Authors’ note: We wrote this article as a pamphlet for distribution at LibertyCon and other Students for Liberty conferences. It’s a brief introduction to Ayn Rand’s views on liberty and how they differ from conventional views. We hope you find it clarifying and useful, and we encourage you to share it widely. The pamphlet is available as a PDF here. —Carl Barney and Craig Biddle
If we understand what liberty is, if we understand the ideas required to support it, and if we can show that these ideas are true, then we can defend liberty on solid ground. If not, we can’t.
Liberty is the political condition in which individuals are free to act on their own judgment and to keep and use the product of their own effort. It is the condition in which individuals deal with one another by persuasion and all interactions with other people are consensual. The alternative is people dealing with one another by coercion—by physical force. “Free” means free from physical force or compulsion by other people, groups, and governments.
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In a state of liberty, individuals are:
- free to pursue their own choice of career, rather than having government decide for them (as happens under communism);
- free to produce goods or services of their own choosing and to trade them with others by mutual consent to mutual benefit, rather than government dictating what people may and may not produce or trade (as happens under communism, socialism, fascism, and mixed economies, such as in America today);
- free to keep, use, and dispose of the products of their efforts, rather than government forcibly seizing their property for an alleged “greater good” (as happens under all forms and degrees of statism);
- free to set their own terms regarding contracts, hiring, wages, and pricing, rather than government dictating what terms are permissible (as happens under all kinds of statism);
- free to offer, or to refuse, goods or services to whomever they see fit and for whatever reason, regardless of whether other people or governments like their policies (e.g., in regard to wedding cakes, health care, recreational drugs, internet platforms);
- free to engage in consensual adult sex with partners of any sex or race, regardless of what others think or feel about it;
- free to express their views, whether right or wrong, regardless of what other people, gods, or governments think or feel about those views.
In a state of liberty, people are free to act on their own judgment, for their own purposes, and for their own benefit. The only thing people are not free to do in such a state is to initiate or threaten physical force against other people, because that would interfere with their liberty. (One cannot have liberty for oneself and deny it to others.)
Why is liberty good? Why should people be free to act in accordance with their own judgment, for their own purposes, and for their own benefit? . . .