I am taking an introductory course to the English Common Law online and after the first class have this reflection:
quoting William Blackstone:
“The absolute rights of man, considered as a free agent, endowed with discernment to know good from evil, and with power of choosing those measures which appear to him to be most desirable, are usually summed up in one general appellation, and denominated the natural liberty of mankind. This natural liberty consists properly in a power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, unless by the law of nature: being a right inherent in us by birth, and one of the gifts of God to man at his creation, when he endowed him with the faculty of freewill. But every man, when he enters into society, gives up a part of his natural liberty, as the price of so valuable a purchase; and, in consideration of receiving the advantages of mutual commerce, obliges himself to conform to those laws, which the community has thought proper to establish.”
– Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals
My question is: does one really have the choice not to enter in a society if he (pardon my choice of pronoun) thinks that what the law demands him to give up is not worth the purchase? Past and present crimes like sodomy and euthanasia are really subject to moral norms. Unlike ancient societies where individuals could be exiled or exile himself – perhaps with social stigma – and thus live a life of zoë (bare life) as opposed to bios (political life) in Aristotelean terms , individuals today cannot really opt for a bare life, but will be forced by the coercive power of the state to either conform, or be penalised.
Are the rights of individuals really absolute as Blackstone says? Must we be political animals?
1. Agamben has taken on the Aristotelean distinction and put forward his idea of ‘state of exception’. Here’s the Wiki link.