I’ve been thinking of how to answer the question “What is liberty?” but I realize that I haven’t been trying to answer from the right foundation. As I have spoken of elsewhere, a thing is known by that which is its intent, or telos. If I know a thing’s end, I know the thing. I believe this can include concepts, e.g. the purpose of set theory is to provide a description and system of abstract setwise relations.
If I want to answer what liberty is, then, I must answer it’s purpose. What is the purpose of liberty? What does society gain if we allow people their freedom to act as they will within the confines of property, without any encumbrances of statism?
I think we can begin to see the answer if we look at what people lose with statism. Wherever the burden of the state falls on people, a penalty is applied to the accumulation of some form of wealth, be that material, intellectual, leisurely, and so on. After all, to put it plainly and in a way that people seem to forget, a tax taxes: synonyms for tax are strain, pressure, imposition, and burden. Why do we punish crime with fines and imprisonment? Because this is an imposition meant to be costly to the individual to make them reconsider their actions. The effect of the confiscation of time and wealth is the same, whether it is applied for criminal wrongdoing or merely for the accident of having an income. What is taxed, you have less of.
In the modern state, what tends to get taxed? Higher incomes by individuals and corporations. There is, I daresay, a correlation of human excellence with higher income. After all, what social problems the conservative (like myself) is concerned with are high rates of divorce, single motherhood, abortion, drug abuse, homosexuality, and so on, are all correlated with lower income. These problems affect those of higher income less. I would not argue that higher income is the cause of this (or vice versa, that lower income is the cause of these problems), but that these variables are dependent on the one and same value of the individual’s time preference. Time preference is how one tends to weigh the present against the future. Those who give up more present consumption in order to gain greater consumption in the future have a lower time preference. Low time preference is a prerequisite of high income and excellence. As such, when we tax the virtue of low time preference, we incentivize activities of higher time preference.
I believe, then, that liberty is conducive to, on one hand, higher incomes and excellence. Where the state punishes such excellence, a free society is in favor of no such thing. The excellent are free to pursue their excellencies.
There is another side to this as well. The modern state does not only tend to tax higher income more strenuously, but it also tends to subsidize and alleviate the cost of poverty. The same principle cuts in this instance: if penalizing (making the cost greater) an activity disincentivizes it, then subsidizing (making the cost lesser) an activity incentivizes it.
And low income is correlated to vice in the same way high income is to virtue. Low income is a product of high time preference; it comes about by the systematic preference of present consumption over greater future consumption in the future. If we incentivize high time preference, we incentivize vice.
Dare I say that rising rates of single motherhood may be explained, not so much by crumbling morals, but by our incentivizing of it by the alleviation of its costs? We punish virtue to subsidize vice. This is the modus operandi of the modern state, this is its means to the acquisition of power. (Why else do you think we give one person one vote? When voting what’s for dinner, there are two wolves for every sheep.)
This is why I am led to believe that the purpose of liberty is excellence. There will be no constraints on low time preferences, and as such no constraints on virtue. The great shall be allowed to be great, and the least shall be allowed to be least. I acknowledge this is an elitist position to take, but it is obvious that egalitarianism, the “cause of the poor,” has the cost of kneecapping society and precluding the great to rise to their positions. The poor will always be with us, but I do not see why we must take this as a reason to never let anyone have wealth, be it materially, intellectually, or artistically.