Remember a Defender of Liberty


Americans pay ritual obeisance to liberty. But daily, they say "there ought to be a law" that restricts it. People reveal only the dimmest awareness of our founders' views on this central issue, and no knowledge of friends of freedom beyond our shores. That is unfortunate, since they offer much insight.

A prime example is Belgian-born philosopher/economist Gustave de Molinari, born March 3, nearly two centuries ago. He "defended peace, free trade, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and liberty in all its forms," according to one source. Molinari's touchstone was restricting government power to securing life, liberty and property. It is worth reflecting on his vision of a world where government sovereignty, enforced via coercion, is replaced with individual sovereignty – self-ownership.

"Society is heavily taxed in the increased costs which follow government appropriation of products and services naturally belonging to the sphere of private enterprise."

"[The enlarged] functions of the State…is the real explanation of the grossly inadequate performance of their first duty – protection of life and property of the individual."

"The sovereign power of governments over the life and property of the individual is, in fact, the sole fount and spring of militaryism, policy, and protection…"

"Government has abused its unlimited power over individual life and property…"

"However seriously he might be declared sovereign master of himself, his goods and life, the individual was still controlled by a power invested with rights which took precedence of his own…The sole possible remedy – to curtail this subjection with its priority of claims over those of the sovereignty of the individual…"

"[T]he progressive rise in taxation and expenditure which has occurred…must continue indefinitely for just so long as governments…maintain their right of unlimited requisition upon the life, liberty, and property of the individual."

"Government must confine itself to the naturally collective functions of providing external and internal security."

"[G]overnment should restrict itself to guaranteeing the security of its citizens…the freedom of labor and of trade should otherwise be whole and absolute."

"Sovereignty rests in the property of the individual over his person and goods and in the liberty of disposing of them…"

"Each individual sovereignty has its natural frontiers within which it may operate and outside of which it may not pass without violating other sovereignties. These natural limits must be recognized and guaranteed…such is the purpose of u2018government.'"

"The individual appropriates and possesses himself… This is liberty. Property and liberty are the two aspects or two constituents of sovereignty."

"[C]areful examination of the facts will decide the problem of government more and more in favor of liberty…"

"[P]rogress will be still better secured by measures extending the sphere of individual self-government…"

"…the ills [ascribed] to liberty – or, to use an absolutely equivalent expression, to free competition – do not originate in liberty, but in monopoly and restriction…a society truly free – a society relieved from all restriction, from all barriers…will be exempt from most of the ills, as we suffer them today…the organization of such a society will be the most just, the best, and the most favorable to the production and distribution of wealth that is attainable by mortal man."

"The true remedy for most evils is none other than liberty, unlimited and complete liberty, liberty in every field of human endeavor."

Gustave de Molinari learned of "the destructive apparatus of the civilized State" from France's 1848 Revolution. He saw that government's asserted "absolute right of requisition over individual life property and liberty" was the reason it has always been an abuser of people's natural rights. If it could be restricted to the sole mandate of providing security for life, liberty and property, its ubiquitous ham-handed intervention and interference would disappear. Far better would be the expansion of self-government – that is, liberty – enabling the growth of human potential and the human spirit. Our age, which has expanded rather than abandoned the restraints imposed on liberty, desperately needs to rediscover that insight and its implications.

March 3, 2008