Friday, November 3, 2017
Cato Letters, Revisited
"We derive our liberty directly from our nature as human beings."
Powerful words echo through the pages of time, relevant still today as they were in 1720 when the London Journal launched a series of letters under the pseudonym "Cato." The letters were written with such vigor and eloquence that they soon made the London Journal the nation's most influential paper - a particularly vexatious irritant to the administration.
John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon wrote about more than the bursting of the South Sea Bubble. Their political convictions were consistent with the natural law and natural rights theories embraced by the radical Whig writers and particularly by John Locke in his Second Treatise of Government.
The theoretical principle upon which Cato based the authority and compass of government was in our inherent right to defend ourselves against those who would trespass against our lives, liberty, or property. The contract by which civil society is established is one that constrains sovereignty to the safeguarding of the lives and estates of its subjects. This proposition defines the limit of state action, relegating its role to only that which is necessary to enforce "the laws of agreement and society."
When government seeks to impose constraints upon the individual's natural and absolute liberty, beyond that which is necessary, the state becomes despotic and must eventually fall to revolution.
Again, powerful words, but what do they mean? Beyond Trenchard and Gordon's fondness for the Whig revolutionary martyr, Algernon Sidney, whose Discourses Concerning Government was one of the leading treatises on the rights of resistance to tyrannical government, was the philosophy that self-same rights have their origin in the laws of nature, from which the rights of the individual are derived, directly prior to the establishment of civil society.
In the name of self-awareness, a wave of patriotism swept the land, combined with High Church views, which judged failure equally pernicious. The next wave as passionate as The Independent Whig, which vehemently advanced the primacy of the individual conscience over ecclesiastical authority.
Two groups in diametric opposition, with the same distrust of hierarchy and an equal sympathy with latitudinarian principles, albeit differently expressed.
If freedom of conscience is our first natural right, then immunity from the convictions and judgments of others is the clearest implication of the supreme law of nature. In other words,
To each their own.
The style and wit permeating through the Cato letters attack pretension, leaving collaboration in its place. The world of "collective enterprise" forged the way for the industrial revolution. From the embers that regenerated the classics, to the birth of the next new fiction. The stories we continue to tell ourselves along the way echoing public support.
The penultimate recognition of self-hood is the limits of authority any One has over the other. In society we are held accountable for the results of our actions, intentional or unintentional, knowing or unknowing. To safeguard other we temporarily imprison ourselves. Where? Oh where, did our freedom go?
Controversies arise when we attempt to answer that question because the answer is not the answer. The question is the answer. The unanswered question implies an incomplete understanding of freedom. If some are free and others are not, none of us can know freedom. We can only know the illusion of freedom.
Where, then, can freedom be found?
There is no such thing as a Glorious Revolution, only the spectacular growth of collective debt brought about in large measure by the sacrifices incurred in the endeavor to safeguard illusions. The wars of kings, nothing but ill-conceived self-protective schemes carried out under the illusion of freedom, in exchange for monopoly privileges, at the cost of heavy burdens for public credit and public goodwill, under which the whole of society operates.
Under the terms of the principles culminating throughout the Cato letters, we are told to look to nature for individual authority. In other words, to look within. When faced with a choice to exercise authority, we realize that it is not a choice, but a matter of seasonal fortune and circumstance. As the world evolves, so too do our seasons. A season for reaping, a season for sowing. The collective centerpiece becoming: Progress.
But progress is just another name for work, with the proceeds going to the fortunate. In Book X of Virgil's Aeneid is writ: Fortune favors the bold. In book XII, fortune is that which we learn (receive) from others. In other words, fortune is a gift. But even Virgil feared the Greeks, even when they brought gifts.
By receiving more, we must become more. More is the foundation upon which opportunity is born. When life offers one more, the one who honors self-freedom intimately senses the notion of privilege, recognizes the opportunity of that state, and feels the responsibility to give back by becoming the epitome of that which brings more to the world.
It is human nature to desire more, to do more, to become more, and to give more. Reconciling the gifts of nature with human nature is where the greatest opportunity for human advancement lies. Human evolution is not the taking of liberties under false illusion. It is the recognition of liberty of all.
The instant that liberty and the recognition of liberty become the driving principle of humanity is the instant in which we will, as a species, understand freedom. The path to this understanding is our collective journey and all that we do to advance it, a gift to the world.
The illusion that false liberty affords benefits some but not all. The alliance between what benefits and that which offers safety of all people is what constitutes the Supreme Law. It is the Supreme Laws that the liberators of society seek. This is our measurement rod, not crime and punishment.
Even Trenchard re-examined a number of his political beliefs when Gordon died. Political adjustment is precisely what is required for a world that desires to discover true freedom. Until our world leaders act on behalf of THE ALL, we do not understand the meaning of government. We have and know only the illusion of government, no matter how influential.
The natural rights purported by enlightenment thinking are not limited to government. The proper limits of authority reside with the individual. The right to resist tyrannical magistrates is personified in individual compromise. The sharing of the world's resources is what loosens the shackles of our collective illusions.
Solidarity is Freedom