Principium Volume II, Book 10, Quote 979 and 980

979. (11-19-2010) Above all, however, we must recognize that we may be free and yet miserable. Liberty does not mean all good things or the absence of all evils. It is true that to be free may mean freedom to starve, to make costly mistakes, or to run mortal risks. In the sense in which we use the term, the penniless vagabond who lives precariously by constant improvisation is indeed freer than the conscripted soldier with all his security and relative comfort. But if liberty may therefore not always seem preferable to other goods, it is a distinctive good that needs a distinctive name….[T]he suggestion must be avoided that, because we employ the same word, these “liberties” are different species of the same genus. This is the source of dangerous nonsense, a verbal trap that leads to the most absurd conclusions. Liberty in the sense of power, political liberty, and inner liberty are not states of the same kind as individual liberty: we cannot, by sacrificing a little of the one in order to get more of the other, on balance gain some common element of freedom. We may well get one good thing in the place of another by such exchange. But to suggest that there is a common element in them which allows us to speak of the effect that such an exchange has on liberty is sheer obscurantism, the crudest kind of philosophical realism, which assumes that, because we describe these conditions with the same word, there must also be a common element in them. But we want them largely for different reasons, and their presence or absence has different effects. If we have to choose between them, we cannot do so by asking whether liberty will be increased as a whole, but only by deciding which of these different states we value more highly.

- Friedrich A. Hayek – The Constitution of Liberty, 1978

980. (11-19-2010) It is often objected that our concept of liberty is merely negative. This is true in the sense that peace is also a negative concept or that security or quiet or the absence of any particular impediment or evil is negative. It is to this class of concepts that liberty belongs: it describes the absence of a particular obstacle – coercion by other men. It becomes positive only through what we make of it. It does not assure us of any particular opportunities, but leaves it to us to make of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But while the uses of liberty are many, liberty is one. Liberties appear only when liberty is lacking: they are the special priviledges [sic] and exemptions that groups and individuals may acquire while the rest are more or less unfree. Historically, the path to liberty has led through the achievement of particular liberties. But that one should be allowed to do specific things is not liberty, though it may be called “a liberty”; and while liberty is compatible with not being allowed to do specific things, it does not exist if one needs permission for most of what one can do. The difference between liberty and liberties is that which exist between a condition in which all is permitted that is not prohibited by general rules and one in which all is prohibited that is not explicitly permitted.

- Friedrich A. Hayek – The Constitution of Liberty, 1978

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

1331. (3-3-2011) (The book “On Power” is going to be much more cerebral and feel abstract, but lend your mental faculties to it and bits of truth begin to come. Like the leaks in a dam, dike, or levy,