Agency, Freedom, and Liberty

Words, being necessary for much interpersonal communication, including that of ideals, thoughts, and even feelings, must be carefully defined. When defined properly, words broaden our ability to communicate ideals that could be necessary in further understanding any attempt to communicate principles of a more in-depth nature, in the future. That being said, consider this quotation:

“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And
they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil…” – Lehi (2 Ne 2:27)

The quote above, whether it is regarded by the reader as scripture or not, outlines and alludes to, in a very unique and effective manner, the differences between a few principles of which, it is the intent of this article to discuss. Although it may seem as though the emphasized quote above (“they are free to choose liberty”) is a convoluted set of repetitions, the author asserts that there is a definite difference between these three separate principles, and that it is very beneficial to understand clearly what those specific principles, and the differences between each, are. Certainly, once correctly understood, and combined within the same mindset, the understanding of these three principles make more clear and provide a more developed understanding of the cause of freedom, as well as what the demands should be in relation to that cause, whether in a personal or societal context.

These three principles are (1) Agency, (2) Freedom, and (3) Liberty.

What is Agency?

The 1828 Webster Dictionary defines the word agency as, “The quality of moving or of exercising power; the state of being in action; action; operation; instrumentality; as, the agency of providence in the natural world.” This definition, although good in its own way, covers more than what I will discuss as the concept of agency Agency, as will be shown below, not only is necessarily made up of a few ingredients, but is impossible to be exercised fully, since it is not only impossible to act without the ability, but we are rendered unable to act in an environment where you are not capable of exercising that ability and are, thus, free to act! This will be a crucial point when it comes to government’s role as a fundamental part of society. But, before discussing the ability to act, what are the elements that lead to that being even a possibility to begin with.

Agency is a multi-faceted element to our existence that is and forever will be associated with our intelligent, conscious existence. Agency, in itself, is necessarily made up of three things, or ingredients, if you will, which are mutually dependent upon each other:

1) Law
2) Choices
3) Knowledge

It is important to notice that these three elements are necessary for agency to exist in relation to a sovereign, conscious, individual entity. The Law, as well as the Choices in relation to them, are set and have always existed. Our knowledge has been dependent on the timing of our acquiring it.

The Universe is governed by unchanging physical law. This unchanging, timeless set of principles and laws is sometimes known as Natural Law, or the Laws of Nature. Natural Law constitutes all of the laws that exist independent of man, and is essentially, an unchanging set of relationships between cause and effect. The Laws of Nature are self existent. They never had a beginning, and they will never have an end. If there was a beginning, it would need to, eventually, have an end! Think about it. How would it be in harmony with logic and reason to think of something actually “beginning to exist?” Anyone aware of the physical sciences will see that matter and energy cannot, and never can be, destroyed. This is known in science as the Law of Conservation of Mass.

That being said, why would this same principle somehow not apply to anyone’s own conscious intelligent being? How could, and why would that be an exception to this fundamental law of the sciences. Just as important as the realization of Natural law’s existence, would obviously be the law behind the fact that we, as independent, sentient, conscious beings, do in fact, exist. Rene Descartes, the Father of Modern Philosophy, outlined this principle in his famous statement Cogito ergo sum, or “I think therefore, I am.” It is thus kindly asserted by this author that not even existence itself is appreciated enough by the general public today.

In fact, how ironic would it be if the underlying principle of that fundamental law of the sciences, the Law of Conservation of Mass, ever had a beginning? Sure, there is a potential starting point, in the part of human history that we know of, to when we began to be aware of such a law, or perhaps a starting point in terms of addressing, naming, or labeling a concept or law; but obviously, if that Law is natural, and not man made, it’s existence was not dependent on our own awareness of it, or even our naming or labeling of it! This wouldn’t be the case anymore than the moon’s existence being dependent upon our seeing it during the day, or on our calling it ‘the moon’.

