Libertarians, by their nature, are wont to bang on about liberty, and that it is desirable, and that it is the mother of Order. In the mind of a libertarian, this is all correct and proper, for liberty is the blank slate of the individual; only when he exists in a state of freedom may he pursue those ends which he deems appropriate and suitable for himself.
Thus libertarians take a critical view of those who claim that liberty is an end state, rather than a means – a philosophical ideal to be reserved for a time when material needs have been fulfilled. A person is not free, say these terminal types, until he no longer need struggle for food, clothing, a roof over his head, healthcare, education, employment, transportation – in short, until his physical integrity and livelihood are assured by minimal effort on his part. Western society has, in fact, become so progressive that ‘liberty’ is sometimes defined as ‘possessing sufficient time, money, and energy to expend on leisure rather than sustenance.’
This is, to be sure, a wonderful development in one sense. Rarely in human history has daily toil been considered an irritation to be minimised in favour of pleasure, rather than an essential and all-consuming necessity for survival. Peasant farmers in early medieval Europe had, on the whole, much more liberty than we do today: being unimportant, they suffered little interference from the state, especially those who only farmed enough to feed themselves; being poor, they suffered little interference from others, as they were both inoffensive and had nothing worth stealing. But on the other hand, they had to struggle for food, clothing, a roof over their heads, and had no healthcare at all, or education, or employment, or transportation – therefore they were not free, in the sense that they spent all of their time ensuring their survival and virtually none of their time or effort on leisure.
In essence, then, we have two conflicting modern interpretations of ‘liberty.’ Let’s call them liberty-as-means and liberty-as-ends. Liberty-as-means is a basic state of being in which coercion and unwanted interference by others or the state are absent. This will unfortunately mean that an individual may have to struggle for physical integrity and livelihood. Liberty-as-ends is an advanced state of being in which the struggle for physical integrity and livelihood is absent. This will ideally mean that an individual may therefore focus primarily on the pursuit of that which gives him pleasure.
Enders take a critical view of meansers (libertarians), claiming that those advocating liberty-as-means are able to do so because they are not on the margin of struggling for physical integrity and livelihood. I cannot say with any certainty whether this criticism is valid for all meansers; it may indeed be the case that material comfort breeds libertarianism. On the other hand, it may be that people with a libertarian mindset drive themselves to achieve material comfort. We may never know the answer – counterfactuals can’t be proved – but it might be interesting one day to survey the backgrounds and material circumstances of libertarians.
In any case, we have this situation of liberty in opposition to itself. Meansers cannot have their basic state of liberty because it nearly always has to be infringed in order for the enders to achieve their advanced state of liberty. Enders cannot achieve their advanced state of liberty because meansers are always resisting their methods.
This raises some understandable questions.
First, can liberty-as-means result in liberty-as-ends, and if so, over what sort of timescale?
Second, if not, can liberty-as-ends result in liberty-as-means – and if so, over what sort of timescale?
Finally, if our two conflicting interpretations of liberty are mutually exclusive, which is objectively better and thus more worthy of pursuit?