Freedom Is Not Just A Good Idea – Opting Out


Freedom, right? Sure, that’s one value we want in a functioning society. In the same way that equality, prosperity, and security are important, liberty is. Of course, it’s not the only value that society might prefer. There are other needs and wants – it would be foolish to insist that one takes total precedence over the other. That’s ideological blindness … right?

That’s what they say, anyway.

The cult of reasonableness tells us that it’s wrong to have any strong conviction in a single value. Better to be open to it being curbed in favor of other values when the time arises, lest we degrade ourselves by succumbing to ideology, or worse, extremism.

Note there is no intellectual content to this worldview. It doesn’t make any more sense to say that “all extremism is bad” than it is to say “67% conviction towards one value is bad.” Is one to be shunned for being extremely fond of love and happiness? It makes no claim on the inherent merits of the “ideology” in question, it just assumes that any extreme is bad per se.

No, it’s just a slur.

Same with “ideological.” Only until very recently was being ideologically-driven seen as quite normal for any thinking person. To not have some guiding principle in your worldview is to be rudderless. Those that pretend not to have ideology are either lying or at risk of being pushed around by political correctness.

The “reasonable” worldview implies that, when it comes to abstract values, it’s a zero-sum game. That any increase in liberty has to represent a decrease in security, equality or prosperity. This argument is quite common in any instance where freedom is at risk. For example, proponents of gun control will say, “My right to safety is more important than your right to own a gun,” implying that gun rights represent a risk to others’ safety. When you protect liberty, security is at risk.

We don’t need to look at gun crime stats to evaluate this point of view; we merely need to examine the logic of gun control. A state that practices gun control removes weapons from peaceful people, denying their liberty, to ostensibly protect other peaceful people (few people deny that there are people who own weapons and respect the rights of others). Yet they are also denying these peaceful people security by removing their means to do so (guns).

Gun control is not anti-gun, because the group that enforces these rules, the government, necessarily need guns in order to do their job. What gun control advocates are really saying, then, whether they realise it or not, is that the government has a greater right to the ownership of weapons than the citizenry. This, too, decreases the level of security for the citizenry.

The moderates think that policy-making is a balancing act where some kinds of values are pitted against other kinds. Yet these well-meaning people are not arguing that liberty should be curbed for some other value; they are disrupting humanity’s means to strive for these values. What these things amount to is merely the shifting of power from one group of people to another group.

All values aren’t equal. Even the moderates wouldn’t say that all the values that a populace might have must be pursued. After all, there are still some people in the world who bemoan the death of the institution of legalised slavery and would like to see it come back.

How, then, do we proritise values?

The first step is to realise that some values are contingent on others. Perhaps it is impossible to have security without first having freedom of association. Maybe we cannot have peace amongst different kind of people without first protecting freedom of speech. Curing economic injustice is pointless if property rights are not protected.

These were the arguments of the liberal movement that gave birth to the freest and most prosperous society ever – liberty is the indispensable framework from which Western civilisation has been built.

Freedom is not just one good idea among many that may have to be compromised to balance out these other equally-good values. Vague allusions of balance and moderation serve only to obscure this fact, thereby endangering the foundational institutions of human cooperation.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.