Freedom is often regarded as one of society’s most important qualities. It’s the motif upon which the United States and countless other nations have been founded, and an ideal intrinsic to the high-minded ideology that’s shaped our institutions. Despite all the praise it receives, its value isn’t immediately obvious. However, I hope to establish that upon closer inspection, liberty is invaluable, both to society and the individual.
When leaders are given authority over their peers — the alternative to liberty — the vast majority seek their own interests before those of their subordinates. This paves the way for the most egregious abuses of human dignity. Even if by some miracle, there’s a sufficient number of truly selfless individuals willing to take up the task of government, these well-meaning few are almost always outcompeted by their callous and Machiavellian counterparts, who are willing to go to great lengths to obtain power in ways that are unthinkable to a just leader. When those responsible for the general well-being act purely out of self-interest, they endanger everyone, while self-interest among private individuals is far less likely to harm their peers.
Economics also makes a strong case for liberty. Nations that allow for free exchange and limited coercion greatly outperform their more collectivist rivals. Without fail, wealthy, first world countries are defined by market economies and robust civil liberties. Though regulation is implemented to varying degrees, none of the world’s most prosperous nations stray too far from the ideals of economic liberalism. Likewise, even in the alleged social democracies of Europe, the vast majority of economic activity is conducted freely by private individuals. It’s well-supported that most (but not all) regulation of activity serves to deprive and impoverish rather than to benefit the citizen.
Strong jurisdiction also conflicts with human well-being because central authorities, by nature, adopt a “one size fits all” approach to decision-making. In reality, one size rarely fits all. In reference to my previous point, individuals are generally better at determining what’s to their benefit than is any central authority. In a system that maintains freedom, those who feel that a given course of action is in their best interest may follow that course, while those that don’t may avoid it. This will satisfy a larger portion of the population than a system that adopts one decision for everyone.
The decisions that can be made by individuals for themselves should be left to freedom, allowing the interests of everyone to be met. Otherwise, it’s desirable for decisions to be made democratically, in which the interests of at least 50% are reflected. Only when both liberty and democracy are impossible should an established authority be granted any power over their peers. It’s conceivable that an authoritarian decision could address the interests of only a small minority of the population, an outcome that should be avoided at all costs.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of liberty for an individual is the way it allows them to pursue personal goals. People simply differ in their preferences and priorities. Individuals are far better at achieving their unique objectives than any bloated governing body working on their behalf, which must first learn vast quantities of information and conduct an overwhelming amount of planning to have even the slightest hope of fulfilling human desires. (Assuming that this governing body even seeks to better the people at all, which is far from certain.)
Societies built on individualism and liberty are not only more adept at providing for individuals, but also more successful in producing positive outcomes for the population at large. The alternatives to freedom — collective decision-making and authority — are inevitably plagued by corruption, coercion, and economic malfunction. Allowing people to adapt to their unique preferences enables the formation of a society that meets the desires of a far greater number. Though people sometimes make choices that ultimately prove to be against their best judgement, no alternative has yet proven to be more steadfast and successful in the pursuit of humanity’s individual and collective goals.