A Sermon on Liberty
(This post is for opposite day here at the League. I don’t like sermons, don’t believe in free will, and as a self-described liberal I self-evidently hate liberty.)
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” –Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
In the munificent arrangement described by Smith, it is the very nature of our moral sentiments, self interests, and psychological attitudes that allows for our natural inclinations to work in concert toward achieving the most mutually beneficial outcomes. The invisible structure that supports these outcomes is just as important as the invisible hand which then sets us in motion toward promoting them.
To be pushed so steadily, and with such care, requires a physical architecture capable of providing the necessary level of resistance. It is along the contours of our social make-up, and only because of them, that the motivating forces of our nature can lead us to arrive at the bountiful and equitable results that modern markets have produced, and which modern states have sought to protect.
If the invisible hand is inherent in our human nature, in both our DNA and our inscrutable mental consciousness, in both our bodies and our souls, than the invisible framework is inherent in our social institutions and the historical glue which connects their past developments to their contemporary manifestations.
And though social institutions can be changed, our human character remains less impressionable. And if a certain invisible framework works best for obtaining certain ends, it is only because of those unique qualities specific to the original input. Our original nature can not be thrust ad hoc into just any arrangement. If I am given a single number out of the set of all positive numbers, it has only one other partner with which by their mutual addition the desired result can be acquired. If given 4, no other number but 6 can be added to yield the sum of 10.
Thus, given the human nature with which each of us is born, only one arrangement will be best suited to any single individual. And for a society of many people, an arrangement is needed which satisfies both each individual nature, as well as the mean that prevails when people are held in aggregate. Only a social framework that can flexibly admit of, and tolerate, the diverse assortment of human possibilities, while at the same time remaining strong enough under the weight of society’s combined character to keep its initial shape and maintain its original form, can rightfully be advocated for.
And only such an arrangement as allows each individual to pursue their own interest will by consequence allow the greater society to flourish. It is in the uncoordinated comings and goings, individual failures, and individual success, that the private interest is able to stumble free-handedly upon the public good.
While humanity may, and must, work toward fashioning out of past history and old social artifacts, an equitable, fair, and free system of rights and protections, it goes too far when it seeks arbitrarily, whether with the best intentions or the worst, to impose upon and intervene in, that previously crafted social compact. It is the difference between rigging a game and cheating throughout, between setting constraints and capriciously interjecting.
No human can know what is in the self interest of another, or the precise features which uniquely pertain to each other person’s individual nature. Only God can know. It is not for our fellows to place harmful and burdensome expectations on us, nor particular commandments or undue obligations. If such were the case, every moment we would persist in making unholy war upon the bodies of others, and defile the dignity of our own souls as we trespass upon the dignity of others.
We are social beings, and can no more spurn material necessities than we can do without the company either of our family in the home, our friends in the tavern, our countrymen in the public square, or our creator in the great expanse of the world he has laid overwhelmingly at our feet. Just as God has given us the gift of free will to act within the boundaries of natural law, we must give one another the freedom to act within the boundaries of moral law. In this way we are each masters of ourselves and owe nothing to one another except when the results of our actions would run up against these moral boundaries. Such boundaries begin at the soul, which God setting free, no man may attempt to control, encompass the body, which each of us having, none may unrightfully take away or inhibit, and extend to the those material objects which are necessary to life and its enjoyment, and which each person themselves acquires of their own free will and personal labor.
Because in opposing social relationships arranged on these grounds, one would not only oppose another, but himself as well. As social beings, it is only in securing these liberties that we secure the means of our own needs for companionship through which mutual benefit arises. In order to see that the multitude of possibilities which adhere in humanity have the potential to be realized, no individual or group should set their will against another. To do so would be like having a blind person tend a garden, pruning and weeding without knowledge of what to prune and what to weed. In the face of ignorance, humble skepticism is the best course. Likewise, absence of judgment is a better course in social affairs than judging incorrectly.
Thus instead of deciding for another what their mind may think, or their body do, or how much of the union of these two things, their labor, they should be allowed to keep, the more prudent course is to protect each person’s right to these three things, and ask each to sacrifice only what is necessary in order to do this. This is the only way in which an individual’s own fulfillment can be reconciled with everyone else’s. This limited social compact is the only one so suited to human nature as to result its most optimal satisfaction. It is the only invisible framework upon the surface of which the invisible hand of human intention can move freely and with ease, rather than stop and go in fits and starts. Free will is a gift, not a promise.