Also, it should be noted that these Laws of Nature are all interrelated. Does the moon take a vacation from its natural orbit during the day, or are there simply other laws in force that merely affect our ability to see it? To claim it doesn’t exist or that it isn’t orbiting the Earth during the day would make about as much sense as claiming that Christopher Columbus invented America!

The acknowledgement, discovery, and understanding of these naturally existing Laws of Nature have been crucial to, not only our intellectual development, but, every technological advancement and modern-day convenience as well. Can you think of our ability to travel in flight via airplanes and helicopters ever coming before our understanding of the law of gravity? If that be the case, then why would the laws of scientific research, logic, reason, experimentation, in addition to leading to further insight in the areas of life we are naturally accustomed to it being premier; why would it not be the method by which we, as humankind, seek to understand the science behind inter-human relationships, government, and perhaps even virtue and salvation for those so inclined to seek it.

The options and choices available to us will always correlate to the understanding and the knowledge we have acquired. This will also continue to be the case, since it should be observed that, outside of us, the choices associated with the eternal laws would also necessarily be co-eternal with them. It is the learning and understanding of those laws that lead to those choices being available to us, and only then, can our level of agency, if you will, expand to include and encompass those choices being acknowledged as options in our personal lives. But it is not as if humankind, even a thousand years ago, did not have the ability to make certain choice, and find the knowledge, that has led to our many technological advancements! What has changed is simply the knowledge of information that leads to the understanding of the existence of those choices!

The benefits of our searching, and seeking to understand the functions and natural rules of the world around us should be self evident. Thus, it naturally follows, that any result of our actions and thoughts will come as the consequences of those very choices, which consequences will be determined by the Laws, natural or man-made, associated with that decision and result. This point will be important when discussing the concept of liberty.

In a personal context, the importance of discovering and understanding natural law is directly associated with our having even the potential ability to achieve goals and aspirations in life. If we desire a certain end or result, it is imperative to discover and learn about the law associated with, or more specifically, that naturally leads to that desired end or result. Simply put, we need to discover the causes that lead to the desired effect.

After that, it would then be incumbent on the person holding the desire of that end, to precisely follow where that understanding would necessarily have to lead, in terms of action, for that desired result to come about. If that knowledge is incomplete, or if the action associated with a correct knowledge, is followed in an incomplete manner, the holder of that knowledge will receive as an effect, an incomplete result.

As the great legal and religious mind, H. Verlan Andersen put it so succinctly:

“Logical minds also agree on the fact that the existence of law is indispensable to the use of intelligence. A dictionary definition of intelligence is: ‘The ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action toward a desired goal.’ Yet no one can work toward any goal unless he can foresee the results of his actions, and no one can foresee the results of his actions unless laws exist which assure that the same results will follow the same causes. From this we must conclude that intelligent conduct is possible only in the presence of law. Only when a person can predict the consequences of what he does can he ‘guide action toward a desired goal.’ Where law prevails and is understood, one is able to anticipate the results which will flow from any given course of conduct, and thus he can choose that course which will accomplish the goal he seeks…

It is…easily demonstrated that without knowledge of the truth, it is quite impossible for a person to achieve his goals. Law reigns supreme in the universe and no purpose can be attained without complying with that law upon which the desired result depends.”
(The Great and Abominable Church of the Devil, pgs. 19, 29)

If it is not apparent enough, it should be noted, that every choice has consequences. Every cause has an effect. Even, somehow “not choosing,” is ironically, a choice that will have a set of consequences depending on the circumstances of the specific situation. Every person is thus, accountable for the choices they make. The accountability is the personal variable of having chosen a certain choice, which consequences are dependent upon any attending Laws. In other words, the consequence is the destination of having chosen that choice while the accountability has to do with the person in relationship to having chosen that choice. Thus, the cause of our choosing will always have an effect, regardless of a potential desire to separate the two.

