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You need limits to be free
By Dr. Robert Owens
The problem with anarchy is that it must become organized to accomplish anything. Then like militant apathy it declares war against the machine never realizing that it is merely another cog in the wheel that grinds itself to dust.
The Law of Liberty defines that space where an individual is secure and free to live their life as they choose.
The life of humanity with society is only possible because the vast majority of people act within the framework of certain rules. As society becomes more complex these rules evolve from the basic instinct of what is right and wrong to evermore explicit guidelines that are both general and abstract.
The fact that we are the products of thousands of years and hundreds of generations of institutional law makes us as blind to the intricate and all-encompassing nature of this skeleton upon which our society lives and moves. Just as a fish does not notice the water within which it moves and we are not constantly aware of the air in which we move our social self is not aware of the framework of laws which daily provide the context within which we find our meaning.
If we were to have one flash of insight which revealed to us the web of law, tradition, and ceremony within which we move we would realize that it is no more the invention of design of one person or group than the ubiquitous personal computer upon which I am writing this essay and upon which you are reading it. We realize that this wonder of technology that in so many ways defines our lives has evolved by fits and starts. One person or group developed this and some other individual or group added that. From hardware to software we have advanced from the Commodore to the Mac from the mainframe to the tablet. To trace the development of the life changing wonder now takes volumes yet we wake up every morning, turn it on, go to work, and never give a thought as to how it got here. Such is the scaffold which delineates both our limits and our freedom.
In the simplest of societies, when two individuals meet a basic level of order is inherently understood thus establishing a sphere of action that is recognized as belonging to each one separately. In personal relations this is usually through the unconscious acceptance of rules inbred by that society not by formal law. These are habits of thought and action not expressed as legally proscribed but instead as universally accepted.
This is the basis for the abstract nature of human society wherein individuals respond in a similar manner to circumstances which share some but not all things in common. People will obey and follow such abstract rules long before it becomes necessary to write them down. People knew it was wrong to murder or steal long before it became necessary to have formal laws saying these actions were illegal.
The most important aspect of laws in relation to freedom is that they need to be general and they need to apply to everyone equally as opposed to directives which are specific and focused. It is vitally important to keep these two aspects of society's structure clearly understood and delineated.
Laws should be applicable to all people at all times in all places. In this way they do not encumber our freedom and are more as a natural part of the environment with which all must contend equally. As laws are applied in varying situations they become more specific and directed morphing from law into directive. Directives proscribe the actions of individuals and laws define the actions of all.
For example in a large enterprise most of the time individuals will go about their tasks without singular guidance. They will follow standing orders adapting them to unique situations as they arise only on rare occasions receiving specific direction. In other words within the sphere of general subordination most of the time is spent as an autonomous actor accomplishing individual tasks.
In this large enterprise we envision all activity is directed ultimately by the highest authority. In order to provide for the appearance of unforeseen and unforeseeable events a certain amount of latitude is always allowed to the individual. This is the sphere of freedom even within a tightly controlled environment. Of course this also means that the means to any end must be presupposed to be allocated to any particular individual presented with any particular circumstance. Such an allocation of resources might be the assignment of particular things or times that can be applied by the individual to their own design.
These general guidelines for individuals can only be altered by new laws from the highest authority that are announced for longer periods of time and for more unforeseen events. These new laws may serve to change the shape or complexion of the sphere of freedom however they will apply to everyone and therefore become an impediment to personal freedom akin to a natural barrier affecting all the same. Everyone must climb the same mountain to reach the same valley.
Thus within even a tightly controlled enterprise each individual comes to know what their sphere of liberty is, where it ends, and another's begins. This is how, even within societies that mandated the communal ownership of the means of production and the state ownership of everything else such as the former USSR, people still spoke of "My" house, "My" clothes, and "My" children.
Some measure of liberty will always exist as long as humans are humans. Even as our current government seeks to exert control over the totality of life our sphere of liberty still exists.
The greatest safeguard for the preservation and restoration of liberty is the limitation of the power of government to move beyond the general into the specific. As long as laws apply to everyone the individual is secure. As long as the laws our representatives pass apply to them as well as us we are all secure. However when we find ourselves dominated by a perpetually re-elected ruling class aided, abetted, and encouraged by a unionized civil-service-protected nomenclature intent on ignoring constitutionally mandated limits we approach a time when the directives of the few will trump the laws of the many.
We need limits to be free. In a complex society we need laws to have limits. The Constitution was written to limit the laws to certain areas for certain reasons making them general and universally applied. The progression of the advocates of control past the written certainty of the Constitution to the fog of the Living Document seeks to issue directives that are specific and individually applied.
Anarchy does not bring freedom but neither does totalitarian control. Somewhere in between is the sweet spot. Somewhere in between lies a dynamic relationship where each person does not do whatever is right in their own eyes and no one attempts to make every decision for everyone everywhere. Somewhere in between is a place that declares that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has been endowed upon everyone equally by our creator. Somewhere in between lays a more perfect union of limited government, personal liberty, and economic opportunity. We were there once. Let's find our way home.
Keep the faith, keep the peace, we shall overcome.
Dr. Robert Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion. He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2013 Robert R. Owens firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens