The Philosophy of Freedom Maximalism
Why freedom is foundational to action, wealth creation, and an ethical existence.
Freedom maximalism is a straightforward philosophy rooted in an inarguable reality: each person owns themself. Individual self-ownership is axiomatic. To assert that individual self-ownership is untrue is itself an expression of individual self-ownership—one cannot argue against it without proving it. In the same way a straight line is the shortest distance between two points in flat space, or 2+2=4, each person is self-owned. No experiments are necessary to verify such axiomatic, apriori truths: they are, as the American founding fathers said, self-evident. If someone claims 2+2=5, I don’t need to run experiments to empirically test their claim, it is apriori false. Similarly, if someone claims individual self-ownership is untrue, they are proving through action that there are “no priors” to the reality of self-ownership—which is apriori true.
Individualism is Axiomatic
Many moderns believe it is necessary to “prove” knowledge through experimentation. But apriori knowledge is non-empirical. Instead, apriori knowledge is deduced from a set of axioms: it is rationalized from foundational assumptions. For this reason, apriori epistemology is sometimes called rationalism. Contrast this with the world of the scientific method—involving hypothesis, experimentation, and iteration—which is known as empiricism. Rationalism is how we see, empiricism is what we see. Apriori, axiomatically derived truths overrule and correct observation, not the reverse. Rationalism is more fundamental to knowing than empiricism.
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In economics, there are several truths rooted in rationalism. For instance, more goods are always preferred to less (which seems obvious, as more “goodness” is clearly preferable). Other apriori truths of economics include: sooner satisfactions are preferred to later, production must precede consumption, what is consumed now cannot be consumed again, taxation reduces productivity, and all taxation results in the bifurcation of society (into net tax-payers and tax-receivers). All of these are deduced from the fundamental axiom of economics: man must act.
Individual self-ownership is easily provable through action. If I try to move your left arm, nothing happens. But if you try to move your own left arm, action happens. There are no arguments, policies, or regulations which can change this. I own me; you own you. Even if you wanted to sell away your self-ownership, you can’t. You can choose to trade your time for money or other goods, but it is impossible to trade away your free will. As Rothbard writes The Ethics of Liberty, free will is inalienable:
“The distinction between a man’s alienable labor service and his inalienable will may be further explained: a man can alienate his labor service, but he cannot sell the capitalized future value of that service. In short, he cannot, in nature, sell himself into slavery and have this sale enforced—for this would mean that his future will over his own person was being surrendered in advance. In short, a man can naturally expend his labor currently for someone else’s benefit, but he cannot transfer himself, even if he wished, into another man’s permanent capital good. For he cannot rid himself of his own will, which may change in future years and repudiate the current arrangement. The concept of ‘voluntary slavery’ is indeed a contradictory one, for so long as laborer remains totally subservient to his master’s will voluntarily, he is not yet a slave since his submission is voluntary; whereas, if he later changed his mind and the master enforced his slavery by violence, the slavery would not then be voluntary.”
Your will power is yours and yours alone: to deny this apriori truth is to self-deceive. Said simply: no one can hold a higher claim on one’s own life than oneself. Individual self-ownership is where the concept of property, which comes from the Latin word proprius, meaning “one’s own,” is derived. All individuals own themselves free and clear. No individual or group can own any other. Individual human reason, consciousness, and will power are forms of inalienable property: they cannot be alienated from oneself or exchanged, even voluntarily. Any ownership claim by anyone over anyone else is a lie. Individualism is the axiomatic truth of human existence.
The Individual: A Community Across Time
Individuals exist intertemporally: we are each a community of ourselves stretching across time. Each human action is a trade with an abstract, potential future self: read today, be smart tomorrow; invest today, be wealthier tomorrow. Sacrifice and delayed gratification—in a word, work—is how both individuals and economies improve.
