What is the basic, the essential, the crucial principle that differentiates freedom from slavery? It is the principle of voluntary action versus physical coercion or compulsion.
Freedom, in a political context, has only one meaning: the absence of physical coercion.
Since knowledge, thinking, and rational action are properties of the individual, since the choice to exercise his rational faculty or not depends on the individual, man’s survival requires that those who think be free of the interference of those who don’t. Since men are neither omniscient nor infallible, they must be free to agree or disagree, to cooperate or to pursue their own independent course, each according to his own rational judgment. Freedom is the fundamental requirement of man’s mind.
A rational mind does not work under compulsion; it does not subordinate its grasp of reality to anyone’s orders, directives, or controls; it does not sacrifice its knowledge, its view of the truth, to anyone’s opinions, threats, wishes, plans, or “welfare.” Such a mind may be hampered by others, it may be silenced, proscribed, imprisoned, or destroyed; it cannot be forced; a gun is not an argument. (An example and symbol of this attitude is Galileo.)
It is from the work and the inviolate integrity of such minds—from the intransigent innovators—that all of mankind’s knowledge and achievements have come. (See The Fountainhead.) It is to such minds that mankind owes its survival. (See Atlas Shrugged.)
Foggy metaphors, sloppy images, unfocused poetry, and equivocations—such as “A hungry man is not free”—do not alter the fact that only political power is the power of physical coercion.
Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state—and nothing else.
The issue is not slavery for a “good” cause versus slavery for a “bad” cause; the issue is not dictatorship by a “good” gang versus dictatorship by a “bad” gang. The issue is freedom versus dictatorship.
A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.
If one upholds freedom, one must uphold man’s individual rights; if one upholds man’s individual rights, one must uphold his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to the pursuit of his own happiness—which means: one must uphold a political system that guarantees and protects these rights—which means: the politico-economic system of capitalism.
During the nineteenth century, mankind came close to economic freedom, for the first and only time in history. Observe the results. Observe also that the degree of a country’s freedom from government control, was the degree of its progress. America was the freest and achieved the most.
Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.
These two—reason and freedom—are corollaries, and their relationship is reciprocal: when men are rational, freedom wins; when men are free, reason wins.
Do not be misled . . . by an old collectivist trick which goes like this: there is no absolute freedom anyway, since you are not free to murder; society limits your freedom when it does not permit you to kill; therefore, society holds the right to limit your freedom in any manner it sees fit; therefore, drop the delusion of freedom—freedom is whatever society decides it is.
It is not society, nor any social right, that forbids you to kill—but the inalienable individual right of another man to live. This is not a “compromise” between two rights—but a line of division that preserves both rights untouched. The division is not derived from an edict of society—but from your own inalienable individual right. The definition of this limit is not set arbitrarily by society—but is implicit in the definition of your own right.
Within the sphere of your own rights, your freedom is absolute.