The Freedom Universal

The Solution

Observe an interesting relationship between violence and equality: as soon as someone initiates violence against someone else, it disturbs the natural symmetry and equilibrium between people and places the violator in an unequal position relative to the violatee. In effect, the implication is that the aggressor's will is in some sense superior to the will of the victim—the aggressor gets to have his way, the victim does not; the aggressor's interests are placed above the interests of the victim. Consider, further, that the core of what makes us human is our ability to choose and our ability to reason. When we lose that, we lose our dignity and our humanity. The initiation of violence against a human being robs her of her dignity and humanity. The violent perpetrator dehumanizes the violated victim—who becomes a helpless pawn at the mercy of the perpetrator's whim. In a vicious cycle, the violated victim's dehumanized condition is then used as justification for further violence and dehumanization. As the violence breeds more violence, the inequality—the gulf between violator and victim—becomes greater and greater. Equality and violence are opposites—and that is the key to a solution.

The Ethic of Reciprocity

And indeed, when we thoughtfully examine the customs and precepts of the world's many different religions, philosophies, cultures, legal systems, and business practices throughout history, a remarkable fact comes to light: there is a golden thread that runs through all ethical systems, all societies. This principle has been formulated in many different ways, and is known by many different names. One of them is the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want them to treat you. Distilled to its purest essence, this principle is the ethic of reciprocityquid pro quo: value for value—mutually beneficial interaction in which all parties gain. This principle is the foundation, the sine qua non of civilized society.

In simple terms, reciprocity means mutuality: two parties deal with each other because they have a mutual interest in doing so. Both parties gain. The result is win-win. Reciprocity involves three closely-related elements:

  1. The parties are dealing with each other as equals.
  2. As equals, they are dealing with each other freely, willingly, voluntarily, without force.
  3. Each has something of value to offer the other, and each values what they are receiving more highly than what they are giving, or they would not be dealing with each other. Thus both parties are better off after the transaction than before, and their total wealth is increased—a positive sum economy. (This applies to all forms of wealth—material as well as spiritual. Sometimes, we give something material and receive something spiritual in return.)

The alternative to the win-win of reciprocity and mutualism is the win-lose of predatory unilateralism: one party gains, the other loses. No one would voluntarily agree to a loss, so there is only one way such a win-lose transaction could come to pass: the winner forces it on the loser. Thus win-lose predatory transactions have the following elements:

  1. The parties are not dealing with each other as equals, but as unequals.
  2. The transaction does not occur voluntarily, but is forced on the loser by the winner, against the loser's will, violating the loser's freedom.
  3. The loser has nothing to gain from the winner, but the winner has something to gain from the loser, and the winner takes it from the loser by force. The winner's wealth is increased, but the loser's wealth is decreased, plus there are transaction costs and social costs (breakdown of trust, negative incentive effects, costs of crime prevention, etc.). Thus the losses are greater than the gains, and there is a net decrease of wealth—a negative sum economy.

It is not hard to see why win-win is universally preferred to win-lose. The alternative is violence and destruction:

Our choice as a society, therefore, is between win-win reciprocity, transactional equality, voluntarism, trade, and freedom—and win-lose predatory unilateralism, transactional inequality, coercion, theft, and tyranny. It is the choice between civilization and barbarism.

The Ethic of Reciprocity and Civilized Society

Any society in which the ethic of reciprocity is not the dominant way that people deal with each other, rapidly disintegrates. This is why the ethic of reciprocity has become the single golden principle that is universally acknowledged by all successful cultures and ethical systems. The ethic of reciprocity is the foundation and cornerstone of civilized society. Observe how deeply and extensively the principles of reciprocity and voluntarism are embedded in the fabric of civilized human culture:

When we say "please", we do so because we recognize that the other person has free will, has choice, is not our slave, is free to say yes or no to our request. When we say "thank you", we do so because we have received something of value from the other person, and we return the favor (reciprocate) by expressing our gratitude, which is a form of spiritual payment. (If you doubt that expressing gratitude is a form of payment, then observe how you feel when you provide value to another, and they give you neither material payment (money, barter) nor spiritual payment (gratitude, flourishing): you feel cheated. For a relationship to be in balance, the total of material and spiritual transfers must, over time, be in balance. Of course, what constitutes acceptable payment needs to be mutually agreed—though this agreement can be tacit and implicit.)