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Each individual expresses a preference toward time in their actions. As an individual’s “time preference” declines, the more considerate they are of (present and abstract future) others with each action. A lower time preference reflects a larger sphere of consideration, and therefore a higher morality. Time preference is quantified by the natural interest rate on the free market. Often considered to be the “price of money,” the natural interest rate quantifies the degree to which market actors prefer to receive capital in the present relative to future. In other words, the higher the interest rate, the more “interested” market actors are in receiving capital sooner rather than later.
Civilization is cooperative social phenomenon quantified by the natural interest rate. The lower the natural interest rate, the longer the aggregate time horizons held by the civilization, and the greater the overall sphere of interpersonal consideration becomes. This intertemporal relationship within each individual manifests itself collectively as the three tenets of Natural Law: Life, Liberty, and Property.
Life, Liberty, and Property
Life, liberty, and property are related to personal freedoms future, present, and past. Your future is your life. If you are murdered or killed, you lose your future freedom. Your present is your liberty. If you are imprisoned or otherwise coerced, you lose your freedom in the present. Your past is your property. If your property is violated, you lose the fruits of your past freedoms.
Property in the traditional sense of personally owned “stuff” is a product of previously combined life and liberty with the productive factors of nature. Property is one’s own relationship with one’s “fruits of labor.” Property is a natural extension of individual self-ownership. Each of us are our own most personal property, and the things we justly acquire by expressing our self-ownership become our rightful property. “Just acquisition” includes fabrication, homesteading, and free exchange. Rothbard elaborates, leaning on the example of Robin Crusoe living alone on an island:
“Crusoe, landing upon a large island, may grandiosely trumpet to the winds his ‘ownership’ of the entire island. But, in natural fact, he owns only the part that he settles and transforms into use… The only requirement is that the land be once put into use, and thus become the property of the one who has mixed his labor with, who imprinted the stamp of his personal energy upon, the land.”
Although individual self-ownership is inalienable, property justly acquired is alienable. In other words, it is impossible to trade away your self-ownership, but it is possible to exchange the products you have fabricated, homesteaded, or received by freely trading with similarly self-owned individuals. Property—and its axiomatic origin, individual self-ownership—are foundational to all human rights. As Ayn Rand writes in The Virtue of Selfishness:
“The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave”
An inability to accumulate the winnings of one’s own past freedoms is restrictive to individualism. What is the point of working if one’s fruits of labor are not preservable across time? Property enshrines both the rights to enjoy and the responsibilities to take care of the many products generated by and for human action. Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin: you may have a right to one hot meal per day, but who is the chef responsible for preparing it? People exercising the intertemporal freedoms of self-ownership—expressed as life, liberty, and property—determine the delicate balance of rights and responsibilities within our world.
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Preservation of property rights is the only way to guard civilization from corruption and systemic rot. Violating property rights—whether through fiat currency inflation, taxation, or regulation in any form—is a guaranteed path toward civilizational collapse. Inviolable property, then, is the only conceivable basis for a truly free and sustainable civilization. As the product of past freedoms, property upholds and enhances present and future freedoms. Axiomatically rooted in the inarguable reality of individual self-ownership, property is an amplifier of liberty and life. Property resistant to violation improves human freedoms, present and future.
A civilization based on the simple truth of individual self-ownership maximizes freedom. When freedom is maximized, so is the generation of aggregate wealth. By simply adhering to the tenets of Natural Law—which is to say by honoring the freedoms of past, present, and future—humans can maximally mitigate economic scarcity and optimize for equality of individual opportunity. Freedom maximalism is a straightforward philosophy that, when strictly followed, optimizes for human economic and ethical enrichment. Given the selfishness of human nature, it does not seem freedom maximalism would ever be possible without inviolable property, which Satoshi Nakamoto fortunately gifted the world early in the 21st century. As Natural Law’s highest implementation, Bitcoin is the scaffolding necessary to reach higher echelons of human civilization. All counterarguments against this paradigmatic phase change are self-refuting attacks on the inarguable reality of individual self-ownership.
Thank you for reading The Philosophy of Freedom Maximalism.
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