Freedom, Liberty, Autonomy
di Frank van Dun
University of Ghent


8 Although the word ‘psychology’ literally means the study of the psyche (soul, mind), in particular of the phenomena of self-consciousness, some people re-define psychology as “the study of behaviour” (e.g., Hans Crombag, Integendeel—Over psychologie en recht, misdaad en straf; Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Contact, 2010, p.25). Objectionable as it is in itself, this re-definition moreover obliterates the distinction between purposeful human action and behaviour (something that can be observed not only regarding humans and higher animals but also regarding lower organisms and even dead matter, e.g., the behaviour of cells, of comets). However, the reality of the distinction between human behaviour and human action—or, as the Scholastics put it, between actiones hominium and actiones humanae—is affirmed by even the most radical behaviourist “psychologists” when they painstakingly set up, explain, justify or criticise the experiments they perform in their laboratories. They study their own and their colleagues’ metho ds and interpretations — not their “behaviours”.
9 One of Schopenhauer’s aphorisms is, “You can do what you want, but you cannot want what you want.” As criticism of the free-will doctrine, it fails because it is merely a play on the ambiguity of the verb ‘ to want’, which can mean either to feel desire or to will. As a person, you most certainly can often do what you will, and you can will or not will what you want.
10 Cf. Latin ‘convivere’, literally to live together.
11 See my “Argumentation Ethics and the Philosophy of Freedom,” Libertarian Papers 1, 19 (2009).
12 ‘Lex’ is related to ‘legere’, to pick or choose; ‘ius’ to ‘iurare’, to speak solemnly, i.e., with commitment to what one says.
13 In Western states, much of so-called “private law” is still sound from the perspective of natural law. However, legal positivists do not call private law “valid” because it is sound but because it has been adopted (and adapted) by the legal authorities of the state.
14 In contrast, the political philosophies of socialism in all its varieties insist that the freedom of individual persons be curtailed as much as is necessary to make society efficient in pursuing its goals (whatever they may be).
15 Article 2: “The goal of every political association is the conservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man. These rights are freedom, property, security of person, and resistance to oppression.” (My translation)
16 Note that it would be wrong to translate the French “L’homme est né libre” as “Man is born in liberty”. The whole point of the paragraph is that man is born a natural person (hence, a rational and therefore free being), yet is also born into one or other society that defines his legal status (hence, his liberty) independently of his nature.
17 I.e., natural law, as distinct from any particular legal system.
18 As Rousseau (following Hobbes) remarked, it is the prerogative of the state to draw the line between the public and the private spheres. No right to a private life (i.e., to freedom) can be legally invoked against the state: “Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign is sole judge of what is important.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, translated with an Introduction by G.D. H. Cole (London and Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1923). Book II, Chapter IV.
19 Think of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers such as Etienne de la Boétie and Richard Overton.
20 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, op.cit., Book III, Chapter XV. Of course, the people living in England (as distinct from The People of England, which is an artificial, legal person) are not free even during parliamentary elections: they need legal permission or authorization to vote, and they can only vote for persons that are legally permitted to be candidates. Active and passive electoral rights are liberties not freedoms; artificial rights of artificial persons, not natural rights of natural persons.
21 As Rousseau put it, man must acquire a “moral”, i.e., non-physical or non-natural, personality. “He who dares to undertake the making of a people’s institutions ought to feel himself capable, so to speak, of changing human nature, of transforming each individual, who is by himself a complete and solitary whole, into part of a greater whole from which he in a manner receives his life and being; of altering man’s constitution for the purpose of strengthening it; and of substituting a partial and moral existence for the physical and independent existence nature has conferred on us all. He must, in a word, take away from man his own resources and give him instead new ones alien to him, and incapable of being made use of without the help of other men. The more completely these natural resources are annihilated, the greater and the more lasting are those which he acquires, and the more stable and perfect the new institutions; so that if each citizen is nothing and can do nothing without the rest, and the resour ces acquired by the whole are equal or superior to the aggregate of the resources of all the individuals, it may be said that legislation is at the highest possible point of perfection.” J.-J. Rousseau, op.cit., Book II, chapter 7,
22 Obviously, Plato was not concerned with the “autonomy of citizens”. His political solution was one of formal unity (all the citizens being guardians of the city under the supreme and unconditional leadership of the philosopher-king), not formal consensus among equal citizens. See my “Concepts of Order”, in H. Bouillon & H. Kliemt (eds), Ordered Anarchy, Jasay and His Surroundings (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2007), p.59-92
23 Rousseau’s législateur is in many ways similar to Plato’s philosopher-king, except that he is not a King and does not rule. In fact, he has no formal or legal position in the state. His role, though vital, is merely moral (educational). One may compare him to the public intellectuals, whose pronouncements on radio and television and in the other mass media define the so-called “public opinion” and inform the “enlightened opinion” propagated by teachers, columnists, editorialists and other second-hand dealers in ideas (F.A. Hayek’s definition of intellectuals).
24 On the paradoxes of “conditioning”, see C.S. Lewis’s classic The Abolition of Man (London: Macmillan Publishing, 1944), especially chapter 3.
25 Letter to Mirabeau, 26 July, 1767, Rousseau, Correspondance complète, XXXIII, no. 5991. Plato, too, had argued that even an ideal “republic” would inevitably degenerate, as its contrived arrangement would erode under the constant pressure of human nature: changing human nature in a controlled way is an impossible task. Who would guard the guardians?
26 Progressivism has its intellectual and ideological origins in the radical, revolutionary branch of eighteenth-century thought. In this context, ‘revolutionary’ must be understood in its literal sense: a revolution is not just a political rebellion; it is an act or series of acts that puts everything on its head. Thus, if one knows the conventional, commonsensical view of the world in the eighteenth century, one need only negate each component of it to discover the contents of revolutionary, progressive ideology. Property, family, religion, money, the division of labour, law, custom, the ethics of life, the Church, God — all of these were pillars of the established order that had to be wrecked if the revolution was to succeed, as all of them imply obligations that prevent a person from being “autonomous”.
27 “[I]n communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind…” (Quoted from R. Freedman, Marx on Economics (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican Books, orig. 1961, 1976), p.234.

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