Liberal Values are Bankrupting Us
“People should be able to do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” This commonly articulated opinion expresses the standard libertarian ethic of today. It is counted as common sense.
Well it may be common, but its sense is questionable, and it would certainly count as nonsense not too long ago. Our ancestors would have said that it doesn’t even express the whole purpose of freedom, so it is incomplete at best.
Libertarian thought began and is rooted in the Enlightenment’s view of man as an autonomous being. From its vantage point, freedom is enhanced by the removal of encumbrances to individual autonomy. It is freedom from something.
This negative view of freedom wholly ignores ethical considerations or questions of human flourishing that have historically preoccupied both moral philosophy and religion. They would have asked what is freedom for? But libertarians regard matters like religion and ethics according to the same dynamic of personal choice.
There is one caveat to this drive towards every greater autonomy that even diehard libertarians acknowledge, which is when the exercise of someone’s freedom hurts someone else. Even when it does, as it does in the case of abortion or assisted suicide, there are varying arguments that are advanced about why someone isn’t a human being. These centre around the same understanding of autonomy.
Yet as Star Parker, President of CURE (the Center for Urban Renewal and Education) points out, the very premise of autonomy as the sole feature of human beings is simply false. Humans are social as well as individual beings. For that reason, individual acts of autonomy done in the name of freedom have social effects that can ultimately severely damage the lives of individuals, including destroying the very basis of their freedom.
As Parker points out, it is also having an enormous financial cost, meaning that the belief that we can separate fiscal decisions from social questions is myopic at best.
I have discussed this problem, the vital question of human nature, and its consequences for the humanities, in my own book.
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