Friday, June 29, 2007

Confusion, Freedom and Community

Ed Hudgins, Executive Director of The Atlas Society, was the speaker at the June monthly meeting of the Bastiat Society. He addressed the question "Why are so many people confused about the morality and social benefits of freedom?" Hudgins gave thirteen reasons people are confused:

1. Diminished data base.
Schools don't give students the facts, especially historical ones, on which judgments concerning freedom and government should be made.

2. Can't think.
Schools do an even poorer job of teaching critical thinking skills.

3. Emotions get in the way.
Individuals have a strong reaction, for example, seeing poor people, and want to "do something" immediately rather than stepping back and asking questions concerning justice, economics, public policy, etc.

4. Ideology over truth.
In a healthy culture, intellectually healthy minds can step back from an ideological paradigm, even a correct one, and ask questions in order to meet new challenges. Allegiance to the truth always comes first.

5. Acceptance of the status quo.
Most people accept the situation into which they are born and, unless a situation becomes truly intolerable, simply criticize around the edges.

6. Failure of imagination.
Even acknowledging problems and seeing something of the logic of an alternative, many people can't visualize how an alternative might work, e.g. a world without government schools.

7. Prerequisites to freedom argument.
Some argue, correctly, that freedom requires certain prerequisites. But some have too narrow a vision of what these prerequisites are. In fact they are certain moral premises that shouldn't be forced by governments. But some think that freedom requires a strong role for government. For the right it's enforcement of specific moral precepts, usually from religion. For the left it's economic equality or income guarantees.

8. Freedom as vague, fuzzy, floating, feel-good concept.
The term can mean different, disconnected, often contradictory things.

9. The many-freedoms problem.
Some see freedoms as distinct "things," e.g., free speech, freedom of religion, that can be chosen from a Chinese menu with other "things " that limit freedom, e.g. economic security, minimum wages, etc.

10. Confusion of positive and negative rights.
Negative rights are rights to be left alone, e.g. the right to free speech, assembly, worship. Positive rights are rights to things, e.g. medical care, a house, a certain income. The latter limits the former.

11. Failure to think in principles.
Many mistakes concerning freedom can be lumped under a general failure to think in terms of principles. The principles of freedom is a rule concerning individual action in a social context in which individuals are seen as morally entitled to do as they please as long as they respect the equal freedom of others, that is, not initiate force against others and deal with them based on mutual consent. Most politicians--Bush, McCain, etc--are not individuals of principle but, rather, of specific convictions and prejudices that are out of any context.

12. Concern for community.
The general concern of individuals for others often leads to the contradictory notion that we must sacrifice ourselves or others for the sake of the "community," which negates the whole point of being in community with others, that is, the pursuit of our own happiness.

13. The paternalist problem.
For decades our institutions have treated us like children which has created in many the moral habits of children, that is, a generally lack of responsibility for our own lives and happiness and the juvenile moral habits. The tools the of paternalist state and culture are envy of those who are successful because of their success and virtues and guilt instilled in such individuals for their virtues.

***What Can We Do?
1. Make arguments of freedom in terms of principles.
We need to elevate the discussion by getting to the root reasons why we deserve freedom in a social context.

2. Fight on the moral high ground.
Explicitly reject the immoral assumptions of the opponents of liberty. For example, don't only argue that economic freedom allows everyone to prosper--it does, of course--but more basically that our lives are our own and that we have a moral right to pursue our prosperity without the permission of others as long as we accord others then same freedom.

3. Appeal to the pride of autonomy and the creator.
True pride comes from our virtuous actions, e.g. taking responsibility for our own lives and creating the means of our physical survival and prosperity as well as spiritual flourishing, whether nurturing a child to maturity or a business to profitability; whether writing a poem or a business plan; whether designing a building or laying its bricks.

Appeal to that in people.

4. Appeal to a better community.
By pursuing our rational, responsible, principled self-interest, by pursuing the best within us as individuals, we create a community in which we each are entertained, enriched, educated, enlightened and inspired by our fellow. The only path to the best community, one in which individuals can flourish, is through individuals pursuing their highest self-interest.

1 comment:

BFU rector said...

This list allows us to search for our own weaknesses and so correct them.

Thank you