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US Citizenship - Free online Course on US Citizenship

Lesson 1

Too Much Individual Liberty

In such a precarious environment, it would be only natural for people to band together in protective agreements with each other. If you had something others wanted, perhaps you would give some of it to someone who was big and strong in return for protection from others. From there, it is not difficult to imagine a chain of events that would lead to the formation of larger groups centered on trade and mutual protection. Eventually, because violence would remain the only way to settle disputes between individuals and groups, people would see the wisdom in establishing an independent third party—a government—that could settle disputes without someone being harmed or killed.

Human liberty, then, could not be fully enjoyed in the state of nature because there would be no limits on the expression of that liberty. Without limits on individual behavior, life would indeed be perilous. The establishment of government limits individual liberty so that life is more stable and peaceful. By imposing order on society, government both limits liberty and makes the enjoyment of liberty a possibility. When people live together in a political community, such as the United States, they accept these limitations of their individual liberty as the costs of living in a society where people get along, for the most part, without resorting to violence to settle their disputes.

The protection of life and property, however, are not the only benefits of having a government. Government also facilitates cooperation between individuals that would not otherwise be possible. For example, without a government, there would not be enough order and cooperation in society to have a complex and productive economy. Because there is a government, people are able to confidently enter into contracts with other parties, because the government requires individuals and businesses to live up to their legally binding commitments.

While we tend to recognize the benefits of government when they are pointed out to us, we also tend to be very protective of our freedoms. We want government to provide order, but we want it to do so in the least intrusive manner possible. Whenever a new law is passed or a program is created, the people and their leaders are essentially striking a balance between liberty on the one hand and order on the other. For example, we have chosen, as a political society, to prohibit the use of drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. This limits the liberty of individuals who might want to use such substances, but proponents of such laws believe that they are justified both because they bring order and stability to society and because they keep individuals from engaging in harmful behavior (i.e. using their liberties irresponsibly). In this case, we have chosen order over liberty. In the case of speech, however, we tip the balance in favor of liberty. We cherish our freedom to speak our minds almost without limitation.



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