Saturday, May 31, 2014

Civil Liberty

"IN PRACTICE the area of such “civil liberty” in a healthy and politically free State, the proportion of acts which the individual or the corporation may perform at will, without restriction by the State, is always very large. It always includes by far the greater part of one’s daily activities, at any rate in normal times; and we regard the extension of this “civil liberty,” quite apart from national or political liberty, as a good; we jealously watch encroachments upon it as dangerous, that is, as liable to produce great evil, for four reasons:─

"First, we know by our reason that the State is not an end in itself, but only exists for the happiness of the members—real bodies and soul—that make it up. Therefore each must have the power of testifying to the success or failure of state measures towards that end, and of himself furthering it.

"Secondly, we discover by experiment and from the example of history how necessary to the health of the State as a whole, how necessary to its vigorous common life, is this power of reaction within it.

"Thirdly, we all know that there is in human nature a defect of tyranny—the love of “running other people,” of seeing them obey you. Therefore the human agent of civil authority must be subject himself to restriction and limits as of appointment or custom.

"Lastly, one of the attributes of a conscious individual being is the desire and instinct, or what might be called (without too much exaggeration), the sheer necessity for self-expression. An undue restriction exasperates this instinct and forbids the satisfaction of this desire. In so much it warps and weakens and inflames the individual, makes him unhappy and defeats the end for which the State itself exists, which is the happiness of its members.

"Now civil liberty being of this nature, and being by common consent good, and any unnecessary loss of it an evil, it will at once be granted that the imposition of a special form of thought or philosophic expression upon the mass of free men against their will, is a restriction of the gravest kind. In common (and true) language, it is tyranny."

~Hilaire Belloc: from Religion and Civil Liberty.

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