In these and many other ways, through observing various common courtesies, we constantly reaffirm our commitment to civilized values—the recognition that each of us is a unique individual, a priceless value, that human beings are ends-in-themselves—not means to the ends of others, and that we are committed to finding ways to mutually benefit each other, and to resolve conflicts peacefully.

The Harmony of Interests in a Free Society

Implicit in the above discussion is the principle that there is a natural harmony of interests between reasonable people. But this natural harmony breaks down when people cease to be reasonable and instead resort to violent means to resolve their conflicts. Thus the precondition for a harmony of interests is the renunciation of violence, and a commitment to finding reasonable ways to resolve conflicts and create value in a mutually beneficial way. Observe that it is precisely our ability to reason (to generalize from our experience, to form abstract concepts) and our ability to choose (our free will, our volition) that make possible an alternative to violence—without the ability to reason and to choose, we have no way to resolve conflicts except by resorting to force. A harmony of interests is only possible, therefore, where the fact that human beings have free will and the capacity to act rationally is both recognized and honored in action.

Where we honor these principles in action through mutually respectful, civil interactions, seeking out opportunities for mutually beneficial material or spiritual trade, we build trust, benevolence, dignity, cooperation, and strong, flourishing communities. In all these ways, and more, the ethic of reciprocity forms the foundation and core of civilized society. But we can go further: mutually beneficial reciprocation is the very purpose, the raison d'être, of society. Society is neither possible, nor desirable, without mutually beneficial reciprocation. Thus we can truly say that the very meaning of society is reciprocation—mutually voluntary, mutually beneficial spiritual or material trade.

(The alternative to society, therefore, is non-reciprocation, which comes in two forms: isolation, and predation. The most powerful sanction against anti-social individuals and communities is isolation. Why? Because connection—relationship and community—is so fundamental to human spiritual and material survival that isolation means near-certain death.)

The Importance of Depth, Precision, and Consistency

None of our discussion so far is particularly controversial. As we have seen, communities and cultures worldwide abhor violence, coercion, and forced inequality, and espouse the values of peace, equality before the law, and reciprocity. Yet our world continues to be plagued by deep, seemingly intractable problems—in fact, by precisely the things we avowedly reject: violence and inequality before the law.

Given what we have explored so far, we can begin to see why: while the principle of reciprocity is universally recognized, its central importance and great potential power has neither been sufficiently appreciated nor made fully explicit. It has not been precisely defined, nor consistently applied. The ethic of reciprocity is breached in countless subtle and not so subtle ways—and our intractable problems are the painful price we pay for this breach. The devil is in the details. Big secrets lie hidden in small differences.

The Freedom Universal Constitution's unique power and elegant simplicity derive from the depth of its underlying principles, the precision of its definitions and formulations, and the consistency with which its underlying principles are applied.

The majority of the world's constitutions—including the most famous one, the US Constitution—are fundamentally crippled by fatal internal contradictions. While avowedly designed to constrain violence, virtually all constitutions contain elements that do not just allow, but require violence to be implemented. These inherent contradictions—not "human nature"—are why most constitutions have not stood the test of time, but have inevitably become corrupted in practice, and have failed to fulfill their promise of protecting us against violence.

One of the Freedom Universal Constitution's unique design features is that it is not intended to replace a society's politico-legal system, but to heal it, by gradually over time removing the contradictions, and making it consistently anti-violence and pro-freedom. It is a constitutional framework within which a society's existing laws and institutions—including its existing constitution—can continue to operate, to the extent that they do not violate the principles of individual sovereignty and equality before the law.

Equality Before the Law

Let us, then, define precisely what equality means. The term "equality" is used with very different meanings in different contexts. In the context of the Freedom Universal Constitution, equality means equality before the law. At the deepest level, equality before the law means that the law makes no distinctions between persons on the basis of their individual characteristics. In other words, differences between persons are ignored, and all persons are treated as if they were the same—no discrimination between persons along any dimension whatsoever. For example, murder and theft are wrong, irrespective of the murderer's or thief's race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, wealth, "political connections", etc. (Note that the complex issue of legal capacity is involved in the definition of what constitutes a person in this context. That does not change the central point of the discussion.) (See the Deeper Discussion for further clarification of the nature of discrimination and equality before the law.)

