The voicing of the Law

Thomas Hobbes is not usually considered an advocate of liberty, since his work Leviathan begins with an individualistic interpretation of human beings and their behavior but concludes by advocating a sovereign with absolute power. The lack of restrictions on the power of the sovereign makes him an unsuitable reference for many lovers of liberty; however, this popular perception of Hobbes is not universal in the academy.

Hobbes scholars such as Michael Oakeshott argue that an important expression of human freedom and individualism is found in Leviathan. In his interpretation of Hobbes, Oakeshott emphasizes the skepticism of classical reason, the importance of individuality, and his conception of civil society. This emphasis makes Leviathan a friendly text for advocates of liberty. Oakeshott goes so far as to assert that "Hobbes, without being a liberal himself, had more of the philosophy of liberalism in him than most of its professed advocates."

The voicing of the law: this expression refers to the constant politicization of all aspects of human behavior that undermines the freedom of the individual through governmental laws and regulations, writes Ojel L. Rodríguez Burgos. (Shutterstock)

Oakeshott's statement about Hobbes can be framed in different ways, but it seems to me that the most relevant is his concept of liberty. For Hobbes, liberty is the silence of law, where the individual enjoys his greatest freedom when there is no law preventing his actions. This concept of freedom in Hobbes' framework reveals two important points: first, that the individual cannot enjoy his freedom if it is not conditioned by the existence of a rule of law; and second, that the state does not have the capacity to impose its coercive power on the totality of human conduct.

In using Hobbes' concept of liberty to examine the current state of liberty and public policy in Puerto Rico, it could be argued that a new expression needs to be adopted: the voicing of the law. This expression refers to the constant politicization of all aspects of human behavior that undermines the freedom of the individual through government laws and regulations, instead of having a government that maintains the conditions by which individuals can pursue their happiness and moral identity guided by the silence of the law. The current situation involves government overwhelming citizens with an abundance of regulations and laws.

A recent example of the voicing of the law is found in House Bill 57 introduced by Representative Jose "Conny" Varela. This measure sought to require nutrition centers to have a licensed nutritionist to offer their services in the "scientific" fight against obesity. Although the bill was approved in the House of Representatives, it encountered obstacles in the Senate legislative process. Disregarding the possible interests of the parties involved, we can see how the intention to address the problem of obesity is used as a justification for government action.

The intention to address a problem as a justification for government action is based on the belief that, through government intervention, we can solve all the problems that affect us. Consequently, this creates a political mentality of identifying problems in society and moralizing them, in order to create the conditions that allow government intervention. The voicing of the law is the result of this belief and political mentality that perceives the government as the solver of all problems that arise in a society of individualists.

It is worrisome that in Puerto Rico we are witnessing the voicing of the law, since our Western tradition of freedom is based on the ability to pursue our desires and our moral identity within a rule of law. This rule of law aims to create the conditions that allow individuals to pursue their self-chosen ends. Indeed, the law and the authority emanating from it establish prohibitions, but they are prohibitions that do not indicate which ends the individual should choose, nor do they limit the possibility of pursuing them by other methods.

The law only sets restrictions on what we may not do in our pursuit of those ends. The voicing of law, on the other hand, differs from this tradition, as it seeks to politicize all aspects of human conduct. In this approach, the law becomes a series of mandates dictating the ends to be pursued by the individual and the methods to be employed to achieve them. This perspective makes the voicing of the law incompatible with our tradition of freedom and the modern society of individualists that we value.

If we wish to reclaim the silence of the law in our society, we must reject the prevailing view that influences many of our political leaders: the belief that they can correct all social imperfections through government intervention. Despite the obvious failures of public policies based on this belief, it persists and fuels even more the vociferousness of the law, which day by day erodes our individual freedom.

Ojel L. Rodríguez Burgos is a professor of international relations at Sacred Heart University in Puerto Rico and a doctoral student in the School of International Relations at St. Andrews University. His political commentary has appeared in The Hill, The Washington Examiner and Forbes. Follow him on Twitter: @ojelrodriguez.

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