Thursday, July 13, 2006

What is Liberty ? - Ben Roethlisberger and Helmet Laws

We read the following at The PittsburghChannel.com:

"More and more states are repealing helmet laws. But a spokesperson for Michigan's Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's crash helped convince her to veto a repeal of that state's helmet law."

We posted about the Roethlisberger accident previously at LawPundit from the simple standpoint of practicality and common sense. However, we said nothing about the issue of liberty, which is the argument being used by "libertarians" against helmet laws. What sense does it make to invoke the issue of liberty in this context? What is liberty?

In principle, we strongly support liberty and we support the libertarian idea that human actions should be as free and voluntary as possible. One classical definition of libertarianism (from libertarian.org) is that:

"While libertarians are a diverse group of people with many philosophical starting points, they share a defining belief: that everyone should be free to do as they choose, so long as they don't infringe upon the equal freedom of others."

But there is another element to liberty, and that is responsibility ( Charles Murray, What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Broadway Books, 1997):

"Libertarianism is a vision of how people should be able to live their lives-as individuals, striving to realize the best they have within them; together, cooperating for the common good without compulsion. It is a vision of how people may endow their lives with meaning-living according to their deepest beliefs and taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions." [emphasis added]

No man lives in a vacuum. We are all a part of the human community and much of what we do impacts not only ourselves but also the lives of others. Hence, liberty has limits, indeed, MANY limits. This is the entire experiential basis of a legal system based on the rule of law.

Geoffry Nunberg at the New York Times refers to the important difference between freedom and liberty:

"Liberty and freedom are distinct, as well. As the political theorist Hanna Fenichel Pitkin has observed, liberty implies a system of rules, a "network of restraint and order," hence the word's close association with political life. Freedom has a more general meaning, which ranges from an opposition to slavery to the absence of psychological or personal encumbrances (no one would describe liberty as another name for nothing left to lose)."

To illustrate the distinction, we can say that each of us in America or Europe is "free" to choose our religion, but are we really "at liberty" to do so?

The fact is, we are all mostly products of laws, rules and conventions. Most of us have the same religion as our parents - most Roman Catholics stay Catholics, most Protestants stay Protestants, most Jews remain Jews. We are FREE to choose otherwise, but given the societal chains in which we all live, we really do not have total liberty to CHOOSE our religion because we are constrained from doing so by the world in which we live.

FREEDOM to act does not mean the LIBERTY to act:

In principle, a man is FREE to drink to delirium, but a habitual drunk who lets his children starve will be put in jail, whereas organizations such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) have thousands of tales to tell about people who have been innocent victims of someone else's exercise of what they wrongly viewed to be "their liberty". Freedom is not identical with Liberty.

In the instant case, whether Ben Roethlisberger wears a helmet or not while driving a motorcycle affects not only him personally, but also millions of other persons around the world and in the USA. He is of course a "free" man, to be sure, to do what he wants, but "liberty" puts constraints upon him, as it does upon all of us in a civilized world governed by the rule of law and by societal rules and conventions which go far beyond the simplistic ideas of well-meaning libertarians.

What is Liberty ? - Ben Roethlisberger and Helmet Laws

We read the following at The PittsburghChannel.com:

"More and more states are repealing helmet laws. But a spokesperson for Michigan's Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's crash helped convince her to veto a repeal of that state's helmet law."

We posted about the Roethlisberger accident previously at LawPundit from the simple standpoint of practicality and common sense. However, we said nothing about the issue of liberty, which is the argument being used by "libertarians" against helmet laws. What sense does it make to invoke the issue of liberty in this context? What is liberty?

In principle, we strongly support liberty and we support the libertarian idea that human actions should be as free and voluntary as possible. One classical definition of libertarianism (from libertarian.org) is that:

"While libertarians are a diverse group of people with many philosophical starting points, they share a defining belief: that everyone should be free to do as they choose, so long as they don't infringe upon the equal freedom of others."

But there is another element to liberty, and that is responsibility ( Charles Murray, What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Broadway Books, 1997):

"Libertarianism is a vision of how people should be able to live their lives-as individuals, striving to realize the best they have within them; together, cooperating for the common good without compulsion. It is a vision of how people may endow their lives with meaning-living according to their deepest beliefs and taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions." [emphasis added]

No man lives in a vacuum. We are all a part of the human community and much of what we do impacts not only ourselves but also the lives of others. Hence, liberty has limits, indeed, MANY limits. This is the entire experiential basis of a legal system based on the rule of law.

Geoffry Nunberg at the New York Times refers to the important difference between freedom and liberty:

"Liberty and freedom are distinct, as well. As the political theorist Hanna Fenichel Pitkin has observed, liberty implies a system of rules, a "network of restraint and order," hence the word's close association with political life. Freedom has a more general meaning, which ranges from an opposition to slavery to the absence of psychological or personal encumbrances (no one would describe liberty as another name for nothing left to lose)."

To illustrate the distinction, we can say that each of us in America or Europe is "free" to choose our religion, but are we really "at liberty" to do so?

The fact is, we are all mostly products of laws, rules and conventions. Most of us have the same religion as our parents - most Roman Catholics stay Catholics, most Protestants stay Protestants, most Jews remain Jews. We are FREE to choose otherwise, but given the societal chains in which we all live, we really do not have total liberty to CHOOSE our religion because we are constrained from doing so by the world in which we live.

FREEDOM to act does not mean the LIBERTY to act:

In principle, a man is FREE to drink to delirium, but a habitual drunk who lets his children starve will be put in jail, whereas organizations such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) have thousands of tales to tell about people who have been innocent victims of someone else's exercise of what they wrongly viewed to be "their liberty". Freedom is not identical with Liberty.

In the instant case, whether Ben Roethlisberger wears a helmet or not while driving a motorcycle affects not only him personally, but also millions of other persons around the world and in the USA. He is of course a "free" man, to be sure, to do what he wants, but "liberty" puts constraints upon him, as it does upon all of us in a civilized world governed by the rule of law and by societal rules and conventions which go far beyond the simplistic ideas of well-meaning libertarians.

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