While every legal system on earth gives at least perfunctory credence to the principle of equality before the law, it is contradicted and breached in numerous ways. Its meaning, force, and effectiveness are emasculated and weakened by such a barrage of conflicting laws, special cases, special exceptions, ad hoc regulations, and policies that it is severely compromised. A mere shell remains of the principle that forms the vital core and foundation of civilized society. And we pay dearly for this. Our major social problems can ultimately be traced to breaches of equality before the law. If an effective mechanism can be found to uphold equality before the law in practice, we will have found a way to radically transform our society for the better. The Freedom Universal Constitution represents such a mechanism.

The Freedom Universal Constitution has profound and far-reaching implications for a jurisdiction's political, legal, and social system. This is not immediately obvious. In fact, many people express their surprise, asking, "but don't we already have equality before the law?" Indeed, every legal system in the world necessarily incorporates equality before the law as one of its fundamental principles—law is meaningless without the principle of equality before the law. However, the supreme importance and immense power of this simple principle has not been fully understood or appreciated. Thus, it has been contradicted and breached at every turn, sabotaging its power. Consequently, what we are left with are political and legal systems that pay lip service to equality before the law, but that in reality infringe and violate it in countless ways. To better understand the meaning, importance, and power of the principle of equality before the law, we need to grasp that the rule of law and equality before the law are indivisible. A large and growing body of empirical research has established the central importance of the rule of law for a society's well-being.

The Rule of Law

There are fundamentally two types of political systems: those based on the rule of persons, and those based on the rule of law. The earliest political systems to evolve were those based on the rule of persons. Essentially, the rule of persons means "might is right"—whoever is strongest wins, and gets to make the rules, dominating those who are weaker. The rule of persons means that the political rules of society are made by persons—those persons who dominate the others through superior physical force—might is right. The various kinds of tyranny, slavery, and cannibalism are all variants of "might is right". In this kind of system, there are no stable, timeless, universal principles of right and wrong—right is whatever the tyrant of the moment decides is right. Political systems based on the rule of persons, on might is right, are systems of institutionalized violence. Societies that live by "might is right" do not live for long—they inevitably destroy themselves. Violence does not work.

Over time, people began to discover a new kind of political system, based on the rule of law. The rule of law means "right is might"—what is right and wrong does not depend on the persons dominating the society through superior physical force. Rather, there are timeless, universal principles of right and wrong that are true irrespective of whether tyrants recognize them or not. In such a society, no person is "above the law"—instead, the law is above all persons. Put another way, persons are ruled by the law, instead of the law being ruled by persons. Under the rule of law, we are not at the mercy of tyrants. Instead, the law is our protector against violence and injustice. When, and to the extent that a society lives by the principles of "right is might", it indeed becomes mighty—in the sense of healthy, flourishing, and prosperous. A society based on the rule of law is a free, just, and prosperous society.

The evolution from political systems based on the rule of persons, to political systems based on the rule of law, is not complete. While we have made tremendous progress, we still have a good distance to go. Even in our freest countries, cases of "might is right", of the rule of persons, are endemic. All modern countries suffer from systemic abuses of power. (See examples further below.)

Observe the relationship between equality before the law, and the rule of law. Thoughtful consideration shows that the rule of law is impossible without equality before the law, and vice versa. We have now observed this mutually corollary relationship between, respectively:

Hidden Forms of Violence

It is easy to see how social evils such as religious persecution, slavery, racism, and genocide contradict equality before the law, and would therefore be unthinkable in a politico-legal system that honored equality before the law fully and consistently without breach. It is less obvious what the impact of the Freedom Universal Constitution would be in those societies that already consider themselves free by most standards. Looking at the meaning of violence more closely, we notice that violence occurs on a continuum from obvious, overt forms of violence such as murder, rape, torture, and destruction of physical property, to less obvious, covert forms of violence such as fraud, extortion, defamation, and threats of violence. Countries generally regarded as civilized have greatly reduced their governments' use of overt forms of violence. However, even in these relatively free countries, covert government violence remains widespread—with destructive social consequences.

