What makes freedom?

In the comments to my previous post I criticized the Nobel foundation for not having specific guidelines defining peace and describing what general activities further it. So how does the Henderson Prize live up to that standard? At the very beginning I drafted a statement to that effect, and modified it to its current form on the occasion of the anniversary of the Iranian student protests last July 9:


Liberty represents these four basic rights: to life and physical safety, to property, to choice and expression of personal beliefs, and to choice and pursuit of personal interests.
Speaks for itself.
The State exists to protect individual rights, and society exists to provide opportunity for individuals to voluntarily associate with others to engage in commerce, to share ideas, and to pursue common peaceable interests.
Statism usually empowers the government to usurp the job of society, to serve as the provider of commerce and cultural exchange.
Any person, whether acting as a private party or as an agent of the State, is guilty of violating these rights when that person commits assault against person and property, theft of property, fraudulent trade, coercion to prevent peaceable speech and pursuit of peaceable interest, or coercion to adopt and express undesired beliefs and to pursue undesired interests.
Theft is theft, whether it’s citizens breaking and entering into houses or the State seizing houses through eminent domain or asset forfeiture laws allowing such seizures without criminal conviction. Private-sector versions of the coercion typically involve threat of violence, as illustrated by protection rackets, anti-WTO riots, and death threats directed toward public speakers. Canadian officials would be miffed that “expression” of hurtful speech” is not listed as a crime – they can go suck on a maple leaf.
Liberty is advanced with the broadening of support for individual rights within a society, with legislation that brings a body of laws into greater compliance with individual rights, and with the overthrow of tyrannical governments that have violated the rights of the people and that have abolished all means of seeking redress of grievances against the crimes of the State.
Here’s the nuts and bolts for prize qualification: expanding society’s and government’s compliance with liberty, and evicting tyrannical governments. (I really should add that the tyrants must be replaced with reasonably free governments. The bad guys who overthrow the bad guys don’t count – I’m not accepting any nominations on behalf of Mssr. Robespierre.)
Browsing through the site, one will notice that I awarded the prize for two inventions – the printing press ad the typewriter – that gave the individual technology to compete with the State with regard to disseminatig ideas. These inventions have certainly been abused, but the benefiits to freedom far outweigh any costs. Logically, the Internet represents the next quantum leap in text communication. As the typewriter served as the backbone for the samizdat during the Cold War, the Internet can support dissident communication in the 21st century – but reaching a much wider audience and with near-instantaneous reporting. Being the stickler thant I am, I want to wait until some of the freedom-expanding legacy has materialized before granting those official honors.
At times a prize names an organization and a leader or time period is mentioned. Organizations vary in membership and even basic character over time. The armed forces of France that aided the victory at Yorktown is not the same entity that served in the Vichy government. The Congress that presided over the 1800 election dispute is a far different creature from the Congress of two centuries later.
Since the prizes mark specific events rather than serving as “lifetime achievement awards,” occasionally there will be a winner who hasn’t always been a friend to liberty. One may recall that Founding Father John Adams authored the Alien and Sedition Acts, one of the first Presidential attacks on the First Amendment. Aaron Burr is more famous for his dubiously-applied talents as marksmanship than for his presidential candidacy in 1800; that was the first time ever that a dispute over the outcome of a head-of-state selection process was resolved peacefully.
Then there’s Vladimir Meciar, who shares the prize by default because he was a member of the dissident group Public Against Violence that led the Slovak faction after the Velvet Revolution. His authoritarian rule over Slovakia is noted, as well as his inadvertent contribution that his political opportunism made to the success of the post-Communist era: “Placing the democratic experiment into two baskets did, however, give Czechs and Slovaks greater control over their own destinies than they would have had in a combined federation. This removed the potential for regional political feuds, thus benefiting Czech-Slovak relations, and prevented one region’s political backsliding from dragging the other down.”
I find it utterly ironic that both republics want to join the EU. They couldn’t live with each other under the same government, but they think they can live under a government shared by Germany and France? Quelle absurde.

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7 comments

  1. smith

    I want people to know that the gutless and self-pitying Nathan Newman, friend of Ramsey Clark, has been deleting posts that refer to the obits of the 4 men murdered in Iraq (you know: the men that the definitionally challenged Mr Newman calls “mercenaries”). I think that the sensitive Mr Newman gets more exercised about people who take down “Vote Union” fliers in the break room at Wal-Mart than he does about the gruesome murder of 4 innocent individuals.

