Libertas sit omnibus, omnes sint libertati.

“Liberty for the wolves is death to the lambs” – Isaiah Berlin

As a lifelong liberal, this made me think. I always believed liberty to be self-evident. This was, however, before I realized it is possible to, in some extent, quantify liberty. Liberty can be taken away and liberty can be given back. Liberty can manifest itself in different forms. But not only that: as Isaiah Berlin pointed out, liberty can be positive and liberty can be negative.

What did this change in my perception of liberalism? I’m still a liberal. Until some point in my life, I used to be more like a libertarian. I was very cynical about society, distrusted politics as a whole (I still do sometimes) and thus distrusted any form of government, and believed that everything would be alright as long as people would live and let live. This gradually changed as I was more frequently confronted with the fact that human beings are actually social beings. Therefore, a human society cannot function without having social constructs and without having an individual concede in some cases in his or her life as their own will will not always be in harmony with the will of other individuals. Up until this point, libertarianism still holds; an individual should be free to do what he or she wants, unless it keeps another individual from doing the same.

This attitude does not, however, take into account that individuals can also form groups. In Social Psychology, groups are viewed as entities on their own, apart from individuals. Individuals behave differently in groups (especially in those being larger than three individual members) from as they do when they are alone, and groups can have their own behaviour. This is human nature. In order to survive as a species, humans cooperate with other humans, imitate each other or even instruct each other’s behaviour in order to survive. As centuries have passed, this still occurs on a very large and complex scale.

How do we maintain liberty as liberals, if individual liberty cannot be maximized, because humans need to cooperate in order to survive? Individuals will always be dependent on other individuals, because they can not grow food on their own, while generating electricity, producing television programmes, publishing on the Internet and create their own luxury products.

A free market is a wonderful invention to solve this issue. Individuals trade goods or services in exchange for a price they can determine in coordination with the market, their needs and the demand. A free market respects the individual’s potential to deliver goods or services on his or her own terms.

However, human beings are social beings. They can make pacts, form groups, create alliances, so they can also manifest themselves as groups to serve their own interest over the interest of another individual or group. Groups can exclude specific individuals and groups can discriminate individuals from other groups. This is what I call an infringement on social liberty.

Social liberty, the big sister of individual liberty, can be observed not by looking at individuals from their own point of view, but by looking at individuals from an eagle eye’s view. By looking at individuals as part of social constructs and determining the liberty one individual has compared to another individual in the same construct.

As soon as I discovered social liberty (I could not yet find the right term for it, but I knew it was there), my perspective on liberalism started to change. Liberalism had to play a role on a social level as well as on an individual level. As for a society to be truly free, each individual has to be free. This is not the case in a laissez-faire society, wherein everyone lives and lets live. Because there will always be someone who is born in a poor family with slim opportunities. Because there will always be someone who is discriminated against because of his or her origin, sexual orientation, skin colour or even his or her genuine behaviour.

Libertarianism has always viewed liberty as the constant struggle for government to stay out of individuals’ lives and for individuals to do as they please. But what libertarianism leaves out is that there is also something called society. A society consisting of a grand richness of individuals, each living his or her own life, trying to make the best out of it. It is inevitable that one individual’s liberty is in conflict with another individual’s liberty and that social liberty does not get the chance to exist in social constructs that leave out certain individuals or rival with other social constructs. This is where positive liberty should step in to ensure that each individual has equal opportunities on both an individual and a social level.

I do welcome any removal of obstacle that prevents an individual to live to his or her fullest potential. I am suspicious of government policies and especially the socialist and conservative ones. However, if government can improve the chances of an individual, can promote and protect individual and social liberties, then there should be a liberal government to do just that. A liberal government should prevent social constructs from being hostile towards any individual. A liberal government should promote an individual’s opportunities so that each and every individual can truly live his or her life to the full potential.

“Liberty for the wolves is death to the lambs” said Isaiah Berlin. By disregarding the social nature of human beings, granting the wrong individual liberties to those who disrespect social liberties, eventually liberty will put itself out of the equation. This is why I learned that liberty is not self-evident. Liberty is something we should promote and protect at all times, and does not originate out of itself when removing obstacles from an individual’s point of view, but has to be nourished both individually and socially.

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2 thoughts on “Libertas sit omnibus, omnes sint libertati.

  1. Jay says:

    To give liberty to one who abuses its power is foolish, but unjustly taking liberty from someone is a very heinous crime. It is easy to pass judgment on a wolf and call it the enemy but it is harder to take a step back and say perhaps there are other variables at work.
    It was Abraham Lincoln who said ‘The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among human creatures.’

    When one is weak as a lamb and taken advantage of by a wolf the solution shouldn’t first to be to take away liberty. This would be discrimination. But justly taking one wolf’s liberty away would be easy.

    The hardest solution and more likely the best is to teach to wolf and rehabilitate him to the best for society. As the nature of wolves this is a hard thing to do. So generally we take the liberty away and hope they learn a lesson. But all the wolf learns is how better not to get caught.

    Perhaps then the solution is better to be taught to the lamb. Though the victim, the lamb is best informed to the ways of the wolf from other sheep. Take the lamb when the wolf has been taken away and show it the ways to avoid the wolf, not aggravate it and at last cost become a big horn sheep that grows large horns that curl to defend itself from the wolf.

    Liberty may not be self evident, but it is always there until someone or something takes it away. As well it can only be taken away if someone allows it be taken away. No wolf will listen to a Sheppard telling it it’s not allowed to take the sheep for it views it as its right to eat. Thus the laws of the land will only appeal to the lawful and the wolf must be punished by the staff of the Sheppard from time to time. Though the Sheppard should not stop there and more so teach the lamb the ways the wolf works.

    Far too often when something bad happens we tend to look only at the wolf, blame it and then restrict the liberty of not only the wolves but everyone. We see the problem as the wolf, when we should see it as the actions the wolf has done, the area surrounding the problem and the ways it could be resolved.

    Sometimes we see the only solution is to punish the wolf but the way I see it, the sheep may have done nothing but maybe that’s part of the problem as well.

    We are only as strong as the ability to defend the liberties we have for if we do not defend them they will be taken away. So perhaps liberty for the wolves is not death to the lambs but only death to the lambs who refuse to realize that wolves are creatures that will eat a lamb if ever given the chance.

    Don’t mean to say your wrong just adding to your perspective, I loved what you wrote. It made me think and for that I thank you.

    • benburgers says:

      Thank you very much for your comment, Jay! It elegantly illustrates that the promotion of positive liberty should not be wielded to take away individual liberties of one person or the other by yourself or by a third person, but to help an individual defend liberty by his- or herself. This is probably why many social liberals think education is so important.

      It is indeed not the wolf’s fault it is a wolf. It is not the lamb’s fault it is a lamb. But as any species evolved to survive their predators, they indeed evolved in developing methods of survival. This should also be the case for the less favoured in a society. They should be given the opportunity to learn how to survive in an environment where not everyone has equal opportunities from the start.

      The sheppard’s role should indeed not be to chase the wolf away, but to teach the lambs how to survive. And that is why (as I often hear from libertarians they hardly see the difference) social liberalism is fundamentally different from social democracy or socialism, which sees the lamb as the victim, blaming the wolf for being a wolf and thus lets the sheppard take care of the lambs as if they could not take care of themselves.

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