Friday, March 10, 2017

Freedom Is the Birthright of All Humanity

History matters. It is of especially great significance when considering ideas and practices of justice, social order, and political or communal life. Historical understanding offers a powerful lens through which to understand scientific theories, philosophical concepts, legal enactments, and other social phenomena. It generally helps to understand an idea if one understands its history. Ideas, concepts, and theories can be understood as tools that we use to solve problems and thus an understanding of their histories—of the problems to which they were presented as solutions—can help us to understand those ideas, concepts, and theories. Understanding the history of individualism can help us to understand better individualism in theory and – of greater importance – in practice.
The recognition of individuality, of the uniqueness of each individual, is commonplace in all cultures.

A focus on history carries some dangers, as well, for some make the unjustified logical leap to the conclusion that the history is necessary, not only to generating an idea or practice, but to understanding it or adopting it, as well. Although history matters, offering a historical account of an idea need not imply that the idea is limited in validity to certain people, times, or places. Nor need it imply that it could only have been developed under those conditions; certainly it is common for people widely separated in time and space to develop similar or identical tools, including ideas, and it is also common for tools and concepts to spread to other groups through persuasion and emulation.
There has been a great deal of talk lately that suggests that individualism is a exclusively “western” approach to life and cannot be enjoyed by others, or that recognition of the rights of the individual is inappropriate to non-western cultures, and should be rejected by them. Both of those claims are false.
The recognition of individuality, of the uniqueness of each individual, is commonplace in all cultures. It’s simply undeniable that persons are individually distinct; indeed, specific organs and regions of the human brain are functionally necessary to distinguish and recognize human faces, without which sustained patterns of human cooperation would be impossible.[1] Each human person is unique, even if rulers may consider us interchangeable and expendable. What is less commonly grasped is that we all share in common something morally significant and that therefore all human beings have legitimate claims to rightful treatment by each other, that is, to respect for their human rights. Only in modern times has such an idea achieved widespread, albeit far from universal, acceptance.
The theoretical appreciation of individuality at both the level of individual uniqueness (or “individuation”) and of individualism as a foundation for legal and political claims emerges at different times in different places. Those streams of individualistic ideas that merged to form liberalism mostly emerged from Europe, although the core elements of liberal individualism can be found in Chinese, Islamic, Indian, and other civilizations. They emerged in Europe for a number of historically contingent reasons, including: Europe’s post-classical radical decentralization of political authority (which resulted in both feudal society and later civil society, the former mainly rural and the latter mainly urban and commercial, but both decentralized responses to violence and predation that facilitated experimentation and competition among jurisdictions);[2] the separation and rivalry of the institutions of organized religion and state;[3] the competition of political authorities (including city republics, kingdoms and principalities, archbishoprics, manors, and other political entities) to attract workers, skills, and capital, and the ensuing growth of industry and commerce;[4] and the rediscovery and frequently very selective re-appropriation of the heritage of classical (mainly Greek and Roman) philosophy and law.[5] (The emergence of liberalism is itself a spontaneous order, not the product of one or a few brilliant minds; it emerged from the confluence of a number of different processes to form a coherent and evolving mutually reinforcing body of ideas in law, moral philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, history, and other humane sciences.[6])
Historical Contingency
History is full of contingencies, of things that could have been otherwise. Had the Mongol armies continued into Europe after the poisoning of the great Khan Ögedei on December 11, 1241, European history would likely have taken a radically different course. As it was, the Mongol war lords returned to Karakorum to elect a new Khan and central and western Europe were spared the Mongol conquests that so profoundly influenced the trajectories of the societies of Russia, Asia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, India, and the Middle East. Historical accident and contingency give us reason to be wary of essentialist claims about cultures.
The historical trajectory could have been otherwise, but it wasn’t.
Inferring necessary development from initial starting points is risky, but that rarely stops people from doing it. Some years ago I participated in a colloquium on the comparison of Confucian and Aristotelian thought, at the end of which one participant concluded that a culture with Aristotle at its base resulted in the US Constitution, the Industrial Revolution, and the abolition of slavery, whereas one with Confucius at its base resulted in Mao Zedong, the tens of millions of deaths of the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. It was as if nothing else had happened in the time between the lives of Aristotle and Confucius and the present; according to that all-too-common approach, history is just a linear trajectory from an idea to a set of outcomes. What shapes society is exclusively the Idea (with a capital “I”) and, because different Ideas have different implications, it’s just a matter of tracing out those implications to deduce the present from the ideas of the past. One reads the Bible or Aristotle or the Quran or the Analects or the Mahabharata and, with neither interpretive apparatus nor context, deduces its implications. (Sometimes the associations are especially absurd, as with the association sometimes made between “Asian culture” and collectivism. When such claims about the inevitability of tyranny in Asia are made, Chinese libertarians point out that Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin, whose posters are still hung in the buildings of Chinese state institutions, are rather implausibly classified as Chinese or Asian thinkers.[7] The horrors of collectivist tyranny in Asia had far more to do with ideas articulated by European thinkers than with “Asian culture,” which, in any case, is hardly monolithic.)
