The Ferguson Decision & The Liberty Principle

"Hands up, Don't Shoot."

Liberty is a moral issue. This is why we speak in moral terms about issues that touch on the Liberty principle. In the afterglow, (or burning embers – take your pick),  of  The Ferguson Decision, let’s review the situation from the standpoint of the Liberty principle.

The Story: Cop shoots unarmed black teenager. Community riots. Grand jury refuses to indict. Community riots some more.

The Facts (as far as we know them): Teen had just robbed a store, cop confronted teen, teen attacked cop, cop “feared for his life”, Ferguson has an about-average crime rate but averages $321 in fines and fees, 3 warrants and 1.5 court cases per household.

The Liberty Framework: Since Liberty is a moral argument, we make no apology for casting human action in moral terms. Our moral standard is the principle of self-ownership.

  • When an individual’s self-ownership is violated, a moral wrong has occurred.
  • It is impossible to redress the consequences of a moral wrong with another moral wrong.


The Liberty Issues:

  1. The Ferguson city government committed aggression against its citizens.
    • It appears to me that “law-enforcement” in Ferguson is a racket designed to generate revenue.
  2. Michael Brown committed aggression against the cop.
    • We assume the testimonies of the Grand Jury witnesses were accurate
  3. The cop may or may not have committed aggression against Michael Brown.
    • The Grand Jury decided he was acting in self-defence; self-defence is valid and moral under the Liberty principle.
    • But maybe the witnesses lied
  4. The citizens who rioted committed aggression against their neighbors.


Virtually everyone involved in the Ferguson Decision is guilty of violating the Liberty principle. These are moral wrongs that cannot be resolved by yet more aggression against self-ownership. These wrongs can only be fixed by:

  1. Recompense for those victimized by aggression and/or
  2. Forgiveness by the victims towards the aggressors and
  3. Immediate cessation of aggression by all parties


The Liberty principle is inclusive, not exclusive: Anyone who’s paying attention will recognize the religious overtones to these solutions – recompense, forgiveness, cessation of aggression – and yet they are solutions grounded in a simple human principle – I own myself – rather than in any religious creed.  Any person – with or without religious convictions – can govern himself and expect others to govern themselves by this principle.

The Liberty principle is simple and unambiguous: Either I own myself, or I do not. There is no middle ground.

  • If I own myself, then I have the intrinsic right to use what is mine in whatever way I see fit, as long as it doesn’t violate the self-ownership of others.
  • If I do not own myself, then someone else owns me. My owner(s) have the right to use me in whatever way they see fit.

The only possibility for middle ground between these two positions is that I partially own myself and am partially owned by someone else. While this is not logically impossible, it is in practice impossible to define, let alone enforce.

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