So, the accountability being the relation between the choices and the individual actually making that choice should be apparent. However, there is a quick point that needs to be made in relation to accountability, in terms of how it will apply in the context of the principles behind the proper role of government. The author will be discussing this in detail in future articles, however, it should be noted that there is often confusion that will lie in relation to this principle as to where the accountability should lie. Depending on the choice and the situation, it can be accountability to self, with the consequences being natural, with some linking that to accountability to God for the same reason, while others are accountability to our fellow man, where the consequences can be in harmony with natural law, and/or can be arbitrary, depending on the circumstance. Consequences can be natural, such as the potential for addiction that can come come from the misuse of certain drugs, prescription or otherwise; and/or they can also be arbitrary, such as a fine or fee, or parents implementing a punishment for this/that action and enforcing against their kids when they do such action.

As far as government is concerned, the question is when, and under what specific circumstances, are we legitimately accountable to our fellow men for the actions that we take? As will be shown in future posts, and discussed in much more detail therein, it is, simply put, when there is palpable harm done to another’s rights to life, freedom, and/or property.

Why are all three ingredients of agency necessary for the concept to remain intact?

It should be seen, in reading through this section in its entirety, the reason why these three elements which make up agency, are so interconnected. If there is no law, there would be no choices associated with laws that don’t exist. Even if those laws were arbitrary, as some may suppose, the results of those choices would be arbitrary and would thus lead to a state of chaos, due to the inability to plan on the same results coming from the same actions. This is not seen in nature, where two and two, regardless of the words associated with the labeling of that specific quantity, will always, when combined, equal four. Even an airplane in no way nullifies the law of gravity, although other co-equal laws of nature are utilized to create a phenomenon that impresses many to call it out as a miracle! But those that studied, through logic, reason, experimentation, and perhaps even inspiration, found that specific knowledge that made that end, that of an airplane successfully “defying” the law of gravity consistently, possible.

Did you catch the cycle of dependency?

Think about it. The Laws of Nature always existed, the choices associated with those laws always existed, yet the increase in knowledge led to an increase in the agency associated with humankind! The more you learn the more choices are available, not potentially available in nature or objective existence, but more choices are available in relation to you! And thus, you are more of an agent as a consequence.

How amazing is that?! If that doesn’t answer any questioning of the importance of knowledge, what will?

Now, just having that knowledge, and the potential ability for making those choices is, in a practical sense, almost meaningless if there is an ingredient lacking in the situation of the individual so disposed. In fact, the literal exercise of agency is basically synonymous with this necessary state: Freedom.

What is Freedom?

The 1828 Webster Dictionary defines freedom, in part, as: “A state of exemption from the power or control of another,” and “<a>ny exemption from constraint or control.” Simply put, it is the ability to act. One may have the agency, and the potential ability to choose one thing or another, and maybe have even made that choice in their mind; yet, they may be restrained or limited from having the actual capability to act due to the lack of freedom in their situational circumstances!

Once again, without freedom, there is no way to actually exercise agency. Freedom is absolutely necessary for any and all action, whether right or wrong, good or bad. One may have the agency, and with that the ability, or more specifically, the potential capability, to choose to buy this or that product; but that same individual will need the freedom to actually make that happen. This freedom would obviously involve many things, from the freedom to work and earn, barter and sell, to acquire whatever would be necessary to have the medium for that transaction, and even the freedom to travel to wherever that transaction could take place, to say nothing of the freedom to keep and protect what he has earned and acquired honestly.

Freedom has many necessary elements such as Life, knowledge, and property. These are very necessary to the ability to actually accomplish the goals and pursuits that make freedom such a universal aspiration for mankind. Any one of these things being hindered or harmed will obviously diminish one’s freedom. There is obvious damage that comes when our lives, our knowledge, or our property, such as the hindrance of the ability of that person to use their freedom to accomplish their own goals. Thus, it should be noted, that along with freedom, comes the ability to affect others’ freedom.

In terms of government, laws, and their proper role as a fundamental part of society, which society made up of individual’s with their own corresponding rights and duties, it is here asserted that this is, of the three principles of agency, freedom, and liberty, the one principle where government has a more active role. The cause of freedom is not entirely the role of government, but it does play a big part. This point should be outlined more clearly.

