Liberty as Community Self-Government


Via Bruce Bartlett, a Will Wilkinson post from a year ago on civil rights and his version of libertarianism that I think highlights an issue that’s of broader interest than Rand Paul:

Federal intervention, while certainly limiting freedom of association and trumping more local jurisdictions, resulted IMO in an overall increase in freedom. That many traditional libertarian conservatives, such as Goldwater, seem to have been willing to sacrifice a great gain in overall freedom in order to maintain status quo levels local self-rule seems to me to betray a commitment to ancient ideals of liberty as community self-government in conflict with the modern idea of liberty as freedom from coercion.

I think this is relevant to what I’ve been saying in my recent posts on conservative freedom rhetoric. A lot of intellectuals conceptualize debates about freedom as debates about positive versus negative liberty, but when a lot of people talk about freedom they’re really talking about freedom from the Other or, per Wilkinson, “community self-government.”

Immigration is especially a key test in this regard. If you’re talking about either positive liberty or negative liberty the freedom to leave a situation you find unsatisfactory and move someplace else is going to be one of the most fundamental freedoms of all. You may or may not find there to be some compelling reasons to restrict people’s freedom to relocate, but you’ll understand it as a really profound limitation of freedom. But if what you mean by freedom is the freedom of a community to govern itself, then of course restricting immigration is going to be on a par with restricting trespassing—common sense.