A Case for Freedom in Human Society
Ants like authoritarianism, so who are we to argue?
10 quadrillion ants* will wake up today on nearly every continent on the planet and go about doing ant things without a single thought as to the state of being for an ant. No ant Marx will ask why the means of production seem to disproportionately benefit the Queen. No ant Jefferson will declare that all ants have certain unalienable rights that come, not from fellow ants, but from God Himself. No ant Rand* will declare that all ants are individuals beholden to no other ant or ant colony.
No, every ant will get up and unquestioningly do what ant society and ant nature demands each ant do. And this is how it has been for 99 million years* without interruption, civil war or Red Ants Matter demonstrations or Carpenter Ants Rallies. Ants, despite their lives of strict obedience and subservience to the colony, despite lives of endless monotony and servitude, appear to be quite content to exist under strict authoritarian rule.
The Natural Quest for Freedom
We humans, on the other hand, have a long and storied history of rebelling against authoritarians, against those who would use political power and physical force to keep us under their thumbs. Our own country, the United States, was born from such a rebellion. And, today, there are six full-fledged civil wars going on in the world; four countries embroiled in violent political instability; and, four engulfed in significant sectarian strife, conflicts waged by people seeking liberation from various forms of oppression.* And these numbers don’t cover the hundreds of smaller ongoing conflicts that have taken more than 167,000 lives last year alone.*
So, why is it that most humans desire freedom and are willing to resort to violence to achieve it when it is denied them?
Why is it that we, in a free society, reject the premise that a small group of empowered people, an elite directing government and the citizenry towards a common goal, can provide a better life for society than can a free nation of millions of people making individual decisions for themselves and in their best interest?
To begin with, humans are aspirational.
Unlike our ant friends who wish to simply survive and reproduce, humans want a better life tomorrow than they have today. We wish to build upon what we have, to take our knowledge and labor, and add to that which we have already achieved, to reach a level of comfort, accomplishment and security that is greater than what we have today.
“In a free society, one that protects the individual liberty of all its citizens, people can pursue the things that make them happy.”
To accomplish this improvement in our condition, we need the ability to change direction, to take on new jobs, to explore new ideas and employ our resources in ways that benefit us, individually. In a free society, we can choose a path that best suits our talents and skills. Unlike in an authoritarian society, in which the individual’s desires are subservient to the state’s, people in a free society can choose employment that best matches their talents rathe
r than the needs of the state.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Being able to spend one’s life in ways that makes one happy not only benefits individual members of a society, it benefits that society’s economy. In fact, happy workers are 22% more productive than unhappy ones.* Workers in free states are the most productive in the world. In fact, China, still a totalitarian state, saw substantial productivity growth as it liberalized its economy and allowed workers to own the means of production and invest in future growth as they saw fit.*
In addition to being aspirational, humans are very complex beings, motivated by a wide variety of different things. Some are motivated by money, others by a sense of purpose or duty, and others still by the desire to be loved. Ultimately, a free society allows its members to choose a life that motivates them to get out of bed in the morning. Happiness, the result of living a life that satisfies one’s motivations, is a condition that is unique to each person. What makes me happy, might not inspire the same emotion in you.
The Liberty-Happiness Equation
In a free society, one that protects the individual liberty of all its citizens, people can pursue the things that make them happy. They have the liberty to divert time and resources to activities that a totalitarian state might view as trivial or unimportant. And when we compare happiness levels, free states rank at the very top.* In fact, the first state considered not free on the list of happiest nations is United Arab Emirates, ranked number 28, ahead of Russia (56) and China (83).* In comparison, the US is ranked 13th and Syria, second to last, at 156, ahead of only Burundi.
If you look at the top ten happiest nations, they average a freedom score of 98.8, whereas the least happiest nations average a score of 41.3. For perspective sake, the US had a freedom score of 90; China was 13; Russia 22; North Korea (not measured for happiness) was a 3; Tibet a 1; and, coming in last, Syria, which was the second most unhappy country in the world, got a freedom score of -1.* Burundi, the unhappiest nation in the world, got a freedom score of 19.
On top of being aspirational and complex, humans are also self-aware.
We know that we aren’t very good at predicting the future and that many of our best plans end up resulting in unintended things. Because of this self-awareness, we are naturally reluctant to trust others with our futures.
But, the benefit of allowing widespread freedom in a society
outweighs the possible negatives in very real, as well as, intangible benefits to a nation.
As F.A. Hayek put it, “Certainty we cannot achieve in human affairs, and it is for this reason that, to make the best use of what knowledge we have, we must adhere to rules which experience has shown to serve best on the whole, though we do not know what will be the consequences of obeying them in the particular instance.” * In other words, since we can’t accurately predict the future, we have a better chance of getting it right if more people make more individual decisions than if a small number of people make all the decisions.
Allowing widespread freedom in a society creates some risks, of course.
People may do bad things with the freedom they have and, in so doing, cause harm to the nation. They may express their freedom in ways that are not approved by society. But, the benefit of allowing widespread freedom in a society outweighs the possible negatives in very real, as well as, intangible benefits to a nation.
“… we have a better chance of getting it right if more people make more individual decisions than if a small number of people make all the decisions.”
It is no accident, for example, that 42% of new drug innovations happen in the United States.* Or that the United States has 11-times more Nobel Prizes than Russia and China combined*, despite having only 21% of their population and a GDP that is only 17.6% higher than the two countries.* The multiplying effect of a free society allows innovations that far outsize the population and economic might of the nation that enjoys a high degree of liberty.
The Founding Fathers knew what the Queen of Ants doesn’t know:
That workers, soldiers and other members of society who are free to act in their own best interest contribute more than when they are directed by an empowered elite or by the restrictive rules of an oppressive society, and, in return for their freedom, give more back to the colony than the colony would otherwise expect.
Editor’s Note: “Ant Rand” refers to Ayn Rand, noted author of many significant books, including Atlas Shrugs, which addresses the rights of individuals in society and related concepts.