Saturday, April 16, 2005

Column on Why Liberty Doesn't Fare Well Enough

Why Freedom Doesn?t Sell Well

Tibor R. Machan

At a conference I attended with many friends of the free society hours on
end were spent on discussing why freedom doesn?t manage to catch on
better?why so many people refuse to embrace the idea of a fully free
society. Several famous luminaries, including the Nobel Laureate Milton
Friedman, lamented this fact. Dr. Friedman even suggested that his famous
book, Capitalism and Freedom, published back in 1962, was something of a
failure because it didn?t manage to move the country more rapidly toward
scaling down government and increasing individual liberty or expanding the
scope of the private sector. That is what winning the fight for liberty
would come to, in practical terms, even if in the intellectual realm the
fight has been largely successful (especially since the collapse of the
Soviet Union and the embarrassing records of such countries as North Korea
and Cuba, or even Germany and France, as far as enabling people to
flourish in their lives).

In one session there was a lot of consternation about making the case for
freedom more solid by showing more clearly how efficient freedom is, how
much more one can achieve of what one wants when one is free, compared to
when one is partially?and especially completely?regimented by governments.
And here is where the problem seems to lie, as far as I understand the

First of all, even if one were to deploy the most outstanding arguments
and demonstrations to show that freedom is superior to its more or less
Draconian alternatives, this will never guarantee victory. Even the famous
eternal vigilance, paid as its price, will not make freedom triumph if
people do not want it. And they may not want it for many reasons, even
when upon considering the case for it they cannot come up with sound
objections. Human beings do not always choose what is best for them?no one
can reasonably deny this when we look around and see so many making a mess
of their lives when they certainly do not have to do so. Given the
likelihood that many folks are not at their best, including when it comes
to thinking and acting with regard to their political situations, this
should not be terribly surprising. So, it is clear that even when the case
for liberty is a very solid one, that doesn?t mean everyone will make the
effort to help establish a regime of freedom instead of one of more or
less tyranny. There simply are too many people who want to take shortcuts,
refuse to take responsibility for their own conduct and believe they can
get away with this?and sadly often do?by calling upon the government to
force others to shoulder burdens they ought to assume.

Second, is the most widely circulated case for liberty as good as we can
get? That case is mostly put in terms of how effective a free society is,
how efficient its institutions are to get people what they want out of
life, especially prosperity. The problem is, however, that while this
point is well supported, it doesn?t manage to clinch it for liberty.

Liberty is, after all, a condition that people can use for good or for
ill. And even when they use it for good, if they cannot show that it is
for good they are using it, they will often he defenseless against critics
who chide them. Just consider how many people and organizations chide us
all for being prosperous, for striving to do well in life. Unless wanting
to do well in life is itself defended, shown to be a superior objective,
the fact the liberty enhances this goal just will not make it evident
enough that liberty is of great merit.

In the end, liberty needs a moral defense. It needs to be shown not only
that individual freedom makes it possible to attain what we want,
including our economic prosperity. First, it needs to be stressed that
individual human beings require a decisive role in their own lives,
whatever the results. Second, it is vital to demonstrate that the goal of
flourishing, the pursuit of one?s own happiness?including economic
success?is a good, worthy cause.

Yes, it is, but many, many people deny this and the mere efficiency of
liberty doesn?t counter their objections and doubts.

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