For example, one may choose to use misuse and become addicted to a harmful substance, or choose to get into debt in one degree or another. This will hinder someone’s freedom outside of the realm of legitimate government force leading to any sort of mitigation, due to the fact that they chose to do such things, and therefore they are the ones responsible for any mitigation of the consequences of those choices. If government were used as a tool of mitigating those circumstances, in terms of the addiction, force would not work, and it would ironically diminish their freedom and the precedent would potentially threaten everyone else’s; while for the example with debt, assuming voluntary parties with their own assets, the mitigation of which would rob the lender of what is rightfully his and diminish his elements of freedom, as well as once again being a potential threat to the societal fabric. Yet, say one person damages someone else’s person or their property, there would obviously be legitimate government recourse as a means of reparations. Thus government held to its proper role, although not the source of man’s agency, and, as will be shown, not the means of an active promotion of liberty as it is herein addressed and defined, does have a legitimate place in being an agency that will help protect and secure certain necessary elements of freedom as a part of society.

That being said, and that difference being recognized, does anyone question the value of freedom? Is their anyone that would question its importance as it applies to themselves, or the pursuit of their own purposes? In fact, when this line of thinking is taken to the next step, is their anyone who can reasonably, and with a straight face, deny the importance of freedom as it would apply to their fellow man?

Any state of freedom can, unfortunately, be most acutely seen and felt more obviously in its absence. People often take for granted the freedom to act as they see fit, in pursuing their own happiness, and their own purposes. Yet, how quickly will they realize the absence of such freedom! How apparent does it become to a person who is in a situation where there are many restrictions on their ability to act, and are, thus, enslaved in one degree or another?

One of the ironies that will be addressed in future articles is the dissonance associated with such an acute awareness that most people have of the lack of freedom associated with excessive debt, or the inability to provide subsistence for one’s own self, and their family, and yet the lack of acute awareness amongst the very same general populace as it applies to the misuse, or perversion of government force, and government itself.

Now, people may have the freedom to choose different actions, whether right or wrong. But, as is apparent to any thinking person reflecting on this topic, people’s use of freedom, will either, in one degree or another, enhance and enlarge freedom, or will detract, or diminish freedom. Obviously someone who uses their freedom to acquire excessive debt would probably feel the decrease in their amount of freedom until such debt is paid off. But even if someone used their freedom to refrain from debt entirely, do they not still have the choice to go into debt?

Suppose there is a a person in a prison-type situation, convicted of robbery. Due to their choice, they now have fewer choices as a consequence. Yet, although inconceivable to many, and rightly so, those who did not make that choice, and thus did not end up in that situation, still have the capability of making that choice. Many choices we make, to one degree or another, whether we are actively aware of it or not, will either enlarge or diminish our freedom. The effect, or destination of such an enlargement or enhancement of freedom, which increases the amount of choices one has, is, along this line of thinking, termed: Liberty.

What is Liberty?

Liberty is often thought of as synonymous with freedom. When this term is being used in the context of a synonymous relationship, then, of course, it is a completely appropriate term when used in that way. In fact, the Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary even supports the view that they are synonymous. It, in part, defines the word “Liberty,” as:

“Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty, when not confined; the will of the mind is at liberty, when not checked or controlled. A man is at liberty, when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions.”

The Founding Fathers used the term ‘liberty,’ in the founding documents, as well as in their speech and writings. They could mean this definitions above, with the meaning being similar or even synonymous to that of freedom, or it can also be somewhat interpreted, in terms of what they wrote, within the more developed context and content outlined in this article. It should be remembered, that there is a potential, with no necessary contradiction, for a word or term to have different layers of understanding and meaning in its use.

However, within the context of the principles that the author is attempting to outline in this article, there should be noticed a clear distinction between liberty, and freedom. Liberty comes as a result, as a destination, as an effect, of the use of freedom in a way that increases our freedom! It is the using of freedom in a way that leads to a destination with the characteristics of even more freedom! If you think of freedom as not only the ability to actuate the potential to do great things, but as the ability to accomplish those goals, liberty would be the effect of having increased our freedom to the point of being able to actually accomplish them. Liberty comes from obeying a law for a desired result, and achieving that very end! This would, as well, lead to more choices being available, and would loop back into agency, and freedom, to once again illustrate the interrelated nature of these principles.

