Law of equal liberty

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The law of equal liberty, also known as the law of equal freedom or equal liberty, is the fundamental precept of liberalism. It has been stated in various ways by many thinkers, but can be summarized as the view that all persons must be granted the maximum possible freedom as long as that freedom does not interfere with the freedom of anyone else.

In his Second Treatise of Government (1689), John Locke wrote: "A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty."[1]

In 1774, Alexander Hamilton wrote: "All men have one common original, they participate in one common nature, and consequently have one common right. No reason can be assigned why one man should exercise any power over his fellow creatures more than another, unless they voluntarily vest him with it".[2]

In Social Statics, Herbert Spencer defined it as a natural law "that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty to every other man". Stated another way by Spencer, "each has freedom to do all that he wills provided that he infringes not the equal freedom of any other".[3]

Equal right of land as foundation to the law of equal liberty[edit]

In 1775, Thomas Spence published a pamphlet titled "The Rights of Man" based on the law of equal liberty and stressed the equal right to land. According to Spence, we have equal rights to land as we have equal rights to life and liberty. To deny to some people this right "is in effect denying them a right to live. For the right to deprive anything of the means of living, supposes a right to deprive it of life".[4]

In 1795, Thomas Paine wrote in Agrarian Justice: "Liberty and property are words that express every thing we possess that is not of an intellectual quality. Property is of two kinds. First, natural property, or that which is of the Creator’s making, as Earth, Air, and Water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property, or that which is of man’s making or producing. Of this there can be no equality, because, in order to participate equally, it is first necessary that every man produces it equally, which is never the case; and if it were every man keeping his own, would be the same as participation. The equality of natural property is the subject treated of in this work. Every person born into the world is born the rightful proprietor of a certain species of property, or the value thereof".[5]

Both Spence and Spencer pointed out that denying an equal right to use land could result in non landers being evicted from the planet and thus contradicts the law of equal freedom. This point was made further by land reformists especially championed by Henry George in Progress and Poverty (1879), where he sought to address this by preferably taxing land values.[6] However, George and other libertarians disagreed about equal right to use land being a foundation of equal liberty and George disagreed with Spencer that the equal right to use land implied that land should be nationalised. George criticised Spencers nationalistic approach in A Perplexed Philosopher (1892) and pointed out that equal right to use land does not imply the joint-ownership of land, therefore all that is necessary to achieve the law of equal freedom was to tax land values which would disincentivise landbanking.[7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Locke (1689). Second Treatise of Government. Chapter 2.
  2. ^ Alexander Hamilton (15 December 1774). "A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress". National Archives of Founders Online. Harold C. Syrett, ed. (1961). The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 1 (1768–1778). New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 45–78.
  3. ^ Herbert Spencer. Social Statics. c. 4, § 3.
  4. ^ Thomas Spence (1775). Rights of Man.
  5. ^ Thomas Paine (1795). Agrarian Justice.
  6. ^ Henry George (1879). Progress and Poverty.
  7. ^ George H. Smith (2 July 2013). "Herbert Spencer, Henry George, and the Land Question".
  8. ^ Henry George (1892). A Perplexed Philosopher.