A Fine Balance

The posting of my “Allies of Freedom” letter by Mr. Nicholls in his personal, as well as National Post blog, garnered some comments from his readers.

There were a number of points raised that I’d like to answer, but for now I’ll limit myself to reflecting on my observation that: “Living in a society of free persons means that our individual freedoms must by times be bounded such as to also give meaning to the rights of those other persons.”, which seems to have been particularly misunderstood.

As a case in point, commenting in the National Post Blog, RogersJi said:

“… You have the right to exercise your freedoms as long as you don’t interfere or impose on the freedoms of others. I don’t believe any definition says that some freedoms trump other freedoms or ‘bounded such as to also give meaning to the rights of those other persons.’ That other person has interfered and imposed his rights on to me.”

I contend that “You have the right to exercise your freedoms as long as you don’t interfere or impose on the freedoms of others” is really the essence of my own observation. Parsing this statement:

  1. “You have the right…” and “… your freedoms …” – both presuppose the context of a society that recognizes rights, meaning that, whether by blood or ballot, some balance has already been struck; but there are places in the world where no statement beginning “You have the right…” is true
  2. “… as long as you …” – recognizes that there are boundaries to your entitlement to “…excercise your freedoms…”, and
  3. “… don’t interfere or impose on the freedoms of others.” – is guidance about where such boundaries lie, with the intent of
  4. giving true meaning to “the freedoms of others” – not interfering in the rights of others!

In my view this contradicts the writer’s subsequent statement that “I don’t believe any definition says that some freedoms trump other freedoms or ‘bounded such as to also give meaning to the rights of those other persons’.”

To such extent as another person is allowed to “impose[d] his rights on me”, then my rights are diminished accordingly. This brings me back to the point that to recognize certain individual rights we must constrain in some cases the actions of others, which is to say, to limit their particular right to act in such a way as unacceptably “…interferes with my rights.”

This is where a balance must be struck: as a society we must determine which rights/freedoms affect the rights/freedoms of others, whether such effect is acceptable and to what extent, and in any case determine to what extent we accept the constraint of any given right in order to mitigate unacceptable interference with the rights of others.

Recognition of this principle, and the question itself of where this balance is to be struck transcends political parties, I believe, but just how they each answer it is a key discriminator among them.

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