Freedom Is Indivisible, Which Is Why All Types Are Now Eroding

by | Apr 18, 2020 | POLITICS

The point of the principle of indivisibility is to remind us that the various freedoms rise or fall together, even if with various lags, even if some freedom, for a time, seems to be rising as others fall; in whatever direction the freedoms move, eventually they tend to dovetail.

The principle that freedom is indivisible reflects the fact that humans are an integration of mind and body, spirit and matter, consciousness and existence; the principle implies that humans must choose to exercise their reason – the faculty unique to them – to grasp reality, live ethically, and flourish as best they can. The principle is embodied in the better-known one that we have individual rights – to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness – and that the sole and proper purpose of government is to be an agent of our right of self-defense, to constitutionally preserve, protect, and defend our rights, not to abridge or nullify them.[1]

Now consider three main types of freedom – political, civil, and economic. The first, political, includes freedom to vote, elect representatives, run for office, lobby and protest (“petition the government for a redress of grievances”), enjoy a presumption of innocence, plus access to a jury trial, and no “cruel and unusual punishment.” The second, civil, includes freedom to speak, publish, worship, marry, make reproductive (or end-of-life) choices, peaceably assemble, and travel locally, nationally, or globally. The third, economic, includes freedom to work, produce, contract, exchange, save, invest, consume, and bequeath wealth.

Tragically, in America since the 1930s economic freedoms have been routinely violated and subordinated to other freedoms. Property rights have been abridged, abused, or nullified, whether by land-use laws, labor laws, licensing strictures, wage-price controls, the ever-expanding regulatory state, trade barriers, nationalizations, fiat money issuance, or complex, punitive tax codes. Not since Lochner vs. New York (1905) has the U.S. Supreme Court rejected regulation of consensual economic acts as unjust and unconstitutional. Not since the late 1930s, with justices Butler, McReynolds, Sutherland, and Van Devanter – “the four horsemen” – have property rights had more than a handful of protectors on America’s highest court.

For a few years in the mid-1930s the four horsemen did their job – i.e., judiciously applying the Hamiltonian-Marshallian principle of judicial review. They worked courageously, nullifying at least parts of FDR’s anti-property, anti-capitalist, unconstitutional “New Deal” schemes. In response, a vengeful FDR threatened to “pack the court” (dilute its make-up, by adding six seats). He failed, but his threats induced the five other justices to more aggressively out-vote the four horsemen, who then began retiring. That ended the absolutism of economic liberty in America. This assault has been well documented.[2]  Sad to say, economic freedom hasn’t been restored much since then, not even under the relatively pro-freedom Ronald Reagan.

Unlike political-civil freedoms, innumerable excuses have been concocted to abridge or nullify economic freedoms – including such myths that capital “exploits” labor, that producers “exploit” consumers, that corporations “exploit” the Earth, that “market failure” is rampant, necessitating a government “fix.” There is also the collectivist-utilitarian belief in unreal “social utility,” best maximized only when market freedom (and its real, natural result, income-wealth inequality) is minimized. Until recently, almost no one used such shoddy excuses to abridge or nullify political-civil freedom. No one called for limits on speech or publishing merely because some people lie, slander, or libel innocents. If any law did so, jurists rightly raced to overturn them. That has not been the approach taken toward violations of economic freedoms.

Yet political-civil freedoms in America increasingly have been assaulted, especially since the terror attacks of 9/11, after which policymakers focused less on vanquishing perpetrators and foes abroad and more on bugging, frisking, corralling, and controlling citizens at home (see the PATRIOT Act, the invasive TSA, private records invasions, and the NSA’s electronic invasions of telecommunications and social media). Their pretext was emergency, crisis, “unprecedented measures for unprecedented times.” Violations would be “temporary,” they said, substantially rescinded as threats were met. But the violations persisted; the weapons were retained; in 2016, we know, U.S. political incumbents wielded them against challenger Trump’s campaign.

More recently, in the wake of the Covid-19 virus outbreak, we’ve seen unwarranted, unprecedented violations of all three realms of freedom in America[3] – mandates to close businesses, edicts that people stay in their homes (“shelter in place,” akin to a nationwide house arrest of innocents presumed guilty), decrees against assembling (compelling “social distancing”), orders restricting access to gun shops, even the classification of some street protests (against the illiberal controls) as prohibited because a “non-essential” activity.  We’ve yet to see challenges from the ACLU or court orders staying the rights violations. Why?

