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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

As an Australian and an admirer of late 19th century radicals such as Herbert Spencer, Auberon Herbert, and Thomas Mackay I was very surprised to come across one of their kind in Australia. This work did not deserve the obscurity into which it had sunk and it was a pleasure to put it online on the OLL.

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Other quotes about Politics & Liberty:

15 August, 2005

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The Australian radical liberal Bruce Smith lays down some very strict rules which should govern the actions of any legislator (1887)

Read the full quote in context here.

Even in 1887 there were classical liberals, like the Australian barrister Bruce Smith, who lamented the fact that state intervention was on the increase and that legislators had little regard for individual liberty. Here is his list of principles which all legislators should keep in mind:

The broad principles, then, which I should venture to lay down as guides for any one assuming the responsible position of a legislator are three in number.

  1. The state should not impose taxes, or use the public revenue for any purpose other than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens.
  2. The state should not interfere with the legally acquired property of any section of its citizens for any other purpose than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens; and in the event of any such justifiable interference amounting to appropriation; then, only conditional upon the lawful owner being fully compensated.
  3. The state should not in any way restrict the personal liberty of citizens for any other purpose than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

The broad principles, then, which I should venture to lay down as guides for any one assuming the responsible position of a legislator are three in number.

  1. The state should not impose taxes, or use the public revenue for any purpose other than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens.
  2. The state should not interfere with the legally acquired property of any section of its citizens for any other purpose than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens; and in the event of any such justifiable interference amounting to appropriation; then, only conditional upon the lawful owner being fully compensated.
  3. The state should not in any way restrict the personal liberty of citizens for any other purpose than that of securing equal freedom to all citizens.

I repeat that I do not offer these as conclusive tests of the wisdom of any proposed legislation. I claim for them this use, however, that they should, in every case, be applied to any such proposal; and if, on such application, the new rights sought to be conferred, and the restrictions on liberty which they must necessarily involve, do not conflict with either of the three principles, there can be little objection to its legislative sanction. If, however, any such proposal is found to come into conflict with either of those principles; then, I contend, a great responsibility is cast upon him or them who demand the interference of the legislature; and he or they should be forced to prove, conclusively, that the necessity for the proposal is so urgent that it overrides the consideration of its transgressing one of the fundamental principles upon which our social system has been built up. He should be compelled, too, to show a strong probability that the proposed means will effect the desired end, without producing an equally or more injurious result to society, in some other direction, or at some other time. The effect of the regular application of these principles to proposed measures would be, in the first place, to determine on which side the burden of proof lay; and then it would rest with those who have cast upon them the responsibility of giving the legislative sanction, to determine (1) whether the necessity has been proved; (2) whether, under all the circumstances of the case, that necessity is sufficiently urgent to justify the subversion of a principle which is immemorial, and which has for centuries served as one of the pillars of our social fabric; (3) whether it has been shown that the proposed measure will effect the purpose aimed at, without, at the same time, producing injurious results to society in some other, perhaps unsuspected, direction, or at some other time.

[More works by Bruce Smith (1851 – 1937)]