I was recently asked: “What are the foundations of a free society?”
Here is my brief answer:
The foundation of a free society is a reason-based philosophy of liberty. By applying the concepts of an objectively determined morality, using the individual’s life as the ultimate standard of value, we are able to understand the concept of individual rights. Every person has a right to his or her own life. A right is freedom to act, not freedom to have any object unearned. Moreover, a right is a freedom from coercion, not a positive obligation or a claim upon the life of another. The right to life is the fundamental right from which all other rights are derived.
Since individual effort is required to sustain life, a right to life necessitates individuals are free to voluntarily act based on their own judgment and choices and to keep and dispose of the products of their individual physical and mental labor. From this we are able to deduce the right to justly-acquired property and the right to engage in voluntary exchange.
The right to self-defense is a necessary corollary to the right to life and the right to property. Every person has the right to defend his or her life, liberty, and justly-earned property. Just as the individual has the right to defend his or her own life, people have the right to voluntarily organize in order to protect their rights. The objective use of force to protect individuals against the initiation of force by aggressors is the only role of any such ‘protective institution’ in a free society.
The rational means by which to determine if an action should or should not be deterred by lawful force is to assess the action in terms of whether or not the action violates the individual rights of another. A society must operate under the rule of law if it is to remain free. Objective laws compatible with human rights are the only just laws, and the defense of individual rights is the fundamental principle of a proper legal system.
Finally, it must be noted that the conditions necessary to create and maintain a free society do not come about automatically. If a reason-based philosophy of liberty is the foundation of a free society, the concepts of individual rights briefly discussed above may be thought of as the pillars. However, neither the foundation nor the pillars of a free society can be constructed without individual members taking the initiative to educate themselves about the requirements of liberty. The mortar that holds the structure of a free society together must necessarily include the virtues of individual responsibility, honesty, integrity, and self-esteem.
A society well-educated in these fundamental principles will not be easily shaken by the seductive temptation of using political, coercive means to obtain short-term gain at the expense of others. Ultimately, a free society rests on the shoulders of individuals of exceptional character who take on the responsibility to understand the philosophy of liberty, share this message with others, and lead by example.
And isn't freedom what makes life worth living?