Consider the creeping and creepy violations of rights protections in the U.S. Constitution in recent decades. The sequence is instructive. For years, 5th Amendment property-rights protections were ignored or jettisoned with little protest. Since 9/11, we have seen 4th Amendment privacy-rights protections ignored or jettisoned, also without much protest. Now, amid hysteria over a virus that could kill fewer than 100,000 Americans (twice those who die each year driving cars), we see 2nd Amendment gun rights protections, plus 1st Amendment assembly and speech rights protections, also ignored or jettisoned, yet again with little protest.

People seem to get used to losing freedom; they willingly or easily lose one type, which becomes “the new norm.” But that leaves them vulnerable, even careless, about losing other freedoms; having abandoned the principle (that liberty is indivisible and inviolable), they get lost in the details of the losses, missing the big picture. They expose themselves to the next invasion, the next takings of liberty; they lose it in stages, and realms, without much noticing, or without being able to do much in protest if they do notice (or care). Liberty loss, like health loss due to viral invasions, occurs almost invisibly; but despotic invasions are often allowed, even welcomed.

Although people may become accustomed to losing freedom, it remains indivisible. Notice how recent violations of non-economic freedoms have been closely linked to violations of economic ones; the violations are “sold” by the control freaks as a package, as a singular strategy. Hardly anyone objects, or fears a permanent loss of non-economic liberty, either because they don’t know the principle of indivisibility, or they know it but don’t much care about losing their liberty (or part of it). Many also believe that surrendering liberty can ensure safety. But the greatest human harm and unnatural death in history has been inflicted by despotisms.[4]

A principled defense of non-economic freedoms isn’t helped or buttressed when the case for economic freedom has long been abandoned and squelched, or when attempts to preserve or revive it – even to “re-open” an economy shut down unconstitutionally by politicians and bureaucrats – are met with the derisive charge that proponents care only about wealth not health. In fact, wealth and health are as indivisible as freedom. As I’ve explained, unwealthy is unhealthy.[5] But the most poisonous premise of all, apropos the prerequisites of human well-being, is the premise that freedom is separable.  If it’s separable, it’s ephemeral.

The point of the principle of indivisibility is to remind us that the various freedoms rise or fall together, even if with various lags, even if some freedom, for a time, seems to be rising as others fall; in whatever direction the freedoms move, eventually they tend to dovetail.

If a people wants to preserve freedom, they must fight for its preservation in all realms, not just those in which they most live, or most favor – not in one, or some, but not others, and not in one or some at the expense of others. For a free people to remain so they must learn that they are (or should be) an integration of mind and body, spirit and matter, consciousness and existence. When you see freedom divided, eroded, or lost, whether in part or whole, you can be sure it’s because there is, at root, a tragic philosophic dualism, a mind-body split, whether due to religious dogma or the thinly-veiled religion of Kant’s analytic-synthetic dichotomy.[6]

Just as contradictions (gaps or divisions between thought and reality) cannot withstand logical-existential scrutiny, and just as a nation divided cannot stand, so freedom divided must fall.

When collectivists, control freaks, and would-be despots are poised to oppress, they love saying “we’re all in this together” or “we’re all each other’s keepers,” meaning that some will be kept as animals, while others will keep and control them, whip in hand, or behind the back, outside the cage. During “epidemics,” we now find, the cage can be your home. In America, land of “liberty,” you can now be arrested for not “social distancing,” or not doing so in a way a controller prefers. In response, the true individualist must say: to Hell with that, I have rights, damn it, and if “we” must be together in anything, it must be in agreement with the principle that freedom is indivisible, that all its realms are “in this thing” (this principle) together and forever.

Here are some key formulations from Ayn Rand, on aspects of freedom’s indivisibility:[7]

Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.

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.

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.

In the first excerpt Rand clearly recognizes freedom’s indivisibility – stating the links among the main types. In the middle excerpt she argues that only a system of constitutional capitalism can ensure freedom and its integrated, indivisible, inseparable unity. In the last excerpt, she warns against believing the vivisectionists of freedom, those especially who claim that political-civil liberties can be preserved while economic-property ones are not.

Today, amid Draconian policies adopted allegedly to meet the “unprecedented” public health risks associated with Covid-19, we get the same idea – the “old collectivist trick,” in Rand’s words – that there can be no absolute civil or economic freedom because you’re not “free” to infect others, even if inadvertently, and therefore “society” can rightly restrict your freedom by not permitting you even the remotest possibility of infecting others; “society” (the state) holds the sole right and absolute power to limit your freedom in any manner it sees fit; that is, each individual may be harmed by the state, to prevent societal harm. Go figure. It doesn’t.

