Right and Left, Protection, Oppression, and Liberty are all directly interrelated, and are in turn a function of what can be termed Government Intervention, or more simply, How Much Government.
The traditional Right-Wing government allows people - the rich and powerful - to impose upon others by providing insufficient protection through insufficient Intervention.
Left-Wing government allows government to impose upon people beyond simple protection, thus creating a condition of oppression through excessive Intervention.
The degree of Government Intervention also affects liberty. If protection and government intervention is insufficient, people are able to impose upon one another, so the overall liberty is not maximized. On the other hand, excessive government intervention results in oppression, thus once again, the overall liberty is not maximized.
The amount of government intervention required to maximize liberty and to provide full protection for all citizens from imposition without creating oppression can be defined with the utmost accuracy.
Throughout most of our political history government has pursued a policy of laisser-faire or minimal intervention in the affairs of society, thus permitting those with superior forces of personality, intelligence and wealth to increase their well-being by diminishing that of others.
Insufficient government intervention permits citizens to harm and exploit one another. That is the essence of Right Wing Conservatism. Under this regime freedom is increased for the stronger elements of society but decreased for the weaker members; hence the overall liberty is not maximized.
The Socialist reaction gave government, or the State, considerably greater powers of intervention designed to help the poor by preventing exploitation and readjusting the balance of wealth.
But excessive government initiates exploitation and oppression by the State. That is the essence of Left Wing Socialism. Under this regime liberty is increased by government protection, but it is then decreased as government goes beyond the point of protection and creates interference, leading to oppression. Again, liberty is not maximized.
Liberty is maximized when government offers full protection, but without moving into oppression.
It thus becomes clear that the significant factor in government policy, and the liberty it produces, is the Degree of Government Intervention.
The "Government Intervention" Scale
The Degree of Government Intervention can be shown as a simple straight-line scale, calibrated from Zero to One Hundred Percent.
Let us first establish the two "extremes" at each end of the scale.
At one end of the Scale we have Zero Percent Government Intervention, which means that government quite simply does nothing at all. Government is to all intents and purposes non-existent. The result is anarchy in its pure sense of being without leader, (an arkhos in Greek). In this condition everyone is free to do whatever they like; but this also includes the freedom to limit or eliminate the freedom of others. Liberty, in the sense of a disciplined freedom resulting in a safe and ordered society, could not be said to exist under this regime.
At the other end of the Scale we have One Hundred Percent Government Intervention. Here we find total government control over every aspect of life. This is the kind of environment visualized by authors such as Huxley and Orwell, who attempted to highlight the dangers of allowing government to become oppressive. Here we find ourselves in the sinister world of Total Control, of citizens directed in their every move and every thought by an ever-watchful Big Brother. Clearly, liberty does not thrive here either.
Fortunately most of us experience neither anarchy in the sense of zero government, nor the total oppression of one hundred percent government. But these two positions provide clear end-points as reference positions.
While there is little current example of zero government, many of the ex-socialist-bloc countries swung over to the opposite extreme in the confusion following perestroika, with a low degree of practical government resulting in black markets, widespread corruption, and the control of production and commerce in the cities moving from the State into the hands of Mafia-style gangs. It might still appear to the citizens of Russia's major cities that Government Intervention is almost at Zero, a condition which to many may seem infinitely worse than the old Communist days, the memory softened now by time.
More familiar to Western countries is the Low Degree of, say, a nominal 25% Government Intervention. This is represented by the term Laisser-faire, meaning literally "let people get on with it".
Low Intervention, or Laisser-faire
The first exponent of Laisser-faire was Francis Quesnay, physician to Louis XV, who came to the conclusion that government was a necessary evil which should interfere as little as possible with individual freedom.
The pioneering thought of Quesnay was developed into one of the most powerful doctrines in the history of ideas by Adam Smith, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, whose work The Wealth of Nations (published in 1776) became the gospel of the "system of national liberty" for the next century in western political and economic thought.
Familiar with the works of Quesnay, Smith built a more solid basis for his attack on government, updated now to reflect the shift of emphasis from land to industry which was concurrently unfolding.
Smith held that the source of a nation's wealth is labor. The increase in a nation's wealth therefore depends on making labor more efficient, which in turn is achieved by enhancing the investment of capital, developing specialization and mass production, and promoting the free flow of goods and materials in international trade.
To give full play to this complicated but natural and vital operation, the whole process must remain free from artificial restrictions of government.
