For example, many people would consider it to be moral and praiseworthy to volunteer your time to help children learn reading skills, or perhaps donate some of your money to a charity that helps improve literacy. However, I’m not sure you get the same moral brownie points if a robber steals your wallet at gun point and then happens to use your money to fund that same charity. When coercion is initiated, forcing you to act contrary to your will, your status as a morally responsible agent is negated. This is one of the main reasons why many argue that the initiation of force is dreadful and should be barred from social interactions.
Unfortunately, it has been the case in far too many societies throughout history and today that the use of arbitrary force and coercive control has dominated human relationships and even oppressed entire nations. The tremendous price that people have been willing to pay for just a taste of freedom is evidence to the fact that that individual liberty is an integral part of what it means to live a truly human life. What is unique about the human experience is that we have the capacity to imagine different possible desired futures. Perhaps, most importantly of all, we can reason and deliberate among those alternatives, we can choose between the alternatives, and we can act in a way we believe moves us toward our desired state. It could be argued that we are free to act morally only to the extent that we possess these capacities and we have opportunities to exercise them. In some sense, it is freedom that makes all the other “goodness” of a human life possible. Freedom is a precondition for the good.
Finally, it must be noted that when thinking about why liberty is good, we often think in terms of material prosperity. Freer societies tend to produce more material wealth relative to command economies that are less free. However, other things that are important to the dignified human existence, like intellectual pursuits and self-actualization, are contingent on the liberty to exercise our human capacities as well. The capacities necessary for the production of material prosperity are not different from nor mutually exclusive to those required for the generation of intellectual and spiritual prosperity. Just as personal and economic freedoms are not divisible, the human capacities required for material, intellectual, and spiritual flourishing are one and the same. Individual liberty is a necessary requirement for a good human life.
Why then, if individual liberty is an ingredient for the good life, do people fear it so? Well, as George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” Let’s encourage our family and friends to be morally responsible adults and live up to the standards of freedom.