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The law of equal liberty
(aka the law of equal freedom
), or equal liberty
, is a doctrine first named, though not first conceived, by Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era....
in Social Statics
Social Statics, or The Conditions essential to Happiness specified, and the First of them Developed is an 1851 book by the British polymath Herbert Spencer...
(1851) which says "…that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty to every other man." Or, stated another way by Spencer, "each has freedom to do all that he wills provided that he infringes not the equal freedom of any other."
This doctrine has been influential on political theorists, including classical liberals, libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists.
Spencer derived the principle on a belief in the principles of scientific evolution. He believed that human happiness was an intrinsically developed emotion. He held that "man's purpose can be obtained only by the exercise of his faculties" and therefore that exercise must be a human right. Restraining the liberty of someone else prevents him from pursuing happiness. But, for this to be a universal ethic, that is, a moral code that applies to all individuals rather than just some, it would have to apply to all individuals. Therefore, if an individual restrains another individual from doing the same, then he has overstepped his rights. As a result, rights are equalized among all people.