Liberty is impossible without responsibility. Personal responsibility. This is something that Mama Liberty taught and practiced for her entire life. It is something that I strive to do, even if I feel sometimes as though I’m failing. True lovers of liberty – libertarians – believe and try to follow this basic rule.
Unfortunately most people – including many who claim to be Libertarians – do not.
Regardless of your belief in a moral system, your belief or disbelief in the Creator, this is a fact that cannot rejected (with honesty).
You are responsible, and I am responsible. Responsible for our own actions, and for the actions of those for whom we have an obligation: our children, at least. We are accountable for what we do and what we do not do. Not just to God, but to our family, our community, our society.
Some people call that “morals.” Others point to the Zero Aggression Principle, while trying to separate that from ideas of a Creator and faith in Him. But it is still personal responsibility for our actions.
We are responsible, first and foremost, for our own actions. For acting and failing to act.
Otherwise, we are not enjoying liberty and living in liberty: we are only being childish parasites and libertines.
There is no way we can ignore this. We might avoid it by separating ourselves from any contact with anyone else: becoming a true hermit. If we do not believe that we answer to God then the only person to whom we would answer is ourselves.
And that is called conscience: a very undependable evaluator at best. Even an “educated” conscience is a dangerous guide.
True liberty requires an objective and measurable standard. Something by which to judge the quality of our actions (and words). We are free to do all things. But not all things are profitable to do. To us, individually and personally. Even if sometimes it seems at first to benefit us at the expense of others.
But there is more.
To some degree, we are responsible for the actions of those whom we associate with, and support with our words and actions. Our children, of course, are juvenile: not yet capable of making decisions wisely (at least not much of the time) and incapable of understanding, much less accepting, responsibility for their actions. But we are also responsible when we uncritically and without reservation support – even encourage – those who refuse to be responsible, who prey upon others. Whether those are adult family members, bosses, employees, fellow church members, fraternal brothers or sisters, government agents or politicians.
If we don’t take what action we can to block or neutralize them, or mitigate their actions on ourselves, our families and communities? Then, we must share at least some of the responsibility for the effects of their actions on ourselves, our family, and our community. Not all, by any means – we are not guilty of their transgressions against other people. But if we fail to act to prevent something bad – within our ability to do so – are we not in the wrong?
I believe that one important part of our personal responsibility is holding others accountable as well. For their actions – and sometimes for their failure to act. I do not mean that we should interfere with people’s lives, or their personal decisions that affect only themselves. (We can work to persuade them otherwise, but that is the limit: we cannot morally, responsibly force them to do otherwise.) It is when someone’s actions harm others that we need to hold them accountable.
Even then, we are responsible for our own actions – we must respond appropriately to their actions which harm others. (We cannot, for example, whip out a pistol and kill that thug for kicking a dog. Or wound or kill someone just for cutting the corner across our yard.)
But we can express our disapproval of their actions, seek to get them to change, and if they continue to harm others by their action, defend ourselves (and others) in appropriate ways – even to the point of ejecting them from our community, our society. We do not have to put up with the irresponsible and harmful (to others) actions of thugs and leeches. Otherwise, they just steal our freedoms, our liberties – as well as our time and money and property.
So what does that mean? Perhaps, that it is a good idea – if not obligatory – to teach those around us how to live in liberty. How to live responsibly. How to be accountable to others for their actions.