Paul Rosenberg

More About: Philosophy of Liberty

The Suppression of Happiness

One of the great errors of freedom people (myself included) is that we’ve sometimes based our arguments on less-than-optimal grounds.

What I mean is that we argued for freedom on political or legal grounds. And while those arguments were generally accurate and valid, it was a relatively poor line of argument.

Our arguments on economic grounds were somewhat better, but they still missed the largest and clearest areas of human experience.

A stronger strain of argument, in my opinion, involves happiness.

Defining Happiness

Happiness, of course, is a subjective thing. A new car might make one person very happy but be a burden to another (or to that same person at a different stage of life).

Furthermore, happiness is very often temporary. People think they’ll be happy if they win the lottery, but that rush of happiness lasts only a short time, then fades away. Lottery winners are happier than other people for a few weeks, then they return to normal – or worse. The same goes for similar cases.

Long-term happiness is what we would be wisest to pursue. But this type of happiness – which we generally think of as satisfaction – requires things of us. In particular, it requires good choices, the courage to make them, and good information to base them upon.

The best definition of the long-term happiness I know is a paraphrase of Aristotle. It goes like this:

What makes us happy is the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording us scope.

Let’s break that down. Three things are required for us to be happy for the long haul, all of which must be present together:

Vital powers. Exercise along lines of excellence. A life offering us scope.
What We Have, What Is Taken From Us

Of the three items listed above, two are innate to us:

We are born with vital powers. Unless we’ve been seriously damaged, these are already ours. We may develop them or allow them to atrophy, but they are inside of us and not directly assailable by anyone else.

Exercise along lines of excellence is something that we can do and should do. This depends upon us and our choices. We control this ourselves.

A life offering them scope is where the problem lies. Our lives have been massively restricted, and that directly restricts our happiness. That’s such an important thought that I’d like to restate it:

Restrictions of human action are direct restrictions of human happiness.

And please forget knee-jerk reactions like, “We have to restrict criminals!” That’s a non-issue, and, more importantly, it’s a brain hack.

Go ahead and restrict your criminals, but don’t restrict me with them.

There is no sane reason restraints upon criminals have to be applied to everyone else at the same time.

 No one has any moral right to restrain you, unless and until you harm others.

Other Restraints

There are plenty of natural obstacles in our world that limit a man or woman’s scope. We require food, shelter, sleep, clothing, mates, and so on. And that’s precisely why we must be unrestrained in all other ways. We need to employ our talents to overcome these problems… then, hopefully, to expand our horizons.

The more restrained we remain, the more impoverished and unhappy we remain.

To restrict peaceful humans is to directly restrain their happiness. It also directly restrains their talent, and that impoverishes the future, including billions of humans yet unborn. It is among the worst crimes imaginable, yet it is presented to us as an essential.

Our happiness is being stolen from us daily, and the justifications for this crime – if ever we examine them – are quickly seen as mere fear and inertia.

It’s time that we started playing a different game.

Paul Rosenberg


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