One can find statements of libertarian ideals in classical times,[8] and expressions of individuality and personal freedom in Arabic and Islamic civilization[9] (the last itself also an heir to classical civilization), in Chinese civilization,[10] and in Indian civilization,[11] but the intellectual and institutional sources of what became global liberalism converged mainly in Europe.
The historical trajectory could have been otherwise, but it wasn’t. While individualistic thinking can be found in other cultures—and, had some things gone differently, liberalism might have emerged instead, or more strongly, in those other cultures (and not in Europe)—that’s not what happened, which is why historians focus on the origins of liberal individualism in Europe. (A number of the physical sciences were also disproportionately pioneered by European thinkers, as well, but few would claim that modern biology, chemistry, physics, and mechanics are only for Europeans, simply because some of the pioneering inventions and discoveries in those fields were made in Europe.)
Individuality and Moral/Political Individualism
Awareness of one’s distinct individual identity and attention to the individuality of others is related to political individualism, in the sense of a legal and political order based on respect for the rights of individuals, but individuality and individualism are not, strictly speaking, the same. Both recognize the uniqueness of the individual, but the latter combines that recognition of individuality with claims about a common feature ascribed to all human beings, namely, that they have equal basic rights (e.g., “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”). When did those ideas begin to take clear form and to gain more widespread acceptance?
Each human being is a unique individual, but all bear common features, among them equal rights.
The historian Colin Morris identified the twelfth century as “a peculiarly creative age” for “the development of self-awareness and self-expression . . . the freedom of a man to declare himself without paying excessive attention to the demands of convention or the dictates of authority.”[12] Morris focused on the importance of humanist thinking (particularly the rediscovery of the writings of Cicero and Seneca the Younger, two important Roman philosophers), the theological shift from seeking the salvation of mankind to focusing on individual salvation, and the depiction of human individuality in art and literature.[13] Artistic and cultural appreciation for individuality increased through that period and beyond. John Benson has focused our attention on such elements as the development of biography and portraiture, diversification of names, monasticism, the substitution of conceptions of individual guilt for social shame, and the focus on the distinction between childhood and adulthood as elements in the increasing appreciation of individuality.[14]
The recognition of the equal rights of all is complementary to the recognition of the individuation of persons, who are not merely interchangeable units. Each human being is a unique individual, but all bear common features, among them equal rights. (In the words of the American Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal . . . they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .”) A key document in the history of the legal recognition of universal rights was a Decretal, or legal pronouncement, issued by the lawyer Pope Innocent IV, about the year 1250. It concerned the rights of non-Christians.
I maintain . . . that lordship, possession and jurisdiction can belong to infidels licitly and without sin, for these things were made not only for the faithful but for every rational creature as has been said. For he makes his sun to rise on the just and the wicked and he feeds the birds of the air, Matthew c.5, c.6. Accordingly we say that it is not licit for the pope or the faithful to take away from infidels their belongings or their lordships or jurisdictions because they possess them without sin.[15]
It’s worth pausing to consider the role played by religion in that story. Pope Innocent IV quotes the Book of Matthew from the Christian New Testament, as well as alluding to the scholastic/Aristotelian idea of the commonality of rationality. He cites a Christian Gospel text, so was it simply Christianity that was playing the key role? And if so, which of the many Christian theologies, or which elements of the various Christian doctrines, were essential? And what role is played by the insistence that “these things were made not only for the faithful but for every rational creature as has been said”?
