Critique Of “The Quality of a Free Man”

The following article was published by Claire Wolfe on her Living Freedom blog, December 21, 2020. It is part of her series of articles IN PRAISE OF MEN.

In her original introduction to the article she wrote:

“I’m beginning the freedom quest here for a simple reason: Freedom comes from free individuals, not the other way around. Seek Libertopia without first seeking within and the horse stumbles over the cart in her path and breaks her leg. Every time.” [Ephasis mine.]

Her article:


VIRTUES: The free man within society

A free man:

Keeps his word. A good man’s word was once his bond. Now we expect our credit score to be our bond—but such data measures only one infinitesimal part of us. You cannot build freedom on a base of lies or habitual unreliability. Free men mean what they say and do what they promise. Does unto others as he would have them do unto him. Helps those who help themselves. Commits random acts of decency. Aids those who are striving to be free.

Does not meddle in the non-violent behavior of others, but is is a good neighbor and powerful ally when one is needed.

Shuns indebtedness. This means more than shunning debt (though that, too). A free man owns his own life and thinks carefully before giving any part of it away. He rejects false loyalties and guilt trips (unwarranted claims on his life energies). If he accepts a favor he pays it back or pays it forward so others benefit by the aid he received.

Rejects coercive power. He neither seeks power over others nor accepts the right of others to hold such coercive power. You will never hear him say, “There ought to be a law.” He sees humanity not as an ignorant mass to be managed or mothered, but as individuals capable of running their own lives.

Is independent and self-responsible. A free man prefers the risks and rewards of self-reliance to the temptations of “security” provided by others. He takes care of himself and his family. The ultimate corollary to this virtue is self-defense; a free man does not delegate responsibility for his own sustenance, and certainly not for his own survival.

THE FIVE INTERIOR VIRTUES: The free man within

A free man:

Solves problems creatively. Thinks out of the box. Is fascinated by new ideas. Is perpetually self-educating. Anyone who spends a large chunk of his life sitting and whining about all the factors holding him back is by definition neither free nor ready to free himself.

Acts with daily courage and fortitude. While we await the jackboot in the door, tyranny arrives in daily demands for our collaboration. We require courage to say, “No, I won’t give that information”; “I have no interest in working for somebody who forces me to pee in a bottle”; “I won’t pay you to kill people in my name”; “My baby doesn’t need a government inventory number”; “That’s politically correct nonsense”; “Not without a warrant, you won’t”; or “It’s time for you to stand up and take care of yourself.” Free people own that kind of courage. It’s food for their souls. (Which is why I list it as an Interior Virtue rather than an Outward-Looking one.)

Lives by well-considered principles. A free man doesn’t just parrot “thou shalt not kill” or “thou shalt not steal.” He doesn’t behave just because he fears God or government may be watching. He has examined his morality. He knows why he acts or refrains from acting. Sound principles also provide the platform for standing up with courage and saying, “No” to intolerable acts.

Seeks balanced excellence. It may be a fine thing to make a million dollars or build a better mousetrap (or a more efficient solar cell or an innovative computer game). Free people do those things better than serfs. But our life is our #1 creation. Truly free people put as much energy into becoming good, wise human beings as they do into material accomplishments. To do otherwise is to remain off balance—and therefore very easy for “authorities” to push over.

Loves life. No, this does not mean a free man always goes around with a happy-face painted on his mug. It does mean that conscious, human life is the foundation of freedom. Despite its manifold flaws, human life is a miracle to be appreciated and defended against forces that waste or destroy it.

THE TWO FOUNDATION VIRTUES: What all the rest is built on

A free man:

Is self-aware. He knows who he is, what he loves, what he finds intolerable. Knows his own inner drivers, good or ill. Self-knowledge enables us to set satisfying goals and effective boundaries. It shows us our true path. Without self-understanding, we find ourselves constantly in bad relationships and bad jobs, living in conditions we hate—unable to say no and unable to articulate why we want to say no.

Has a spiritual center. A few years ago I’d never have put spirituality on any list of a free man’s traits. Now, I see it’s a foundation stone. Spirituality doesn’t necessarily mean religion. A person can be spiritual without even believing in God. Spirituality is simply the sense that an individual life has a deeper meaning than is evident on the surface. When daily temptations, disappointments, or demands for collaboration threaten to push us off course, transcendent purpose keeps us walking the path.

There it is. A free man is, in his own realm, an astonishingly civilized and moral being. To those who live by controlling others, however, he is a wild beast who can’t be tamed and who is too tough to make good prey.

A free man is also the cause of freedom. The sole cause of it.

When we have sufficient free individuals, political, social, and institutional freedoms will follow. They will arise not through revolution or politically driven reform, but from who we are and the choices we make every day.

We don’t require superhumans. We don’t even require a majority of free people. We do, however, require a larger minority of free individuals than we have today.