One person using force to take what belongs to another is theft, and is universally condemned. What then, if a group of persons gets together to forcibly take what belongs to others? That is still theft, of course—irrespective of whether the theft is committed by one person or by many, or whether what is stolen is taken from one person or from many. What if a group of persons gets together and hires a third party to act on its behalf and forcibly take what belongs to others and hand it over to the group? That is still theft, of course—irrespective of whether the theft is committed directly, or indirectly through a third party. What if the third party is the government? If a special interest group gets the government to forcibly take (whether by means of taxes or other methods) what belongs to others and hand it over to the special interest group (in the form of subsidies), is that any less a case of theft than if it is committed by ordinary criminals?

In a game, the purpose of the referee is to make sure the same rules are applied equally to all players. If the referee were to favor some of the players over others by applying different rules to different players, there would be an outcry of protest against the injustice. But what if special interest groups get the government to apply a different, more favorable set of rules and regulations to them than to other members of society? Is that any less unjust? What is more, in the case of a private game the context is voluntary, and the players have a choice: they can refuse to play under unfair rules. Whereas in the case of government, the context is not voluntary, and we do not have a choice: we cannot refuse government orders. If the government creates special rules to favor its special interests, we are forced to comply. There is no option to "not play". Some may argue that citizens control their government by means of the electoral process, but we all know that things do not change much irrespective of which politician or which political party is in power. The political incentive system in most societies is such that special interests and corruption are built into the system, irrespective of who voters vote for at elections. The political system itself needs to change.

In these and other ways, the use of force remains widespread even in our freest societies. Special interest groups use the force of government to take for themselves what belongs to others, and to create different, more favorable rules for themselves than for others. These institutionalized forms of violence may not be obvious, but they are no less destructive than more obvious forms of violence.

Institutionalized covert violence occurs in two main forms: government discrimination against certain persons, and government discrimination for certain persons (usually referred to as special interests). It is widely accepted that government discrimination against certain persons or groups is immoral and unjustifiable. It is also destructive—it causes social divisiveness and conflict, and limits social progress. In the worst case, it ultimately leads to social disintegration, chaos, and anarchy. This is no less true of the government favoring special interests, which is merely the other side of the same coin. Allowing the government to cater to special interests and special interest lobbies necessarily causes the corruption of our public institutions, with growing numbers of special interests pitted against each other in a vicious spiral of accelerating moral decay. We see the destructive consequences of cozy relationships between governments and special interests all around us. The Freedom Universal Constitution outlaws all types of coercive discrimination and special interests, thus creating an equal, level playing field where no one is advantaged or disadvantaged through coercive means.

The Freedom Universal Constitution

The Freedom Universal Constitution provides crucial, foundational insights and powerful mechanisms to help societies transition away from the curse of violence and closer to the ideal of freedom, justice, and prosperity for all. The essential contributions of the Freedom Universal Constitution include:

  1. A deeper understanding of how the context of social interaction—freedom or violence—radically alters social dynamics.
  2. The counterintuitive insight that discrimination is a positive, and that force is a negative because it limits discrimination—and therefore life.
  3. The insight that violence necessarily violates equality before the law—and equality before the law therefore protects against violence.
  4. The identification of the corollary relationships between the sovereignty of the individual, the universal ethic of reciprocity, equality before the law, the rule of law, property, voluntary transactions, universal standards, justice, prosperity, and freedom.
  5. Deeper, more precise, consistent definitions of equality before the law, the rule of law, discrimination, freedom, and other crucial concepts.
  6. An innovative new constitutional framework and mechanism for effectively implementing equality before the law (and therefore the rule of law and the institution of property) in a society, and thus realizing its immense social blessings.

The Freedom Universal is a powerful idea with great promise. Ideas have life and power to the extent that they are understood, supported, implemented, and lived in a culture. That is the mission of the Freedom Universal Network: to bring the benefits of the Freedom Universal and the Freedom Universal Constitution into public awareness, and thereby help to liberate our societies from the scourge of violence.

Next: The Freedom Universal Network

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