  2. Steve

    You point out one of the principle problems with your reference to the French army which aided the American revolutionary army, i.e., over time that army changed. Presumably the original group would get the Henderson Award, but not the latter.
    But therein lies the dilemma I mentioned briefly in my post in response to your first: the element of time or the twisting of an original concept into something entirely diffferent.
    I would suggest, for example, that the League of Nations, as originally envisioned by Woodrow Wilson, would be qualified as a recipient although in a few years it proved worthless, not the least because the U.S. failed to ratify it and participate along with the fact it had no teeth, no ability to do little more than reprimand.
    Similarly, the United Nationals would appear to be even more qualified due to its better structure and ideas for dealing with military ambitions, yet it too has become something entirely different from what was contemplated in the beginning.
    In these two examples, or in many others available, the argument is simple: the “liberty” benefit doesn’t stand the test of time. I don’t see how you can evaluate an individual, or an institution for that matter, as to how significant or useful it is without some evaluation of it over time.
    Knee jerk reactions as to the usefulness, in terms of liberty made possible, inevitably will turn into failures in some, possibly many cases. The leader of a popular revolt, Fidel Castro, was a definite hero to his people at the time of the revolution and a good deal could be said for the improvements made in vanquishing the government he overthrew which was propped up by wealthy landowners and the U.S. Yet his people soon came to realize they’d installed a Communist dictatorship.
    At the time Castro was largely hailed as a hero and proponent of personal liberty in throwing off the yoke of the very rich (and very few). Does he also not deserve a Prize for his original efforts, the same as Woodrow Wilson for his United Nations, because the original idea was a good one?
    Henry Kissinger reopened Chinese and United States relations, two major Cold War countries after many years. Good candidate?
    Jimmy Carter has done much to see that democratic electiions were held in several countries of the world experiencing their first opportunity for democracy, rather than some totalitarian government. Good candidate?
    That first cease fire between the Arab countries, including the dispossed Palelestinians, and Israel. You dismissed that negotiation for a cease fire and peace negotiations as one obviously not deserving. Why? The fact it “didn’t work out?” What about the negotiators of the Oslo Peace Accords?
    Or how about one for the Israelis who negotiated in good faith with the Palestinians, only to see the anticipated peace agreement derailed by Arafat (conducted in the U.S.)? Give one to the Jewish contingent, but not the Arab?
    I think you have a lot of problems with your criteria due to the issue of how successful the selection is over time. The Nobel Prize committee has often made “obvious choices” that simply didn’t work out.
    My crystal ball has always been cloudy. Is the one used for the Henderson Prize a clearer one? πŸ˜‰
    (I do not disagree with your concepts or your ideas about such a “Prize.” I merely disagree with how you’re going to select winners who sometimes will come back and bite you as respects to whatever it was for which the Prize was given. I also recognize that you might use “statism” to argue against some of the choices I threw out above, but I would argue that in original concept all the criteria you list was met.)

  3. James

    Awarding it for actual *achievements* rather than laudable aims would help: the (League of|United) Nations get weeded out by that requirement. Had Castro built a democracy, he’d be deserving – he didn’t, so he isn’t. Carter’s efforts might justify a prize, as might that first Israeli cease-fire.
    Negotiations don’t cut it. Ambitions don’t. Results do. (That cease-fire might count as a “result”, especially if it had lasted, as might elections with Carter’s help.)

  4. Steve

    James: Good comments one and all. But how long does one wait to see what “good results” may occur? What if they appear to occur initially, as they did with Castro, so he gets The Prize for liberating Cuba. If you review the history of the revolt he led, he was a nice warm, cuddly fellow who initiallly got on quite well with the U.S. and others. He was hailed as a great leader for eliminating the bad dictatorship. Sadly, if you didn’t wait long enough, around two years as I recall, you wind up giving a prize to someone who LATER turns out to be a communist feeding at the doorway of the Kremlin.
    The question remains: how long do you wait? What are “good deeds?” Why isn’t being the originator of a “good idea” worth while.
    The whole process is flawed. And does it serve any real purpose anyway? Doubtful. Very doubtful. We’ve been preaching democracy to the Iraqis for a year and they still seem to have no concept of what the word means. So does Bush get The Prize if and when the Iraqis become a peaceful democracy? What if it takes 15 years, 30 years?
    Or what if his cause, which greatly benefits the world IMHO, turns out to be a great flop and the U.S. winds up investing 300 billion in a country which turns out to be Iran II? Maybe we should quickly give him The Prize. Or does waging war in the cause of Liberty not qualify one for a “peace” prize? Why not?
    (yeah, I’m getting tired of this topic too and will quit annoying Alan with my persistent comments…parting shot: The Prize was perhaps an interesting, even useful, idea in the 19th century. I see no viable purpose for use for it today using any criteria.)