“Doing our own thing” is one part of being free. But lasting freedom is a consequence of that old fashioned and presently out-of-favor ideal: personal character. We require that to create what so many of us crave: freedom that lasts.
My question for next time: “Can we create Sustainable Freedom?”

— © 2000, renewed 2020 Claire Wolfe—

Permission to republish this article is granted so long as it is not edited, and the author is credited.


Let me begin by saying a free individual would never ask, “Can we create Sustainable Freedom?” for two reasons:

  1. A free individual never thinks in terms of, “we.”
  2. Freedom is not a state of a society or collective, only individuals.

I want to make it clear that this is not a critique of any individual, and certainly not of Claire Wolfe. It is a critque of an idea that pervaids all of what might be called, “the freedom movement,” (every organization, foundation, program, and campaign, promoting their version of freedom or liberty), or “freedom ideologies,” (libertarians, voluntariasts, objectivists, anarchists, minarchists, anti-staters, constitutionalists, capitalists, and political conservatives) such as those listed in the “Freedom Challenge.” While they all talk about liberty, freedom, and individualism, when what they are actually promoting is carefully examined, it turns out to be the same old collectivism promoted by all statists.

What they are promoting is not individual freedom but some program, political scheme, or social method by which something called, “a free society,” will be established, in which everyone will just be free. Like it or not, no matter what one’s objective is, if it is to produce a certain kind of society, it is neither individualism or freedom, it is social engineering&mdah;just another kind of statism. It is that collectivist trap that, like all freedom movements, “The Quality of a Free Man,” article unfortunately falls into.

Begins Wrong

I know that Claire has presented her principles sort of “upside-down,” stating that all the others are based on the last two “foundation virtues,” but she nevertheless begins with an individual’s relationship with others in society, which contradicts her earlier correct statement, “freedom comes from free individuals, not the other way around.” An individual first makes one’s self free and that determines all his other relationships.

Of course an individual is honest, not for the sake of others, or so he can contribute to a free society. He’s honest because he refuses to fake reality and refuses to have anything he has not earned for the sake of his own integrity. He doesn’t lie because he has nothing to hide, nothing to gain by fooling others, and has no interest or need of anyone else’s agreement or approval. That independence is his freedom.

How easy the collective view let’s one buy into altruism. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” assumes others want the same things you want. But everybody is different. The right principle for one’s relationship with others is, “don’t do anything unto others,” because other’s lives are not yours to interfere with. The only relationships a free individual has with others are those freely entered into by all parties to their mutual benefit.

The virtues of independence and resposibility come first, not last. The others spring from that.

Individual Freedom Is The Only Freedom

Most of the “virtues” Claire describes are individualist virtues. They are not all of them or the most important and they have nothing to do with some utopian fantasy of a, “free society.” In, “The Moral Nature,” article, I described the primary life principles as, “The Necessity To Choose,” “The Necessity Of Knowledge,” “The Necessity Of Work,” and “The Necessity Of Reason,” and described the nature of those virtues as follows:

Those characteristics of an individual that are called virtues are the inevitable consequence of living by life principles. Some of those virtues are: integrity, honesty, self-confidence, strength of character, productivity, justice, wisdom, and self-esteem.

The moral virtues are natural consequence of living by objective principles. The moral individual’s highest virtue is integrity, having no contradiction between any aspect of his being, his values, his thoughts, his beliefs, his choices, and his actions all agree and spring from the same understanding and love for reality. He is honest because he cannot be a fake or cheat denying his own nature. He is self-confident because he knows he has done everything he possibly can to learn and be competent to live his life successfully. He is strong, whether physically strong or not, he has that strength of character that comes from knowing he is right enabling him to persevere in the face of any difficulty or opposition. He is productive because all he is and has he must know he has produced by his own effort and deserves all that is his life because he has earned it. He is just because he allows nothing but truth and reason to determined his judgment. He is wise because he does not allow himself to be influenced by appeals to his irrational feelings, sentiments, or desires, discerning the truly important from that which has no real significance, both immediate and long-term. His self-esteem is his inevitable awareness of all he is and has made of himself and of his true worth, both to himself and those others that matter to him. These virtues are true happiness, ranging from simple pleasure to ecstasy.

[NOTE: If interested in a more detailed expanation of life principles, there is a series of articles introduced in the article, “Freedom and Individualism Notes—Principles,” which introduces the first in the series of ten articles discussing each of the, “ethical,” principles, beginning with, “Living Morally—The Practical: Must Choose.”]

If you want to be free you are going to have to establish your own personal freedom. Few truly want to be free, and most are unwilling to pay the price of freedom, but anyone who truly wants to live his life as he chooses can; but one can only make one’s self free. The world, your country, not even your community will ever be free as a collective and if you choose to be free it will be in defiance of any society does or values.

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