The Five Legitimate Limits on Liberty*
If we can agree on this much, we might as a nation have a chance.
In the founding ideology of the U.S. the goal of society is justice. Within that ideology justice is equated with liberty: more liberty means more justice.
It is universally recognized in this nation that every person’ s liberty ends at the person and property of any other person. To harm another person or to harm or take another person’s property is unjust.
It is obvious why another person’s person — a person’s physical being — is a legitimate limit on liberty. It is worth asking why property is a legitimate limit on liberty.
After all, justice is the goal of society. Justice is liberty. Maximizing liberty maximizes justice. Yet, my property limits your liberty.
Property is a legitimate limit on liberty because any person’s property is an integral part of that person’s life. It is irrelevant whether it is necessary or not, or useful or not, or has monetary or sentimental value or not, or whether or not any other recognizable justification exists for any piece of property that a person owns. Even if a person’s property was illegitimately acquired, it is still unjust for any other individual person(s) to harm or take it. A person’s property is integral to that person’s life, and that is all anybody needs to know.
So property is one integral interest in the lives of all individuals, and for that reason it is a legitimate limit on liberty. Are there any other such interests?
One such interest that is already universally recognized is a person’s reputation. That is why the liberty to commit malicious slander/libel is limited to the point of being illegal. Indeed, to assassinate another person’s character is every bit as vile an act as murder is.
It is also known to all people that physical health is an integral interest that all people have. To put the physical health of others at risk is unjust. Taking measures to protect the health of people against known threats to it is a legitimate limit on liberty.
We know, furthermore, that a person’s mental/psychological/emotional well-being is another integral interest that all people have. To harm the well-being of that kind of any other person is unjust. Being required to refrain from committing such harm is a legitimate limit on liberty.
So, beyond our physical beings, those are the integral interests that all people have: our property, our reputation, our physical well-being, and our mental/psychological/emotional well-being. All are an integral part of all people’s lives. All are legitimate limits on liberty. Violating any of them is unjust. In a nation founded to maximize justice, we the people must do our part to maximize the justness of the nation by recognizing the legitimate limits on liberty and abiding by those limits whether any of them have been made illegal or not. It’s called personal responsibility: self-government.
*Published on February 4, 2022; “Five” added to the title the following day.