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When I was about fourteen, in consequence of a dispute one day after meeting, between my father and an old lady of the congregation, respecting the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts and the limits of religious toleration, I set about forming in my head (the first time I ever attempted to think) the following system of political rights and general jurisprudence.
I began with trying to define what a right was; and this I settled with myself was not simply that which is good or useful in itself, but that which is thought so by the individual, and which has the sanction of his will as such. 1. Because the determining what is good in itself is an endless question. 2. Because one person's having a right to any good and another being made the judge of it, leaves him without any security for its being exercised to his advantage, whereas self-love is a natural guarantee for our self-interest. 3. Athing
being willed is the highest moral reason for its existence: that a thing is good in itself is no reason whatever why it should exist, till the will clothes it with a power to act as a motive; and there is certainly nothing to prevent this will from taking effect (no law above it) but another will opposed to it, and which forms a right on the same principle. A good is only a right, because it generally determines the will; for a right is that which contains within itself and as respects the bosom in which it is lodged, a cogent and unanswerable reason why it should exist. Suppose I have a violent aversion to one thing and as strong an attachment to another, and that there is no other being in the world but myself, shall I not have a self-evident right, title, liberty, to pursue the one and avoid the other? That is to say in other words, there can be nothing to interpose between the strong natural tendency of the will and its desired effect, but the will of another. Right therefore has a personal or selfish reference, as it is founded on the law which determines a man's actions in regard to his own being and wellbeing ; and political
and political justice is that which assigns the limits of these individual rights on their compatibility or incompatibility with each other in society. Right, in a word, is the duty which each man owes to himself; or it is that portion of the general good of which (as being principally interested) he is made the special judge, and which is put under his immediate keeping.
The next question I asked myself was, what is law and the real and necessary ground of civil government ?
Law is something to abridge the original right and to coerce the will of individuals in the community. Whence then has the community this right? It can only arise in self-defence, or from the necessity of maintaining the equal rights of every one, and of opposing force to force in case of any violent infringement of them. Society consists of
any given number of individuals; and the aggregate right of government is only the consequence of these inherent rights, balancing and neutralising one another. First then, it follows that law or government is not the creature of a social compact, for each person has a certain right which he is bound to defend against another without asking that other's leave, or else the right would always be at the mercy of whoever wished to invade it. Thus I have a natural right to defend my life against a murderer, without any mutual compact
between us: society has an aggregate right of the same kind, and to make a law to that effect, forbidding and punishing murder. Secondly, society, or government as such, has no right to trench upon the liberty or rights of the individuals its members, except as these rights interfere with and inevitably destroy one another, like opposite mechanical forces or quantities in arithmetic. Put the basis that each man's will is a sovereign law to himself: this can only hold in society, as long as he does not meddle with others; but as long as he does not do this, the first principle retains its force, for there is no other principle to overrule it. The will of society is not a sufficient plea; since this is or ought to be made up of the wills or rights of the individuals composing it, which by the supposition remain entire. The good of society is not a sufficient plea, for individuals are only bound (on compulsion) not to do it harm or to be barely just :- benevolence and virtue are voluntary qualities. For instance, if two persons are bound to do all that is possible for the good of both, this must either be settled voluntarily between them, and then it is friendship and not force; or if that is not the case, it is plain that one must be the slave and lie at the
caprice and mercy of the other: it will be one will forcibly regulating two bodies. But if each is left master of his own person and actions, with only the implied proviso of not encroaching those of the other, then both may remain free and independent in their several spheres. One individual has no right to interfere with my employment of my muscular powers, or to offer violence to my person, to force me to contribute to the most laudable undertaking if I do not approve of it, any more than I have to force him to assist me in the direct contrary: if one has not, ten have not, nor a million, any such arbitrary right over me. What one can be made to do for a million is very trifling: what a million may do by being left free in all that merely concerns them, and not subject to the perpetual caprice and insolence of authority, and pretext of the public good, is a very different calculation. There are things that cannot be free in natural society, and against which there is a natural law; for instance, no one can be allowed to knock out another's brains or to fetter his limbs with impunity. And government is bound to prevent similar violations of liberty and justice. The question is, whether it would not