Advance both your personal liberty and the cause of individual liberty by being a person of character. In order to be a person of character, you must live by certain human values. Without these human values, individual liberty doesn’t work. The bonds among people weaken. Individuals and communities break down.
In fact, human values are even more important to libertarians than non-libertarians precisely because we are, by nature, such an intellectual and diverse group. The communication failures and drama in our communities largely proceed from a failure to practice human values. So we’re never going to make sustained forward progress as advocates of individual liberty until we admit the key importance of human values. We must work them into our characters, personalities and habits.
Here are my top 11 human values that are required for a libertarian society to work.
- Honesty. To tell the truth and not lie, neither by commission nor omission. Liberty is about each individual doing as he likes. This frequently requires cooperation among individuals – otherwise known as trade – in order to achieve goals. A lack of honesty destroys trust, and without trust, trade and cooperation are severely compromised. Also, dishonesty is fraud, which is a violation of the non-aggression principle – the one idea most libertarians agree on!
- Integrity. By integrity, I mean internal consistency, keeping your word, not selling out your principles. Walking your talk. If you promise one style of business or being and deliver something completely different, then you’re a hypocrite. You can not be trusted because the words coming out of your mouth do not align with the actions of your body. That destroys trust and makes it hard for people to work together on anything complex.
- Service. The voluntary provision of helpful work by one person to another. Service is not a dirty word. Service is what freed markets are all about. Capitalism is one person voluntarily serving another, and getting paid for it by mutual agreement. Without service, there can be no economic exchange and thus no economy to speak of. That’s death for libertarians. Side note: Egotism is antithetical to service.
- Courage. Taking the initiative. Having confidence and believing in yourself. Liberty implies no handouts, no unearned achievements. It’s just you vs the world. So if you want to achieve your goals, if you want to build the life you dream of, then it’s all on you. No one is going to do it for you. You require great courage to believe in yourself and believe that it is possible to achieve your dreams. Great courage is also required to defend your very liberty. There will always be ostensibly well-intentioned busybodies with five-year plans to erode your liberty. You must have the courage to resist these, with the force of truth and the force of arms, if need be.
- Accountability. Standing behind your actions. Responding when someone complains. Fixing your mistakes and making others whole when you do damage to them. Everybody makes mistakes. When conducting business, reasonable people can disagree. But what distinguishes an honorable person from a dishonorable one is that the former responds to reasonable complaints and the latter does not. The dishonorable person engages in relationships and business deals without caring whether others are satisfied with his comportment and services. Liberty requires accountable people because without accountability, people feel they are being ripped off and, worse, that there is no avenue for resolving the dispute they have. Without dispute resolution, resentment festers and trust is lost.
- Solidarity. Mutual support. Standing together with those who are experiencing misfortune or adversity. Brotherly Love. Any of us can, and sadly do, experience health crises, financial adversity, deaths in the family, violent encounters and other setbacks in the course of our lives. As human beings, we want to know that someone will be there to help us get through it. Not just showing but acting in solidarity with your associates and neighbors who are experiencing personal misery builds community cohesion, identity and trust. This makes everyone stronger. It helps people to overlook small differences in order to keep working together because now we know that we’re all pulling in the same direction.
- Perseverance. To keep doing what you’re doing even though it’s difficult and success has been delayed. To sustain your productive activities over an extended period of time. In the real world, outside of kindergartens and federal agencies, achieving your business and personal goals takes time and hard work. You can’t compel anyone to buy your product or teach you their secrets of success. There is no shortcut in your studies. Liberty means that you, and you alone, are responsible for your success. God, and others, help those who help themselves. Helping yourself to success is a long-term proposition. You have to find the inner strength to sustain your efforts over the long haul – especially when success seems farthest away.
- Optimism. The future is bright and I can influence it. Optimism is foundational. With liberty, you are responsible for your own life trajectory. You can’t persevere, have courage or be of service to anyone if you’re huddled in a dark corner and depressed about your future. Liberty requires belief and hope. It requires that you look forward to this moment, the next and the one tomorrow. Without that, you can not hope to engage in constructive activity. You can’t expect to continue your existence without engaging in any kind of constructive activity, whether that be feeding yourself, educating yourself, forming relationships or any other activity that improves your life.
- Self-Discipline. The ability to control your feelings and not let them derail your efforts. Without self-discipline, you are an aimless jumble of rapidly-changing emotions. This moment you may work on one project, the next moment something else. This moment you may feel motivated and inspired, the next depressed. Self-discipline brings consistency. It’s found in your habits. Success, more often than not, comes as a result of courageously persevering over a long period of time. That requires self-discipline in order to stay the course.
- Compassion. Concern for others and their suffering. Love. Without this, we are simply not human beings anymore since as humans we require love in order to feel whole. Compassion binds communities together because people know that they will receive solidarity when they need it – even if they can’t currently produce any product or service for the marketplace. We are more than just rational calculators and trading machines. We are human beings. When we have compassion, we trust those around us. Trust greases the gears of commerce and community life. We can’t expect to create independent, decentralized human communities without becoming expert practitioners of compassion.
- Respect. To recognize through your words and actions the importance of other people’s feelings, wishes, rights and preferences. To respect another human being is to recognize their inherent equality with you. It’s to recognize that, to paraphrase Gandhi, we all carry a piece of the truth within ourselves. Each of us has something to contribute to the other. Each has inherent value. I recognize a piece of me in you. I recognize that we are both intelligent, feeling, sovereign beings with the same rights and responsibilities. To not respect another is to deny that he or she is equal to you and thus to place yourself over him or her. This is the very antithesis of liberty.
Liberty is Foundational
Without liberty, of course, it is impossible to esteem or express any of these values. It is only when our fellow human beings respect our liberty – our individual self-determination – that we can identify important values and choose to practice them.
You likely noticed that a lot of these values are important because I value cooperation. The fact is that liberty and libertarianism have cooperation at their very core. Statism and its variants such as fascism do not require cooperation because governments compel people to work together. They use force – whether you like it or not.
But liberty presupposes respect for the individual’s own judgments and opinions. Thus, cooperation is all we have. Coercion is not permitted, except in defense of cooperation.
These human values, and many others, play key roles in the workings of any freed market or libertarian community. Liberty is the primary value that enables the rest. But these human values, in turn, power liberty. To advocate for liberty without practicing and promoting human values is doomed to misrepresent the essential nature of liberty and libertarianism: voluntary cooperation among sovereign peers in service of the individual lives of all.
I’ll be writing more posts about concrete and specific ways to advance liberty in your own life each week here at More Liberty Now. Don’t miss a post. Subscribe!
The Importance of Character in a Free Society
Bonus! As Lawrence Reed of FEE notes in the below video, The Importance of Character in a Free Society (the first few minutes are especially good), liberty thrives among people with high standards for personal character.
Photo Credit: kamaljith CC-BY