Utility versus Principle

Auberon Herbert responds to a defender of Liberty who insists on arguing from utility rather than from principle.

Utility versus Principle

The meaning of my question (perhaps not very clearly worded,) to Mr. Cator was:--"If you do not recognise self-ownership, if you do not recognise the supreme rights of the individual over himself, and over his property, if you have merely a vague sentiment in favor of Liberty, and leave the boundaries between Liberty and Compulsion undetermined, how can you ever unite men in their resistance to the exercise of force?"

One man would object to force in sanitary matters; another in educational matters; another in matters of taxation; and territory would in turn be won from and lost to Liberty--as we see it happening to-day--with very little gain on the whole to Liberty. But if you can once bring men to say" "We accept the rights of Liberty in all directions as a general truth; we declare the presumption always to be on the side of Liberty, throwing on its opponents the onus of proving an exception"--then men would be bound together by a general tie, and would take part in a general movement that would result in the steady, continuous advance of Liberty. I need not say that it would be clearly wrong to accept any general for the sake of its tactical advantages; but I think it is an evidence as regards the force and influence of general truths, that the acceptance of a general principle multiplies many times the resisting power of men. As long as we only defend Liberty, not as a principle, but only as a useful rule in certain special cases, which we pick out according to our own inclinations, we are always liable to be "cut up in detail" by those who form a large compact body in favor of compulsion on behalf of their own interests.

I don't think...there is much real difference in our point of view. Like him, I don't believe in legal checks and counter checks; but I believe in, when you have once acknowledged a principle, translating it in practice--...for example, given the rights of the individual over himself and his property, we ought not to tolerate compulsory taxation...because it offends against that principle. If you may take one shilling of my pound by force, then you may take 19 shillings, and you, not I, are the owner of my property. But I don't gather that Mr. Cator would differ on this point. His difficulty rather would be in accepting the general principle.

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