As we approach Independence Day, this seemed a timely topic. Let me first preface this by saying that I am politically independent. I have no firm commitment to any political party or ideology. I just want to do what is right; but while my morals are fairly clear to me on a personal level, when it comes to elections I am typically at a loss as to whom or what to vote for. Therefore, I pose the question below out of genuine curiosity, not to pontificate or start a fight.


First, I think we all recognize that there is no such thing as total freedom. I don't have the freedom to jump in the air and fly. Natural laws constrain me.

Further, just within the realm of things which I am physically capable of doing, I think we would all agree that there are some things which I should NOT be free to do, e.g. just go around killing anyone I don't like. So I think we all agree that there should be some system of laws, and some means of enforcing them, even though this does mean that some of our individual liberty is constrained.

Now then, it is my understanding that the core of Conservative, Libertarian, and Anarchist philosophies is that, apart from the aforementioned constraints, the expansion of individual liberty is the greatest good, superseding all other virtues; and that in order to maximize it, the ability of any form of government to constrain our liberty must be minimized.

(Please correct me if I am misrepresenting that; I do not wish to be accused of constructing a strawman argument).

The problem I see with the above philosophy is that it is based on a flawed assumption, which is that government is the only entity which can constrain individual freedom.

Consider the following:

- Am I free to breathe clean air and drink clean water? Not if I am surrounded by polluters. Move somewhere else? Many do not have that option. And if there were no environmental regulation at all, eventually only the very rich would have that freedom.

- Am I free to work in a safe environment? Where I will be treated fairly by my superiors, and I will not be exposed to dangerous equipment or contaminants which could threaten my life or health? Again, if it were not for workers' unions and government regulatory agencies, many would not have this freedom.

- Suppose that I and a bunch of my friends get laid off from the factory we work in, because its owner found it more profitable to move manufacturing operations overseas. So here we are, unable to support ourselves, AND there's an empty factory just sitting there, unused. Do I and my buddies have the freedom to get the factory running again on our own, and make necessary items (e.g. clothes, textiles, food, etc) for ourselves to use, and perhaps for others as well? No, we don't, because we don't OWN that factory, and its owner won't allow us to put it to good use, even though they aren't using it themselves either.

- If I learn of abuses happening somewhere, do I have the freedom to set up my own radio station and tell others? Not if all the frequencies are privately owned. What about spreading the word on the Internet? Not if "net neutrality" is taken away, which is what the big telecoms want to do.

If maximizing individual liberty is the goal, is completely unconstrained market capitalism really the best way to achieve it?

I welcome all thoughtful replies.