Thus, to go back to the original quote under consideration, Lehi stated that:

“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil…” (2 Ne 2:27)

Too often, whether for us personally, or with persons directly around us in our lives, we see people bound to an end they did not desire, which consequence came naturally, or arbitrarily as a result of an action that they knowingly took, understanding the affect that that choice can have. In other words, people are often bound to the result, or outcome of some sort of slavery, or bondage due to the fact that they chose the path that led to it. In choosing the cause, or the path, they received an undesired effect, or end. When someone achieves Liberty, by wisely using their freedom, they often have chosen the end, and if successful, conformed to the path that leads to it! Thus, they would naturally be filled with joy with the desired end being the outcome that they so chose!

As one article, written by Brian Mecham on this topic, wisely and succinctly puts it, “The key to understanding Liberty lies in choosing the outcome we want versus receiving the outcome our path dictates.”

How does this relate to the Battle for Freedom?

Well, to be frank, how could it not relate? If freedom is the cause, why should it be limited to merely the cause as it relates to governments and any sort of legal system? Although the primary focus of will be the cause of freedom as it relates to government, it should not be understood to somehow equate to that being the exclusive issue when it comes to our personal lives in their entirety. In fact, an underlying thread between any discussion of keeping government within the bounds set by the Declaration of Independence, must assume that the responsibility for moral virtue and good habits, and the promotion of truth and education, and the furtherance of the cause of liberty is solely on the individual’s themselves, and not on a a class of government officials, whether that be a king, a tyrant, a legislature, or that of the simple majority of the people.

The right of self-government is not given up to any government, nor could it be, and it still stands regardless of even any explicit recognition of that fact. To think otherwise would be as absurd and could even be manifested in some sort of lobbying for a “law,” calling for the setting of a time to wake up in the morning, as well as a time for everyone to go to bed. Who makes that decision, or rather, who should make that decision, for better or worse, under the conditions respective to the people making them, but the people themselves?

How does government, if misused, negatively affect the three principles of agency, freedom, and liberty?

Since there is no way to strip a person of their agency, government cannot have a real affect on it. Government officials may lie, which will have a subtle impact on a person by attempting to corrupt what they think they know, and forcing them to choose what they find as knowledge, but this, in the end, does not even have the ability to strip agency from a person in the least degree! Once a person has knowledge, it is theirs! Even if some physical injury merely prevents them from currently accessing it, or processing it as efficiently as what would otherwise be the case, it is still theirs, and is not somehow destroyed from them!Even a person making a wrong choice that may infringe on their freedom, or their ability to act, it did not, in any way strip them of their agency.

Thus, freedom is the primary place where the misuse of government can lead to serious detrimental effects on the individuals that make up society! Without the ability to act, as has been stated, agency has very little practical significance. What good is knowing the choices, and even making the choices in one’s mind, if one is unable to actuate them in their own lives and circumstances?

Governments can, when misused, be the tools of every sort of criminal activity that it was their original purpose to punish and deter. This deters freedom for everyone in that society. Government has been misused, as will be discussed in future articles in detail, in attempting to create accountability where none would naturally lie, and where none should exist within its jurisdiction. So this is truly the problematic area that needs to be addressed, both in terms of good and legitimate reasons for government, and in preventing it for becoming the tool to be used against that legitimate basis for its’ existence in the first place.

In terms of liberty, as discussed in this article, separate from its synonymous use with the term freedom, it would obviously be impacted by any hinderance of freedom coming from any government entity. Yet, in the end, even with government held to its proper function and place as a fundamental part of society’s existence, liberty is up to the individual to pursue. Liberty is up to the society’s individual members to promote amongst themselves, via any voluntary means they come up with as a tool for its’ advancement.

Because, ultimately, it is entirely up to us.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *