Monday, January 23, 2012

Liberty, Part IV

“XV. Natural liberty is the right which nature gives to all mankind of disposing of their persons and property, after the manner they judge most convenient to their happiness, on condition of their acting within the limits of the law of nature, and of their not abusing it to the prejudice of other men. To this right of liberty there is a reciprocal obligation corresponding, by which the law of nature binds all mankind to respect the liberty of other men, and not to disturb them in the use they make of it, so long as they do not abuse it.”

“XVI. The laws of nature are therefore the rule and measure of liberty; and in the primitive and natural state, mankind have no liberty but what the laws of nature give them; for which reason it is proper to observe here, that the state of natural liberty is not that of an intire independence. In this state, men are indeed independent with regard to one another, but they are all in a state of dependance on God and his laws. Independence, generally speaking, is a state unsuitable to man, because by his very nature he holds it of a superior.”

“XVII. Liberty and independence of any superior, are two very different things, which must not be confounded. The first belongs essentially to man, the other cannot suit him. And so far is it from being true, that human liberty is of itself inconsistent with dependence on a sovereign and submission to his laws, that, on the contrary, it is this power of the sovereign, and the protection which men derive from thence, that forms the greatest security of their liberty.”

“XVIII. This will be still better understood when recollecting what we have already settled, when speaking of natural liberty. We have shewn that the restrictions which the law of nature makes to the liberty of man, far from diminishing or subverting it, on the contrary constitutes its perfection and security. The end of natural laws is not so much to restrain the liberty of man, as to make him act agreeably to his real interests; and moreover, as these very laws are a check to human liberty, in whatever may be of pernicious consequence to others, it secures, by these means, to all mankind, the highest, and the most advantageous degree of liberty they can reasonably desire.”


“XXIII. Civil liberty is therefore, in the main, nothing more than natural liberty, divested of that part of it which formed the independence of individuals, by the authority which they have conferred on their sovereign.”

“XXIV. This liberty is still attended with two considerable advantages, which natural liberty is not. The first is, the right of insisting that their sovereign shall make a good use of his authority, agreeable to the purposes for which he was intrusted with it. The second is the security which prudence requires that the subjects should reserve to themselves for the execution of the former right, a security absolutely necessary, and without which the people can never enjoy any solid liberty.”

“XXV. Let us therefore conclude, that to give an adequate definition of civil liberty, we must say, that it is natural liberty itself, divested of that part, which constituted the independence of individuals, by the authority which it confers on sovereigns, and attended with a right of insisting on his making a good use of his authority, and with a moral security that this right will have its effect.”

-Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui

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