This thesis was undoubtedly proposed as a constructive scientific-economic blueprint for the general growth, welfare and benefit of society as a whole, and in theory at least it is difficult to argue against it.
But in production and commerce, as in all aspects of inter-human relationships, there is always opportunity for infringement of liberty, for some to gain through others' loss.
And as the industrial revolution unfolded it would become clear that infringement of liberty in industry could be taken to, and indeed well beyond, levels which were unacceptable to anyone with knowledge and a modicum of social conscience.
Though Adam Smith saw benefit for all, in practice it would be the 19th century owners of capital, production equipment and factory premises who would benefit, to the detriment and impoverishment of those in the weaker position: their employees, the ex-hand-weavers now displaced by machines and clamoring for work at any price to ward off starvation. Women and children were paid a meager wage for long hours of concentrated work tending the machines which were dangerous, unguarded, and caused frequent accidents for which there was neither care nor compensation.
And the law was predictably slow to act in their defense. The bankers, investors and industrialists, being either in power or influential in the formulation of government policy, naturally supported a system which gave them a free rein to take advantage of their superior position. Laisser-faire for them was every bit as rewarding as Adam Smith had promised.
But at the same time it was becoming clear to reformers both in and out of government that while accepting the basic doctrine of liberty, an increase in government intervention was necessary to protect workers and improve their lot.
The movement for reform by legislation in England began with the Factory Acts which between 1833 and 1845 succeeded in limiting the work of children under eleven years of age to nine hours a day and of women to twelve hours. These Acts prohibited the employment of children in mines, and for the first time provided general rules for the health and safety of all workers.
So it was that Government Intervention began steadily to increase, with the justifiable aim of eliminating some of the more blatant opportunities for citizen to infringe the liberties of fellow citizen.
But the pace of reform was too slow for the newly awakening, increasingly organized and motivated working classes. And the pendulum of Government Intervention was to swing over to the other extreme: to socialism and communism, which represented a much higher degree of Intervention than most reformers would ever have visualized.
High Intervention, or Socialism/Communism
Under Socialism and Communism we enter the higher realms of Government Intervention, say a nominal 75%, where an increase in the power of government and the State is actively pursued.
"Place everything in the hands of the State", the Socialists urged, "and the State will take good care of us all".
Set against the Victorian backdrop of widespread poverty, ignorance, ill-health and malnutrition, coupled with a concurrently growing sense of conscience and the need for reform, socialism appeared to offer the answer. Only a few there were who could foresee the implications of high and ever-increasing State control.
One such visionary was British author Herbert Spencer, who wrote, back in 1884:
"There is an increasing tendency for administrative compulsion and restraints. The increasing power of the State is accompanied by a decreasing power of the rest of society to resist its further growth and control.
"The multiplication of careers opened by a developing bureaucracy tempts members of the classes who regulate it to favor its extension, as adding to the chances of safe and respectable employment for their relatives.
"The people at large, led to look on benefits received through public agencies as gratis benefits, have their hopes continually excited by the prospects of more.
"Thus, influences of various kinds conspire to increase State action, and decrease individual action. The numerous socialistic changes already made by Act of parliament, joined with the numerous others about to be made, will soon be all merged in State-socialism, swallowed in the vast wave which they have little by little raised."
Spencer's words have proved prophetically correct in the light, not only of State oppression in the former Soviet Union and its satellite socialist countries, but also in the light of attitudes, demands for social programs, high taxes and budget deficits in the West.
Nations and their governments have thus far succeeded in creating and experiencing two kinds of political environment: enslavement of man by man, and government oppression. Enslavement of man by man, resulting in slavery, feudalism and industrial poverty, gave way at the turn of the 20th century to socialism and communism, which tended to create government oppression.
The two conditions or policies of laisser-faire and socialism, Right and Left, and their relationship with Government Intervention, may be simply summarized.
Enslavement, exploitation and imposition exercised by citizens over fellow citizens result from a Low Degree of Government Intervention, or Laisser-faire, which permits Imposition by citizens upon one another.
Oppression, government intrusion, State takeover of business, or Socialism-Communism, result from a High Degree of Government Intervention, which creates Imposition by Government.
Where do we find Maximum Liberty?
Liberty is certainly not maximized at Zero Percent Government Intervention. At Zero Percent Intervention there is no government or legal protection of liberty whatsoever. This is anarchy. Many examples of this can be seen at the present time in the countries of central Africa and even, to a lesser extent, in some of the ex-Soviet states.
