Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

The Pillar of Liberty: What It Is and What It Entails

The first of the three pillars that I would like to be discussing, and perhaps the most foundational, is liberty. It is important that we start with a working definition, and determine the components of this liberty.

Thomas Jefferson had a great working definition, and it went like this: “Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”(emphasis added) This definition works so well because of its component parts, and all that it entails afterwards. This definition of liberty requires us to think, to conclude things other than the surface level realizations, and puts upon each of us a responsibility to act in a certain way. It can rightly be said that, according to this definition, and the premise of this blog, that Liberty is, in itself, a form of ethics. And this is claim I will expand upon in the next blog entry on the second Pillar – Ethics

So let’s break it down.

It is unobstructed action according to our will – What does this mean? Does this mean I am given the “right” to the work of others? After all, if I am sick, and cannot go about my day as I otherwise would, am I now entitled to the expertise of a doctor? My will is to go about my day, and now I can’t due to illness. So in order to get this obstruction out of my way, I can force, or have someone else force, the doctor to heal me, right? That is liberty. No quite. What is the next thing Jefferson says?

Rightful liberty is the unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others – This is the important part, and it something I touch on in virtually everything I write about. This higher form of liberty requires a recognition on our part of our place among others. Yes, I - as an individual - am free. But I am also human. And if by my nature I am free, then so are others. And I am not free to act in a way as to limit, take, or otherwise hinder somebody else’s liberty. Why not? Because it weakens to the point of breaking down the whole concept of liberty in the first place. And this brings us to two realizations that are absolutely critical to a proper understanding of liberty.

Realization #1 – Our Liberty, as taught and understand by this blog, is called Negative Liberty, as opposed to Positive Liberty.

Realization #2 – Our Recognition of our own Liberty if first based on a principle I am calling “self-actualization.” Self-Actualization is the idea of an individual recognizing their own liberty, and living in such a way as to not seek to purposefully destroy the liberty of others. It can be said that when one is self-actualized, they are considerate, and live ethically.

(You’ll soon discover that the 3 pillars flow in and out of each other – this is purposefully designed, and it makes the entire system that much stronger)

So let’s dissect these 2 realizations.

For a primer on the difference between Negative and Positive Liberty, I suggest watching this brief and easily understandable video from the folks over at Learn Liberty (They’ll use the terms “positive rights” and “negative rights,” but they are generally understood similarly):

As the video eloquently explained, negative rights are legitimate because they cause no conflict. All negative rights can be fulfilled, so long as nobody is seeking to disrupt them. This is a passive response, and requires no active part on others. In other words, rights of these manner do not create an obligation for others to fulfill. With the right to free speech, a well-known negative right, I don’t need others to guarantee or fulfill this right for me. So long as I have a tongue and know a communicable language, I can speak whatever I please. However, a positive right, such as the “right,” to “free” healthcare, “free” food, or water…these create an obligation on others to fulfill. With “free” healthcare, a doctor, nurse, other healthcare practitioners, as well as their supplies, are at my disposal. This hardly seems legitimate, let alone ethical. However, that is exactly what positive rights enthusiasts believe in, whether they are aware of this or not.

This realization is important because it helps elucidate for us 2 of our 3 pillars – liberty and ethics. Specifically, negative rights are compatible with liberty in that liberty is for all equally. We are born equal, as members of the human species. Equality meaning none is inherently above the other, or is superior or inferior. Being equal beings, we realize that our negative rights are our own, and nobody else’s responsibility to provide – this would create an imbalance in the situation, creating masters and slaves. Obviously, this is not liberty. And I, having realized that we are all equal, none above another, am at a state of natural liberty; and this helps me to understand the second realization – Self-Actualization.

Marx and Locke talked a great deal about self-actualization, but I believe both got it wrong. For a more in depth look at this concept, and what they specifically believed, I will refer you to my essay “Property and Self-Actualization: A Critique of the Marxist Interpretation of Property”

For purposes of this blog post, let us say this about self-actualization. Self-Actualization occurs when one realizes that they, as an independent, autonomous, and free individual, exist, but that others too exist, and they recognize the need to live in harmony with others so as to not disturb others’ autonomy and freedom. This is to be considerate of others; to recognize that other people exist, with thoughts, feelings, dreams, and sorrows like the rest of us. This is not a new idea, in and of itself. It has been presented to mankind in many different fashions. One self-actualized statement presents itself this way – perhaps your familiar with it – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The famous French Philosopher René Descartes said the first part of the realization this way – “Cogito Ergo Sum.” I think, therefore I am. Allow me the indulgence of adding to that thought. “I am, therefore I am free.” If I am free, then so are others. And if others are free, then I should treat them as I would myself – that is, with consideration – because that is how I, as a free and autonomous being, wish to be treated.

By this point, I hope it is beginning to sink in how the 3 pillars interact, and weave in and out and through each other. At least Liberty and Ethics. In later posts, I will speak more about the role of education, but know that if you’re reading this now, you’ve already begun to become familiar with the education part as well.

So let’s conclude. Liberty, I argue, is a primary pillar of true anarchy, and of a successful anarchistic society. This liberty is specific in nature, and not just some willy-nilly concept or abstract principle, but based on some very real recognitions. Firstly, our Liberty, true liberty, is negative in nature. This is because people are equal, naturally. There are no natural masters or slaves. No natural superiors and inferiors. We are equal. And positive liberty creates inequality; makes masters and slaves of us. Negative liberty is coherent, constant, and does not conflict with itself. A good example of the kind of conflict that comes with positive liberty was provided in the Learn Liberty video posted above. The second realization comes with the concept of self-actualization, and sees itself manifest in and through an understanding of negative liberty. I am a person. There are other people. I am free. And so are they. Therefore, so as to not create unnatural imbalances, I act in a manner consistent with this realization. I do no harm. I live according to the non-aggression principle. I seek harmony and peace with others. I am a peace maker. I do unto others, as I would have them do unto me. This is self-actualization. Ideally, with these ideas, it becomes clear how intertwined and closely related the principles of these Pillars are. This is on purpose, and meant to increase their fortitude. Strength in numbers, as it were. But still anarchistic in nature.


The Pillar of Ethics - Pt. 1

What are the 3 Pillars of Anarchy? Intro to the Blog and the Pillars