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Liberty is voluntary obedience to self-enforced law.
It is the understanding of law, obedience to law, the use of law. A man is not free to jump off the roof of a house and fly like a bird. If he attempts it, he will find himself on the ground with a broken leg and not free to walk on the earth. He is free to fly when he understands the laws of aerial navigation and flies in obedience to them. Man is not free to eat and drink as much as his gluttonous desires prompt. If he attempts to do so, he presently finds that he is not free to digest what he has eaten and must make up for the one day's feast by several days of fasting. Liberty does not mean that the chauffeur may
drive his automobile thirty miles an hour through the crowded streets of a city, for then the pedestrian has not liberty to cross the street. Liberty does not mean that the labor union may
determine the conditions of work for non-union men, for then the independent laborer is denied liberty to work. Liberty does not mean that life-insurance directors may invest their funds as they please, for then the bereaved widow has no liberty to get her money when her husband leaves her in poverty. Liberty does not mean that a railway may charge what it will and give what rebates it chooses, for then the town discriminated against has no liberty to grow, and the trader discriminated against has no liberty to trade. Only that community is free which recognizes the sanctity of law — law written in the
very nature of human society because in the nature of the men and women who constitute society and honestly and intelligently endeavors to conform its life to that inherent, immutable, eternal law. Law is written in the very constitution of the universe. Nothing is just law which is not so written. The power of a lawgiver does not make law just, whether that lawgiver be one or many-an aristocracy or a democracy. The consent of the governed does not make it just. Conformity to the nature of life — material and psychical, individual and social — alone makes law just. To discard law, put it aside, live as though it were not, accept it only so far as it accords with our own whims or inclinations is anarchism. To submit to it only because there is lodged in the lawgiver power to inflict a penalty on the disobedient is submission to despotism. To recognize its sanctity, to see its value, to understand its purpose, to use it for the common welfare is liberty. For law is the nature of the thing concerning which it is predicated ; and liberty is voluntary obedience to self-recognized and self-enforced law.
A man's relation to law may be either one of
three relations: he may disregard law; he may submit to law; he may use law.
A boy grows up at home, where his health is not cared for; where he eats what he likes, exercises as he likes, sleeps when he likes; in short, is physically lawless. He is taken seriously ill. The doctor finds that he has undermined his constitution, and tells him if he does not reform his life
eat, sleep, and exercise according to law — he has not long to live. The boy reluctantly abandons his imagined freedom and submits to the laws of health. He comes into the second relation to the law, the relation of submission. His health improves and becomes measurably normal. He goes to college and desires to join the crew. The trainer says to him, If
you wish to join the crew, you must accept the conditions of the crew. He tells the boy what he must eat and what he must not eat; what he may drink and what he must not drink; when he must go to bed and what exercise he must take. The boy, ambitious to get on the crew, accepts these directions, loyally and even gladly. He is now not merely submitting to the laws of health, he is using the laws of health in order to equip himself for the position to which his ambition calls him. Disregard of law is suicide, obedience to law is health, use of law is power.
A community which disregards the four fundamental rights of man — the rights of person,
of property, of the family, and of reputation - lives in anarchy and perpetual turmoil; the end thereof is social death. A community of individuals who yield obedience to these laws just in so far as they must and no further may have a certain measure of social health, may at least be preserved from social death. But no community is strong, no community is on the highway to a great and common prosperity, which does not recognize in these laws the conditions of wellbeing, which does not by its united action promote the health and life of its members, the social purity of its members, the material
prosperity of its members, and the reputation and honor of its members. Only such a community is a strong, self-governing community; only such a community is truly free.
WHO SHOULD GOVERN?
GOVERNMENT is power to enforce command; government is just when the commands enforced are in accord with the great eternal laws of right and wrong. The function of government in the enforcement of these laws is primarily the protection of the four fundamental rights of man, the rights of the person, the rights of the family, the rights of property, and the rights of reputation. Government may exercise other functions; but if it does not exercise this function, it is inefficient and incompetent. On whom is the duty of protecting the rights of persons and property laid ? Upon whom does it devolve in a self-governing community?
Says Abraham Lincoln: “When the white man governs himself, that is self-government, but when he governs himself and also another man, that is more than self-government; that is despotism.” That is true in its immediate application to slavery; absolutely and unqualifiedly true. For one man to govern another man, to take charg of him, determine what are his interests and con