In this context it is worth remembering the meaning of totalitarianism. What is it? A totalitarian government invades every possible aspect of your life, not just the political but the economic and personal also. It’s made possible – and has been a large and horrendous part of human history – not only by assaults on reason and rights but by people pretending they could forego economic freedoms (typically the first to go, since it’s widely believed that “love of money” and of money-making is “the root of all evil”) without also losing the others.

Could you possibly flourish in life, or even preserve yourself (survive) at a primitive level, as a being of all mind and no body, or all body and no mind? Of course not; you’d perish quickly. Well, so also must your liberty perish, after eroding, once you permit it to be divided and conquered by the illiberal “liberals” now surrounding you, all claiming to be “protecting” you.

Having witnessed the trashing of economic freedoms for decades, I confess to having less sympathy for the current plaints of civil libertarians than I should; they’ve done so little, really, to defend economic rights, and now some of them (although far too few) fear to see their only cherished ones being violated. Well, you asked for it, brothers. Yet I do sympathize, because unlike they I love liberty in all its forms, unequivocally and indivisibly, that is, on principle.

Paraphrasing a once-apt account of the evil that occurred in Hitler’s Germany, we might say of today’s would-be controllers and despots that first they came for economic freedom, but few objected because most cared only for civil freedom; then they came for civil freedom, but few objected because most cared only for political freedom; but then, finally, they came for political freedom and extinguished it too, quickly and easily, because by then no one possessed much of any freedom, of any type. Their liberty loss was now total, their government totalitarian.[8]


[1] Be aware that a common, well-meant, but false interpretation of freedom’s indivisibility stresses something like the idea that “no one is truly free if anyone is unfree.” John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and the like have voiced this idea; the focus is on identifiably mistreated minorities, but what’s really (and rightly) demanded is equal treatment and equal protection of each person under law – an important, effective legal way to protect freedom, but not freedom itself.  Moreover, it’s simply not true that oppressors or enslavers are as oppressed or enslaved (although they are dependent) or nearly as “unfree” as their victims; if that were true, the oppressors would unilaterally “revolt,” forswear their abuse, surrender their power, and stop oppressing. The victims would not need to revolt, or expend much effort, or risk their safety in resisting; they could just wait to be freed.

[2] See Bernard H. Siegan, Economic Liberties and the Constitution (1987; 2005) and Richard A. Epstein, Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain (1985). For a more recent defense of the pre-1905 (pro-freedom) standard, see David E. Bernstein, Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights against Progressive Reform (2011); George Thomas, “Economic Liberty in the Courts,” National Affairs (Summer 2010); and Randy E. Barnett, “Does the Constitution Protect Economic Liberty?” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (2012).

[3] Richard M. Salsman, “Incarceration, Monetization, and Nationalization Can’t Preserve Our Health or Wealth,” American Institute for Economic Research, March 21, 2020.

[4] See R. J. Rummel, Death by Government (1994) and Richard M. Salsman, “Socialism Worked in Venezuela,” American Institute for Economic Research, September 21, 2018.

[5] Richard M. Salsman, “Unwealthy is Unhealthy, So Why Mandate It?” American Institute for Economic Research, April 5, 2020.

[6] Leonard Peikoff, “For Kant, as for Plato, the Universe Consists of Two Opposed Dimensions” and “Nazi Activism and the Two-World Philosophy of Kant” (in The Cause of Hitler’s Germany, 2014).

[7] Ayn Rand, “On Freedom,” The Ayn Rand Lexicon (1986).

[8] See Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (1955) and two by Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America (1982) and The Cause of Hitler’s Germany (2014).

Dr. Salsman is president of InterMarket Forecasting, Inc., an assistant professor of political economy at Duke University and a senior fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. Previously he was an economist at Wainwright Economics, Inc. and a banker at the Bank of New York and Citibank. Dr. Salsman has authored three books: Breaking the Banks: Central Banking Problems and Free Banking Solutions (AIER, 1990), Gold and Liberty (AIER, 1995), and The Political Economy of Public Debt: Three Centuries of Theory and Evidence (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017). In 2021 his fourth book – Where Have all the Capitalist Gone? – will be published by the American Institute for Economic Research. He is also author of a dozen chapters and scores of articles. His work has appeared in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, Reason Papers, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Forbes, the Economist, the Financial Post, the Intellectual Activist, and The Objective Standard. Dr. Salsman earned his B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College (1981), his M.A. in economics from New York University (1988), and his Ph.D. in political economy from Duke University (2012). His personal website is

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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