social disorder. It invades my right of equality, by deriving a profit
from the creation of a misery I am taxed to support. It impedes my right
to free moral and intellectual development, by surrounding my path with
dangers, and by weakening and demoralising society, from which I have
a right to claim mutual aid and intercourse.” A theory of “social rights”
the like of which probably never before found its way into distinct language:
being nothing short of this—that it is the absolute social right of
every individual, that every other individual shall act in every respect
exactly as he ought; that whosoever fails thereof in the smallest particular
violates my social right, and entitles me to demand from the legisla-
ture the removal of the grievance. So monstrous a principle is far more
dangerous than any single interference with liberty; there is no violation
of liberty which it would not justify; it acknowledges no right to any
freedom whatever, except perhaps to that of holding opinions in secret,
without ever disclosing them: for, the moment an opinion which I consider
noxious passes any one’s lips, it invades all the “social rights”
attributed to me by the Alliance. The doctrine ascribes to all mankind a
vested interest in each other’s moral, intellectual, and even physical perfection,
to be defined by each claimant according to his own standard.
Another important example of illegitimate interference with the right-
ful liberty of the individual, not simply threatened, but long since car-
ried into triumphant effect, is Sabbatarian legislation. Without doubt,
abstinence on one day in the week, so far as the exigencies of life permit,
from the usual daily occupation, though in no respect religiously bind-
ing on any except Jews, is a highly beneficial custom. And inasmuch as
this custom cannot be observed without a general consent to that effect
among the industrious classes, therefore, in so far as some persons by
working may impose the same necessity on others, it may be allowable
and right that the law should guarantee to each the observance by others
of the custom, by suspending the greater operations of industry on a
particular day. But this justification, grounded on the direct interest which
others have in each individual’s observance of the practice, does not
apply to the self-chosen occupations in which a person may think fit to
employ his leisure; nor does it hold good, in the smallest degree, for
legal restrictions on amusements. It is true that the amusement of some
is the day’s work of others; but the pleasure, not to say the useful recreation,
of many, is worth the labour of a few, provided the occupation is
freely chosen, and can be freely resigned. The operatives are perfectly
right in thinking that if all worked on Sunday, seven days’ work would
have to be given for six days’ wages; but so long as the great mass of
employments are suspended, the small number who for the enjoyment of
others must still work, obtain a proportional increase of earnings; and
they are not obliged to follow those occupations if they prefer leisure to
emolument. If a further remedy is sought, it might be found in the establishment
by custom of a holiday on some other day of the week for those
particular classes of persons. The only ground, therefore, on which restrictions
on Sunday amusements can be defended, must be that they are
religiously wrong; a motive of legislation which can never be too earnestly
protested against. Deorum injuriae Diis curae. It remains to be
proved that society or any of its officers holds a commission from on
high to avenge any supposed offence to Omnipotence, which is not also
a wrong to our fellow creatures. The notion that it is one man’s duty that
another should be religious, was the foundation of all the religious persecutions
ever perpetrated, and, if admitted, would fully justify them.
Though the feeling which breaks out in the repeated attempts to stop
railway travelling on Sunday, in the resistance to the opening of Museums,
and the like, has not the cruelty of the old persecutors, the state of
mind indicated by it is fundamentally the same. It is a determination not
to tolerate others in doing what is permitted by their religion, because it
is not permitted by the persecutor’s religion. It is a belief that God not
only abominates the act of the misbeliever, but will not hold us guiltless
if we leave him unmolested.
I cannot refrain from adding to these examples of the little account
commonly made of human liberty, the language of downright persecution
which breaks out from the press of this country whenever it feels
called on to notice the remarkable phenomenon of Mormonism. Much
might be said on the unexpected and instructive fact that an alleged new
revelation, and a religion founded on it, the product of palpable imposture,
not even supported by the prestige of extraordinary qualities in its
founder, is believed by hundreds of thousands, and has been made the
foundation of a society, in the age of newspapers, railways, and the
electric telegraph. What here concerns us is, that this religion, like other
and better religions, has its martyrs: that its prophet and founder was,
for his teaching, put to death by a mob; that others of its adherents lost
their lives by the same lawless violence; that they were forcibly expelled,
in a body, from the country in which they first grew up; while,
now that they have been chased into a solitary recess in the midst of a
desert, many in this country openly declare that it would be right (only
that it is not convenient) to send an expedition against them, and compel
them by force to conform to the opinions of other people. The article of
the Mormonite doctrine which is the chief provocative to the antipathy
which thus breaks through the ordinary restraints of religious tolerance,
is its sanction of polygamy; which, though permitted to Mahomedans,
and Hindoos, and Chinese, seems to excite unquenchable animosity when
practised by persons who speak English and profess to be a kind of
Christians. No one has a deeper disapprobation than I have of this Mormon
institution; both for other reasons, and because, far from being in
any way countenanced by the principle of liberty, it is a direct infraction
of that principle, being a mere riveting of the chains of one half of the
community, and an emancipation of the other from reciprocity of obligation
towards them. Still, it must be remembered that this relation is as
much voluntary on the part of the women concerned in it, and who may
be deemed the sufferers by it, as is the case with any other form of the
marriage institution; and however surprising this fact may appear, it
has its explanation in the common ideas and customs of the world, which
teaching women to think marriage the one thing needful, make it intelli-
gible that many woman should prefer being one of several wives, to not
being a wife at all. Other countries are not asked to recognise such
unions, or release any portion of their inhabitants from their own laws
on the score of Mormonite opinions. But when the dissentients have
conceded to the hostile sentiments of others far more than could justly
be demanded; when they have left the countries to which their doctrines
were unacceptable, and established themselves in a remote corner of the
earth, which they have been the first to render habitable to human beings;
it is difficult to see on what principles but those of tyranny they
can be prevented from living there under what laws they please, provided
they commit no aggression on other nations, and allow perfect
freedom of departure to those who are dissatisfied with their ways. A
recent writer, in some respects of considerable merit, proposes (to use
his own words) not a crusade, but a civilisade, against this polygamous
community, to put an end to what seems to him a retrograde step in
civilisation. It also appears so to me, but I am not aware that any com-
munity has a right to force another to be civilised. So long as the sufferers
by the bad law do not invoke assistance from other communities, I
cannot admit that persons entirely unconnected with them ought to step
in and require that a condition of things with which all who are directly
interested appear to be satisfied, should be put an end to because it is a
scandal to persons some thousands of miles distant, who have no part or
concern in it. Let them send missionaries, if they please, to preach against
it; and let them, by any fair means (of which silencing the teachers is not
one), oppose the progress of similar doctrines among their own people.
If civilisation has got the better of barbarism when barbarism had the
world to itself, it is too much to profess to be afraid lest barbarism, after
having been fairly got under, should revive and conquer civilisation. A
civilisation that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy, must first
have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed priests and teachers,
nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand
up for it. If this be so, the sooner such a civilisation receives notice to
quit the better. It can only go on from bad to worse, until destroyed and
regenerated (like the Western Empire) by energetic barbarians.