We Kill Liberty by Making it the Devil

Statue of Liberty sunset

The flame of liberty dulled by making the warmth of its light a threat in itself.

Man is nothing if cautious of her own survival. This is exemplified in everyday life and is broadly explained as self-interest. In a biological sense, one could say the objective necessity of a living entity is its survival.

Man is not just a biological entity, however.

She has faculties that she employs to exercise the existence that she so biologically strives for. Without these faculties and their exercise for purposes of sustenance, then life itself would not be possible.  The articles of sustenance belong to man by logical implication of her life and faculties also belonging to her, which she exercised in unison to acquire said articles.

Thus, the triumvirate of man is laid bare: life, liberty and property!

Man, therefore is not driven solely by biological impulses, if so, she would be no different from the beasts that populate the Earth with her. Instead there is liberty and property, aspects of man which are inextricably tied to the very concept of life itself. Life, liberty and property are therefore the trinity that make up man’s existence.

Now it is a matter of great concern when decisions are taken on behalf of other men, under the auspices of one aspect of mankind superseding all other aspects. In this case, the superior aspect of the triad is life, which finds itself under attack during a pandemic outbreak of a new strain of the coronavirus from Wuhan, Hebei Province, China.

The fire extinguishers in the form of government edicts to the flame of liberty are out globally, and particularly in my home country that I love dearly, South Africa. The coronavirus seems to have made liberty the enemy of life. Existence, an enemy of itself.

On its face the intention is noble. Its immediate perceived consequence is that if people are barred from moving, associating, and trading, then the coronavirus spreading will hopefully be minimised. “Hopefully”, because these are uncharted waters and my countrymen are letting the state experiment with aspects of their very distinguished existence!

Liberty and property are being curtailed, being given a lower status, apparently superseded by life.

Yet the coronavirus is already in circulation. There are a lot of viruses in circulation, by the way, yet we do not limit nor eliminate liberties en masse to contain them. The world seems to have accepted the laughable idea that a biological war is fought with legislation and newfound executive powers.

A blanket erosion of liberty and property seems unjustified on any reasonable interrogation of the situation. Through no small feat, however, the South African government has taken actions that are prima facie unconstitutional, to the applause of my countrymen.

Man is the most distinguished creature walking the face of the Earth. A complex creature, whom through consciousness, has a dimension to his existence that as far as we know is available to none other.

Liberty cannot be separated from life and neither from property. Any attempt to present these as distinct from one another or even in opposition is flawed. This is because the triumvirate is inextricable. Mankind existing is the harmonising of these very elements of himself through becoming; for existence is never a constant state, but one whose very manifestation is an exercise in becoming. Life therefore cannot supersede liberty nor property, for there is no one without the others. Decisions, therefore, taken on premises of treating the life element of man – staying alive at all costs, that is – as being opposed to associating and trading, are flawed if not dangerous.

The common retort is that the danger of the virus spreading by people enjoying their liberties is reason enough to limit those liberties. But the burden of proof is on the alleger. If the state alleges mass infection, then it must prove it. The Rule of Law dictates, as one of its substantive principles, that there must be a rational connection between the proposed state action and that which it seeks to achieve. That rational connection is broken when it cannot be shown that those whose liberties are taken away are indeed infected and thus limiting their rights minimises the spread of said virus. This is not naked stubbornness. The Rule of Law is most important in times of crises, rather than a relegated secondary consideration, playing second fiddle to practicality.

The other elements of the triad of man have been made the enemy of life. But liberty and property are not opposed to life, even in a time of crisis, dare I say most especially in a time of crisis!

Mind you, responsibility is an assumed position on my part. The responsibility of mankind for this triumvirate is to not violate or impede on the triad of another of her kind.

The consequences of curtailing the other elements of mankind in pursuit of what is now said to be the ultimate one, life, will be dire. The taking of decisions under auspices of not only the distinct nature of these elements, but rather their opposition, is flawed conceptually, and it is unjust legally for it is arbitrary. Its consequences will only be evidence of a course of action rotten from its ‘nature’ in the Aristotelean sense.

How do you dull the flame of mankind? By making its warmth the ultimate threat! Once you do that, they will applaud you for dampening their flame, for the threat has been eliminated if not contained. They will not think of when winter will come again, when the warmth of that flame will be sorely missed.

I leave you with a story from a passage that I am surely paraphrasing. It was a question posed to a man, who was asked whether he would do anything to pursue the Devil, break every rule there is and violate every law. “Yes, of course,” he answered. “Then what will protect you when the Devil turns his gaze on you?” asked the other man.

This exchange is a reminder of the necessity of the Rule of Law in all circumstances. What will protect us when the leviathan turns its gaze on us, this time for reasons and upon premises people may disagree with? What will protect you, when all laws are gone in your pursuit of the Devil, when he finally turns his gaze on you?