As we move away from this condition of lawlessness, proceeding up the Intervention Scale, a gradual increase in Government Intervention provides basic law, order and personal safety, followed as we progress farther up the scale by more sophisticated forms of protection such as consumer, employee and environmental protection.
How far should we continue to increase Government Intervention?
The Right-wing definition of Liberty as "minimum Government Intervention" has always been a powerful argument, enhanced today in the light of both the experience and the demise of Soviet socialism. Just as innocence until proved guilty, or Presumption of Innocence, is a cornerstone of the English judicial tradition, so too does the Anglo-American concept of law recognize what may be called the Presumption of Liberty, the concept that we should all be free unless there is a very good reason for the law to limit that freedom.
And what constitutes a "very good reason" for the law to limit freedom? Another very old-established precept of English Common Law provides an answer: it is entirely reasonable for the law to limit or to forbid an action if that action is harmful to others.
Bearing this principle in mind, we continue to increase Government Intervention gradually until we reach the point at which there is sufficient Government Intervention to ensure full protection of each and every individual's liberty from infringement by others in any way. We reach the point where Government Intervention is sufficient to ensure that there is no opportunity for any individual to impose upon, exploit, harm or in any way infringe the liberty of any others.
We have in fact reached the halfway mark on the Scale, represented by 50% Government Intervention.
Under a regime of 50% Government Intervention there would be no opportunity whatsoever for one individual or class or group to harm or enslave or to infringe the liberty of any others.
At this point we have achieved one "side" of liberty. As we make the final move from 49% to the 50% mark, we have succeeded in eliminating all infringement of liberty by defending the citizen against any and all forms of injury or imposition by other citizens.
But now we must guard against going any further, which would lead us into oppression.
We have already defined the 50% mark as being the precise degree of Government Intervention necessary to prevent any and all infringements of liberty between citizens. So if we increase Intervention any further government can only begin producing laws which are not strictly in the protection of liberty, and are therefore intrusive and ultimately oppressive.
As Government Intervention increases beyond 50% a progressive reduction of Liberty immediately begins. Governments are frequently tempted to make laws regulating personal private conduct "for our own good". There may be evidence to show that seatbelts save lives; but when government legislates their use for our own personal protection it is taking the first step down the road to oppression.
At 50% Intervention, government must protect employees and consumers from commercial irresponsibility. But when government takes upon itself all commerce and industry it is denying individuals the exercise of their natural enterprise and initiative. Apart from the reduction of commercial liberty, this also has disastrous effects on national prosperity, a fact which became the major cause of the collapse of Soviet socialism in 1990.
The degree of Government Intervention which will produce Maximum Liberty can be clearly and precisely established:
Under a policy of 50% Intervention, government prevents individuals from imposing their will and judgments upon one another, but initiates no further imposition.
50% Government Intervention neither permits nor creates Infringement of Liberty. Government intervenes promptly when, but only when the law is required to protect a clearly identifiable infringement of liberty.
If there is any opportunity for any citizen to infringe the liberty of any other citizen, if any citizen suffers infringement of liberty to any degree or in any way at the hands of any other citizen, then Government is exercising not 50%, but 49% or some lower degree of Intervention.
Government is permitting a degree of injury and exploitation, of self-enhancement at the expense of others.
On the other hand, if Government issues any law, order or directive which is not clearly and solely in defense of an identifiable liberty from imposition by others, then Government is exercising not 50%, but 51% or some higher degree of Intervention.
Government is initiating some degree of State oppression.
The ability to define the seemingly diverse elements and options of Right and Left, Laisser-faire and Socialism-Communism, of Protection and Oppression on the single common scale of Government Intervention allows us also to define the related degrees of Liberty.
Liberty is maximized when the degree of Government Intervention is 50%: no less, and no more.
At 50% Intervention there is no Infringement of Liberty either by citizen, or by the State; there is neither Exploitation nor Oppression; the general Liberty is maximized.
The Degree of Government Intervention necessary to maximize liberty can thus be identified with a precision which any citizen can readily comprehend, and when necessary, defend.
A government basing its day-to-day legislation on such a clearly definable policy would lose the ability, presently enjoyed by governments of any shade of opinion to act arbitrarily. Government would be operating under such a precisely defined policy that it would become an interpreter of policy, rather than an originator of arbitrary law. This would radically alter the legislative process and the relationship between government and citizen. Government functionaries and departments become answerable to a Principle, their actions easily verifiable by any alert citizen. Citizens are governed, neither by dictator nor majority, but by a Principle which guarantees maximum protection, minimal or zero oppression, and maximum overall liberty.