Monday, January 30, 2012

Liberty, Part XIII

Nathaniel Chipman, from Principles of Government, a Treatise on Free Institutions, Including the Constitution of the United States:

“That man, on entering into civil society sacrifices a part of his natural liberty, has been very generally asserted, or taken for granted, by all political writers. They speak of it as a necessity arising from the very nature of all civil institutions, even the best as well as the worst, differing in degree only. This notion of a sacrifice must have been adopted from a very indefinite and, indeed, very absurd notion of natural liberty; what this notion was has been already noticed; but we will take it from the Marquis Beccaria in his admirable work on crimes and punishments. He there tells us, that man, on entering into society, makes a sacrifice of that liberty of action common to all sensible beings, and limited only by our natural powers. What sort of liberty is that which is common to man, to the lion, and the tiger? Man is allowed by all to be a moral being. The laws of nature applicable to him, as such, are of the moral kind—when we speak of the liberty common to man, liberty, and a right to act are convertible terms.”

“Man indeed, has a natural, that is, a physical power to injure both himself and others. But is a right to do this conceded to him by the laws of his nature? That is, a right to transgress those laws: power and liberty are not synonymous. Power is here, that by which we exercise our liberty, not the liberty itself, when considered as a right. In a larger sense liberty comprehends both the power and the right. Civil liberty is generally taken in this sense. It will not, I presume, be suggested that the natural liberty of man, a moral being, is at variance with moral obligations; it therefore follows, that the liberty common to man is limited by his natural powers, by the obligations of morality, in a word, by the laws of his nature. For a moral being to forbear the performance of any action, that is forbidden by the laws of moral and social nature, can never be deemed a sacrifice, and is no more a duty in civil society than out of it.”

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