  5. Alan K. Henderson

    The League or the UN might be contenders if either had invented or enhanceded some liberty-promiting ethic. I can’t think of one.
    On the topic of Carter, democratic elections don’t guarantee either freedom or stability. I’d like to know more about the countries where those elections were negotiated.
    Con jobs are not peace proposals. On the very day Oslo was signed, Arafat was telling Palestinian Arab crowds that Oslo was a step toward achieving the Phased Plan for the annihilation of Israel.
    Cold war isn’t peace, either. Since 1948 the nation of Israel has known only cold and hot war with Arab and Persian governments.

  6. Steve

    Once again, I am NOT a UN fan.
    1948 – the state of Israel was created; life’s been hard but they have a degree of “liberty”; the time seems fast approaching when the citizens of the U.S. are also going to become acquainted with suicide bombers et al.
    I feel I have a certain degree of liberty regardless. I’m able to lawfully defend myself, family and friends with firearms, as do Israelis, and feel that qualifies as a mesaure of “liberty”
    2002 – Seymour became an independent state (and a democraccy) with UN oversight. Bashing UN observers (shooting them also seems to be popular) is popular, but in some instances they’ve proven to be an important resource.
    There’s extensive information on Carter’s web site:
    http://www.cartercenter.org/
    where you will note the center is devoted to “waging peace, fighting disease, and building hope.”
    Am surprised you haven’t noticed his appearances at many elections, sometimes UN sanctioned, as an “observer” to assure that the democratic election was indeed democratic.
    I am also NOT a Jimmy Carter fan. I would never align myself with any of the Liberal principles he espouses. But the man (and his wife) do some good works.
    The “war on terrorism,” the evens of today when we have one or two dozen Marines dead in Iraq, suggest to me that as a supporter of Liberty, and as a Libertarian, I have to adjust my views to a broader one than has been popular in the U.S. The terrorists aren’t going away anytime soon. Let’s state I do immigrate to New Hampshire and join in the creation of a Libertarian state. That doesn’t mean I can ignore what’s happening elsewhere in the world.
    And if good ole Jimmy oversees an election which results in a viable democratic government then I’ve got to at least tip my hat and if I were in charge of passing out silly and useless prizes I might very well give him one.
    A short list of my “candidates” : Carter (with reservations), Barry Goldwater (were he still alive), Henry Kissinger for opening a dialogue between the U.S. and Communist China, John F. Kennedy for standing up to Krushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Ronald Reagan (for being Ronald Reagon), Dr. Martin Luther King (while I disagree with his politics) for step two (behind the 14th Amendment) in freeing the slaves, and I’m presently waiting for a major spokesperson to step up and lead gays and lesbians to obtaining the civil rights that are quite obviously theirs.
    I wouldn’t give Bush one. Yet. If he pulls off this mess in Iraq then maybe I’ll consider him. He’s going to have one hell of a problem doing that, especially if the American people turn into wimps or the yellow stripe down their back returns.
    But old GWB II just might get one yet. πŸ˜‰
    Oh, back to the main issue: Seymour has been functioning as a democracy for several years and there is no other country in the whole archipeligo which includes Indonesia where the citizens enjoy such freedom. UN military forces saw to insuring the peace agreement made with Indonesia and ensured the separation by patroling borders. To date they appear to have a fully functioning democracy, although times are not that good as they dontinue to fight off raids from assorted bandits and guerillas from Indonesia.
    But they’re holding up. Democracy for 2 years. Jimmy Carter was one of many international “observers.” That long enough to give Jimmy a shiny piece of brass? Or do they need to survive as a democracy for 10 years, 20 years? Was “observation” important? Why do you think that’s being done in so many third world nations these days? It’s of critical importance. Is it always successful? No. Jimmy only gets the brass ring for the successes. πŸ˜‰

  7. Alan K. Henderson

    First of all, are these candidates for peace or liberty prize?
    Carter: Being present at elections accomplished – what?
    Barry Goldwater – For what?
    Henry Kissinger – Dialogue, schmialogue. Talk ain’t liberty or peace. And we’re still in the middle of a bleeding cold war with the Chicoms!
    JFK – Yes, if one can establish that outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis was a necessary condition for the 1980s collapse of Soviet-bloc Communism.
    Ronald Reagan – Yes, played a direct role in the collapse of Soviet-bloc Communism.
    Dr. Martin Luther King – Not nominating him for probably 6-7 years. It will probably take me that long to get a clear handle on the history of what was the most rapid turnaround in ethnic strife in human history – and who all the prominent leaders were.
    Fourteenth Amendment – Not until I honor the first country to abolish slavery, and not until I’ve done considerable research into the Civil War (and the mid-1800s in general) and Reconstruction. Would like to take care of that series of events at once. Other than the legislatures voting for the Amendment and the people responsible for ending Reconstruction, I’m not making any bets on who gets one.
    Gay rights – We’re probably not on the same page regarding many of these presumed rights. Lacking a complete list of such real and perceived rights, it’s hard to say how much disagreement there is.