The Fundamentals of Liberty

by Martin Branowski

Over the years, ‘liberalism’ has been used in many different ways, both to assess the views of others, and those of one’s own. The original meaning of the term has become somewhat blurred over time, often used by individuals and groups on opposite sides of the political spectrum. It has been seized by many to limit freedom, defying its initial principles.

As a result, it has garnered negative connotations politically, impairing its role and value, and making the accomplishment of truly liberal goals burdensome. At the same time, due to the term’s misuse, it has made it hard for the electorate to distinguish its true features. As a consequence of this alteration the original ideology is now often confused with others, steering the term away from liberty.

The aim of this piece is to establish the core set of principles which should be central to liberalism as a reborn political ideology. Faithfully defining the characteristics and aims requires a certain big-tent approach. In that, liberalism must remain focused on its foundation of freedom, with little scope for perversion, externalities or acts of appropriation. The list may well be expanded, but the addressed principles act as a shared core of liberal thought and practice.

This backbone will allow for further development of policies and future evolution, as progress requires constant reassessment. Independent of the time and place, this will persist at the basis of the liberal framework; a common feature shared by all liberals, recognised by its members and the public.

  1. One’s freedom of action, thought, speech, expression or association should never be infringed if it does not harm other individual neither physically or psychologically s. This includes the safety, health and livelihood of one’s dependents (e.g. family), and direct calls to harm (like lynching). At the same time, it does not include the indirect harms, like fair competition, or offence caused by discourse. This principle should be the basis of all further principles.
  2. An individual should have the ultimate power over how they live their life, whom they pair with, what principles guide them, and what activities they undertake. Whatever one chooses as their way of living, and whoever joins them in this pursuit, if all participants are doing so voluntarily, this right should not be infringed. Thus, differences should be embraced rather than curbed.
  3. One should always have the opportunity to use their merit to pursue their dreams, according to their needs, wants, and skills. No one has the right to shape another’s path against their will. One’s merit and commitment, rather than background or phenotype, should be the determining factor in the outcome of one’s actions and interactions.
  4. All subjects of possible coercion should have the right to hold the apparatus fully accountable, assessing its actions and holding it to justice.
  5. All individuals should be allowed to choose how they direct their labour, capital, virtue and time. Actions should only be advised, never enforced. Ability to act freely should be a fundament of both support and restraint towards other entities.

In order to have a consistent and legible platform, these principles need to be established and stand as the core for liberal thought. Without that, the term will be appropriated by the radical left and right, confusing voters about its value, distancing them from what it truly stands for.

With this set of principles, the strive for freedom will be revived, making it once again a strong driving force in political thought, leading our world towards freedom and prosperity, by its people and for its people.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organisation as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, click here to submit a guest post!

Image: Pixabay

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