Mises Wire

New Year’s Resolutions with F. A. Harper

Some Americans take New Year’s resolutions seriously. But over the years, I have been struck by how frequently the search for self-improvement ignores areas that would benefit people generally, not just a person as an individual. For instance, I hear of few people who resolve to advance liberty in the coming year or to give up their spot at the pig trough of government largesse in order to do so.

To help rectify that irresolution,  we must realize the centrality of liberty to any good and moral life. F. A. Harper, who helped Leonard Read begin the Foundation of Economic Education (FEE), and who was an original member of the Mont Pelerin Society and founder of the Institute for Humane Studies, gives us a good place to turn. Harper recognized that “the great social problem of our age is that of designing the preventive medicine that will stop the eroding liberty in the body politic.”

In his 1949 Liberty: A Path to Its Recovery, Harper offers us useful insight into what a resolution to advance liberty would look like in his chapters on “Special Privilege” and “Recovering Liberty.”

Special Privilege

  • “This should be the guiding rule: Grants of special privilege to any person or group … should be denied, because these grants can be made only by infringement on the rights of others — on liberty … The granting of any of the so-called benefits by government violates the foundation of liberty — that a person should have the right to the product of his own labor, and the right to dispose of it or to keep any part of it as he desires.”
  • “Special privilege is any item of income or of position in the market … where the judgment of the voters in the economic market place is overruled by their political servants.”
  • “The government … cannot give a ‘benefit’ to any one person … without correspondingly denying another the right to the product of his labor.”
  • “Special privilege is of necessity the process of destruction … always and everywhere.”
  • “The basis of a free society is the absence of parasitism … a complete about-face in policy … Why not oppose special privilege for each and every person and group, rather than try to acquire compensatory parasitism for one’s self?”
  • “If the principle of ‘no special privilege’ is to prevail, it will be necessary to support that principle in its every application as a principle … a uniform rule, across the board.”

Recovering Liberty

  • “The foundations of liberty embrace the foundations of justice and morals.”
  • “If lost liberty is to be regained … liberties that have been taken away from individuals must be restored; there can be no other answer.”
  • “Weeds the size of sequoia trees have grown up in our vineyard of liberty, and one cannot eliminate a forest of sequoia trees by using a jackknife at the tips of the branches.”
  • “When once the power of free choice in the spending of their incomes has been abandoned by the citizens, and these economic rights surrendered to government, their liberty will have gone with it … Either you spend your own income as you deem best or someone spends it for you in some way that he deems best.”
  • “After liberty has been lost beyond a certain point, its recovery is difficult … The peaceful solution is to unwind the accumulated powers of government over the lives and incomes of the citizens. Eternal vigilance is not now enough … eternal vigilance of the barn door is no help after the horse has been stolen … better administration of an evil in the form of unwarranted power is a victory without virtue. The most efficient and best possible administration of slavery will not transform it into liberty.”
  • “Unwinding an illiberal government … the principle that should guide the process is: No special privilege.”
  • “When the advocate of liberty speaks with disfavor about some program that would violate liberty, he is likely to be met with … ‘Your objection seems to be well reasoned … but how do you propose that the program be set up?’ … consistent with liberty, you would have no ‘program’ … liberty is a positive program of the highest order. To one who believes otherwise, the only ‘positive’ program … is destructive of liberty.”
  • “Know why the so-called ‘positive’ programs … are programs that destroy liberty. Then … take a clear and firm position against each and every means of destroying or diluting liberty.”
  • “There are no shortcuts to liberty. Shortcuts taken in a haste for action usually violate the basic tenets of liberty … lead[ing] one further from his intended goal.”
  • “Understanding [is] the only route to correct action.”
  • “Truth has a power that cannot be touched by physical force. It is impossible to shoot a truth.”

In Liberty: A Path to Its Recovery, F. A. Harper claimed: “The lover of liberty will find ways to be free.” He offered us the core of what could actually succeed in expanding liberty — eliminating special privilege. He recognized that such progress is slower than we wish, but slow progress toward liberty is far better than no progress or efforts at variance with the liberty we want to restore. And those words are worth thinking about if we want the future to represent progress beyond simply adding one more year to the total.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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