A free society is predicated upon certain rights of the individual. Without these certain unalienable rights, a given society cannot be considered free. However, the simple possession of said rights will not secure a free society. Maintenance of those rights requires responsibility on the part of all citizens.
Once a society loses its nature of responsibility, those rights will shift into a different kind of delegation. A responsible society possesses negative rights, or restrictions on the government; thus empowering the people over the government. However, we must first identify the rights of the free society. Then, we must identify the rights of a society that believes it is free, but really is not.
So, what are these certain rights that are essential to a free society? These are the negative rights, the restrictions on governmental activity to ensure voluntary interaction, free enterprise, and protection of private property. Here is an overview of what those essential negative rights are for a free society.
The form of government is understood to be a constitutional republic in the following articles.
1. Governance by Written Constitution
A constitution is the fundamental law of a society. It is the basis for which all future laws are to be based. If a new law is passed by the legislative body that is not in concordance with that Constitution, said law is null and void.
Take for example Great Britain. They have an unwritten constitution. The laws that are passed are the constitution. Such a method of governance does little to secure liberty because there is no fundamental law that protects the unalienable rights of its citizens.
Now let’s look at the United States. Here, a written constitution is the fundamental law. It prescribes the duties of each branch of government, and gives specific parameters for federal governance. While there are certain areas where officials have twisted the 18th century language to suit their agenda
While no constitution is going to be perfect, a written constitution better secures liberty than an unwritten constitution. Having the parameters of governance, and protections of rights clearly written down is a better check on encroachments of those rights.
The following rights are understood to be written into this constitution.
2. Freedom of Speech
No society can consider itself free if its citizens are not able to speak without fear of retribution from the government. Yes, this includes views that disagree with the government itself, or even the society at large.
The entire point of having a delegated right to freedom of speech is for the protection of the individual from the majority. This is in stark contrast the what many people believe about the American Republic.
Former Congressman, and staunch libertarian apologist, Ron Paul perhaps stated it the best way
“We don’t have freedom of speech to talk about the weather. We have the First Amendment so we can say very controversial things.”
This means that speech codes are a no-no in a free society, despite what 99.99% of the society says about it. A society that can rule by majority rule is no better than one dictator who rules by his own edict.
The emotions and political inclinations of the majority sway back and forth like a pendulum. But the protection of free speech by a constitution ensures that a wave of sentiment or fear will not destroy the fundamental right to speak freely.
3. Private Property
A society, in order to be considered free, must also provide protections for private property holdings. This concept was heavily emphasized by Enlightenment Philosopher John Locke.
Protections of private property are essential because a society cannot thrive if a government can simply take property on its own arbitrary whim. Policies like eminent domain violate the private property rights, because a government uses the “greater good” argument to evict people from their homes to make way for “progress.”
The truth is that government never makes progress; only citizens through voluntary economic interaction can do that. Citizens work together to create prosperity by working around each other’s lives and property.
Ensuring that people’s private property is not simply taken over empowers people to make decisions and take risks with their property for profit. If a government could take away private property at any time, people would be less inclined to expand their horizons for fear of confiscation.
These protections are included in the United States Constitutions in Amendments III, IV, and V. III prevents government quartering of troops on private property, IV prevents unlawful search and seizure of private property, and V ensures that damages done by the government to private property will be properly covered and paid to the owner.
One of the main goals of a free society should be the protection of private property, and this goal should be clearly written into its constitution to guide the pens of lawmakers who, in the future, may seek to pervert the meaning of simple words.