The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with others, and of acting in common with them. The right of association therefore appears to me almost as inalienable in its nature as the right of personal liberty. No legislator can attack it without impairing the foundations of society.

—Alexis De Tocqueville. Democracy in America, Vol.1, 1835.

The right to freely assemble and associate does not give a group any rights over and above those which its members hold individually. Thus, associations of industry, political parties, religious groups, unions and protesters should not be allowed to block public thoroughfares without a permit, riot, trespass, destroy property or otherwise break the law. As Ronald Reagan explained: “Those with a grievance can seek redress in the courts or legislature, but not in the streets. Lawlessness by the mob, as with the individual, will not be tolerated.” (First Address as Governor of California, January 5, 1967.)

In 2009 French workers at a car parts factory threatened to blow up valuable machinery if Renault and Peugeot refused to pay them 30,000 euros each. “The bottles of gas have already been placed at various parts of the factory and are connected with each other,” CGT trades union official Guy Eyermann told France Info radio.(“French workers threaten to blow up factory,” Reuters, July 12, 2009.) The truth is trade unionists have no more right to collectively threaten mayhem and destruction than they would individually. If a single worker tried to extort money in this way, he would be sent to prison. Therefore a group of people who commit a crime must always be subject to the same punishment they would be if they undertook it individually. This is consistent with the natural law, as Thomas Jefferson explained: “I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.” (Letter to James Madison, Paris, August 28, 1789.)

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove