Murray Rothbard, the libertarian economist and revisionist historian, called Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics the greatest work of libertarian political philosophy ever written. It was for that reason that I read it. Such praise is worth investigation. What I found was the recesses of a spacious and patient thought on the nature of man and the role of liberty in the life of man. In chapter 4, titled “The Derivation of a First Principle” Spencer deduces the fundamental and so often misinterpreted principle of equal liberty. Misinterpreted? Yes. Badly. Cue the modern liberal and his promotion of violence through government coercion. He will promise you he has a principle of equal liberty in mind. Let us show him how he mistakes the principle and what the principle is really founded in. At the same time let us bring to the surface how the libertarian politic is grounded in the true nature of man, thus awarding it the status of the only legitimate politic.
Spencer says, and one must unpack the tightly woven argument: “God will’s man’s happiness. Man’s happiness can be produced only by the exercise of his faculties. Then God wills that he should exercise his faculties. But to exercise his faculties he must have liberty to to do all that his faculties naturally impel him to do. Then God intends he should have that liberty.
THIS, HOWEVER, IS NOT THE RIGHT OF ONE BUT OF ALL. ALL ARE endowed with faculties. All are bound to fulfill the Divine will be exercising them. All, therefore, must be free to do those things in which the exercise of them consists. That is, all must have rights to liberty of action.
And hence there necessarily arises a limitation. For if men have like claims to that freedom which is needful for the exercise of their faculties, then must the freedom of each be bounded by the similar freedom of all.”
Let us first set aside the talk of the god. I do not mean to ignore except to say that the phrase “God” used by Spencer serves merely to establish the incontestable source of the natures that are obvious to us. Moving on.
The premise needing support if any does? That “Man’s happiness can be produced only by the exercise of his faculties.” “Faculty” here is a word referring to resource. The premise is established by the presence of the faculties in the needy living being. That there is both need and resource implies either a grand joke (the irrelevance of the faculties for the need) or the relevance of the faculties (resources) for the satisfaction of need (happiness).
The “only” in the premise is important. It implies strict identification of the exercise of faculties with the satisfaction of need. Let us start simply. Hunger can only be satisfied naturally by the exercise of the eyes in locating sustenance, the feet and hands in moving towards it and gathering it up, the mouth in opening and closing, the throat in swallowing. Imagine attempting to bring about happiness by force feeding he who did everything he could to avoid it. It would be comical if our society was not rife with the likes of forced psychiatric commitment of the non-criminal and taxation.
We could further unpack the point, but isn’t it obvious? How do these faculties (resources) set moving? Only by space and time to do so and the effort of the individual who has exclusive control (property rights) over those faculties. The control over those faculties are the man’s. If he who interferes (government for example or the enslaver more generally) prevents the man from opening his eyes, from moving his arms and legs, from exercising his throat to swallow, no satisfaction (happiness) is possible.
Let it be here echoed what seems so often to not be appreciated by he who uses violence to satisfy his needs (or the needs of others–welfare state). He could not satisfy them without his own exercising of his faculties. And this is true of any human who has faculties. He is, by the gift of the god, provided with faculties the exercising of which, is the only way to happiness. But one thing is needed. Room. To be left alone. The welfare state thinks that it can bring about a general happiness by forcing some to work for others. It is hardly imaginable. And yet it is attempted though quite unsuccessfully. All that is brought about is the fleeing of the violated, incentive to consume instead of save (to avoid the taking), and incentive to join the takers (generally termed “impoverished”). The government makes the latter easier by the day: the list of “disabilities” grows. The level considered impoverished is raised. And, of course, the restrictions placed on those to be violated are tightened such that they are easier to track, catch, extract from.
The movement to the principle of liberty and the limitation of action is intuitive to he who is not offended by how it grates against his desire to use violence against his fellow. Since ALL are provided with faculties for the satisfaction of need (happiness), and the faculties must be exercised by the individual who owns the faculties and can only be exercised by the individual who owns the faculties, each is to seek the exercise of his faculties and not the exercise of the faculties of any other’s. Each is to exercise his faculties without interfering with another’s exercise. I can already here the passionate objections. “Objection your honor! Objection.” There will be time to give the violent an argument. For now let us just leave the violent with their objections. They wish to hunt, with their faculties, he who exercises his faculties profitably.”
The living body is a resource and all of its other gifted resources are housed in it. That I may not enslave follows from my limiting myself to my own faculties and not the attempt to interfere with the exercise of another man’s. With the living human body a man may think, weigh, measure, look, listen, collect, take apart, put together, produce, transform, trade, work, save, invest, consume. Let him activate the powers that he has to do this and not attempt violently to prevent him from the exercise of his faculties.
What is interesting about the faculties that Spencer speaks of is that they are inalienable. The thief cannot take my thinking, my weighing, my considering. He may, as governments do, threaten to prevent me from doing these things if I do not conform to his wishes, but he leaves me nonetheless with the choice to exercise my faculties or not.
The human faculties, found in each, are the exclusive property of each, naturally. “Property” a word hated by so many “liberals” and “progressives” is simply that which a man has exclusive use of. It must be frustrating that there is a part of each man that he who wishes to steal cannot steal without simply eliminating the property itself. A man may be interfered with. But what Spencer calls his “faculties” may not be stolen. They may merely be destroyed.
We will have more time soon to extend the notion of property beyond the living body and its faculties. For now let us rest in the simplicity of it all and how he who wishes to engage in noncontractual forcing must ignore the natural humanity in a man in order to accomplish his task. He is the true outlaw, outside the law, the natural law. He, the outlaw, whether cloaked in euphemisms like “prime minister” or “governor” or “president” or “godfather” or morally pregnant titles like “slave master” or “rapist” is he who wishes to ignore what is natural and ineliminable from view. Each can be made happy through the exercise of his faculties by himself (the only way), and so each is to exercise without interfering.