Friday, September 15, 2023

Up to a point

This looks promising: Fusion: In the Tradition of Liberty. From an essay by Ryan T. Anderson at that site:
If we don’t want people souring on religious liberty and free speech, then we had better explain those limits. Instead, we see some on the Right embracing libertine libertarianism—support for license in the name of liberty. The most thoughtful libertarians agree that liberty needs limits. But apart from some liberty-maximizing procedural principle of protecting the maximum amount of individual liberty consistent with the same liberty for others, they have no substantive limiting principle. Some proclaim that the freedom to swing my arm ends at your nose—the so-called harm principle. But how about the freedom to twerk in front of children or help patients commit suicide? Apart from a theory of the good, it’s hard to have a theory of harm.

Rightly rejecting libertinism, others on the Right veer toward authoritarianism. They focus so much on the good they seek to promote that they overlook or downplay the contribution that liberty itself makes to the common good. Our task is to defend liberty and limits without embracing libertinism or authoritarianism. Conservatives used to know this. In his 1983 classic, Statecraft as Soulcraft, George Will argued that “The most important four words in politics are ‘up to a point.’” He went on to explain: “Are we in favor of free speech? Of course—up to a point. Are we for liberty, equality, military strength, industrial vigor, environmental protection, traffic safety? Up to a point.” Just so. ....

Liberty’s defenders need to see that liberty isn’t the only thing that needs defending, including in law. Defenders of liberty also need to be defenders of true norms of justice and the common good—including public morality. No political community can sustain itself, especially across the generations, without attending to the moral character of the people. So while liberty matters a great deal, it’s not the only thing that matters.

We should not flinch from promoting true norms of public morality out of fear of “imposing our morality on others.” All coercive laws “impose” morality on citizens, if that means regulating people’s conduct in the name of a particular vision of human goods and harms, and moral rights and wrongs. This is true of property-rights enforcement just as much as wealth redistribution. The question isn’t whether law will reflect an understanding of the human good—a moral vision. It’s whether law will reflect sound morality. Moral neutrality is impossible. Relativism is untenable. ....

Liberty’s defenders must also defend the civil society institutions and practices that shape people toward true freedom. None of us is born ready for liberty. We have to be trained to exercise responsible self-government as members of families no less than of states. To distinguish liberty from license in our personal lives—and live out that distinction, by using freedom for excellence—is essential. For the best laws in the world are insufficient if people cannot exercise freedom responsibly. And, again, the Founders got there first, recognizing that our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. .... (more)
This seems very Burkean:
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
(Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, May 1791)

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