In a thoughtful and provocative book, full of novel ideas, the political theorist Larry Siedentop has provided an answer that reminds me forcefully of the story I told above of the colloquium participant who concluded that the American Constitution was a result of Aristotle’s ideas and China’s disastrous “Great Leap Forward” was the result of Confucius’s, that each result was an implication of texts written thousands of years ago. It’s worth examining Siedentop’s account, because understanding how mistaken it is may help us to appreciate better the universality of the ideas of liberal individualism. In his recent book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, Siedentop hints that Christian doctrine, in the form of the ideas set forth by St. Paul (hereafter “Paul”), is the necessary foundation for liberal individualism and that the ideas of rights not only emerged from a particular context, but could not have emerged elsewhere, and perhaps could not be realized at all without the necessary theological context. Siedentop argues that it was Paul’s message that made liberal individualism possible. According to Siedentop, Paul’s
understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection introduced to the world a new picture of reality. It provided an ontological foundation for “the individual,” through the promise that humans have access to the deepest reality as individuals rather than merely as members of a group.[16]
Starting with the writings of Paul in an account of “the invention of the individual” may seem somewhat unpromising, because Paul’s writings seem to suggest not the recognition of the individual as a unique moral being, but the submergence of the individual in a collective identity through her or his incorporation into the greater body of the Church: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12, Revised Standard Version).[17] Moreover, in his letter to the Romans, Paul instructs them that all political authority is vested with the authority of God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13, Revised Standard Version). (Learned scholars have pored over those texts and concluded that they can indeed be reconciled with liberal individualism, but the wording of Paul’s letters suggests that substantial interpretive apparatus is required to do so.)
The emergence of liberal individualism cannot be merely the drawing out of the implications of texts.
Siedentop does not deal with those issues, but instead provides a not very clear account of how faith undermined rationality, which—surprisingly—he understands, not as a universal characteristic (recall Innocent IV’s comment about how “these things were made not only for the faithful but for every rational creature as has been said”) but instead with aristocracy, moral and legal inequality, and privilege! According to Siedentop, in the ancient world and for very long thereafter, “Reason or rationality—logos, the power of words—became closely identified with the public sphere, with speaking in the assembly and with the political role of a superior class. Reason became the attribute of a class that commanded. At times reason was almost categorically fused with social superiority.” He invokes throughout the book an alleged “ancient association of rationality with inequality.”[18] It is a very perplexing account and reverses the usual understanding of the relationships.
But even without going into the subtleties of theology, the proper interpretation of Paul’s views on the church as the body of Christ, the presumptive legitimacy of established political powers, or whether reason should be understood to be egalitarian or hierarchical, there is a gaping and obvious hole in Siedentop’s historical account: Paul’s letters are also accepted as part of the Bible by Orthodox Christians, among whom liberal individualism did not emerge and flourish as it did in Latin (“Western”) Christianity. Yet Siedentop, who puts emphasis squarely on the words of Paul, never bothers to consider why the same texts in other contexts did not produce the same outcome. Siedentop quite unfairly tars any objections to his thesis as mere “anti-clericalism” and insists that “texts are facts. And the texts remain.”[19] Indeed, for Siedentop, it’s all a matter of ideas unfolding and revealing their implications:
Centuries would be required for the implications of Christian moral beliefs to be drawn out and clarified—and even more time would pass before long-established social practices or institutions were reshaped by these implications.[20]
Why were “the implications” of the same texts “drawn out and clarified” in some contexts and not in others? Siedentop seems oblivious to the problem. (Throughout the book Siedentop also refers to “Christian moral intuitions,” a term which is far more vague than the implications he thinks he has discovered in the writings of Paul. He even asserts that the Gregorian Reformation and the freedom of the Church, which was accomplished in Roman Christianity but not in Orthodox Christianity, was a case of Pope Gregory VII “drawing out the deepest moral intuitions of the church.”[21]) One might ask why it took thousands of years for the implications that allegedly led to toleration to be made explicit.[22] Further, the emergence of liberal individualism cannot be merely the drawing out of the implications of texts or even intuitions when the same texts (and presumably the same intuitions) did not seem to have the same implications elsewhere. Rather, different ideas became dominant for a long time in countries in which Orthodox traditions were the norm.[23] When liberal individualism reached those countries it was more often adapted from ideas that had germinated in Europe. Siedentop’s story of the “texts” of Paul’s Epistles (or the rather vaguer “Christian intuitions”) grounding liberal individualism fails utterly to account for its emergence on this account alone: Paul’s letters are not only considered part of the Christian Bible among Latin (or Western) Christians, but among other Christian traditions, as well, including the Coptic and Orthodox Churches, yet the ideas and intuitions that Siedentop claims were implicated or intuitable did not result in liberal implications or intuitions being drawn from them in those other traditions that also embraced Paul’s Epistles.
To his idiosyncratic theological and historical accounts Siedentop tacks on a controversial and untenable philosophical one, namely, that the philosophical tradition of “nominalism” (i.e., the idea that what exists are individuals, rather than timeless essences and that universals are mere names) of the great European medieval thinkers Peter Abelard and William of Ockham was another necessary foundation for individualism. Nominalists are held to believe that what exists is the individual entity “Larry,” and not the essence “man.” If “essences” do not exist, but only a multitude of individuals (Moe, Larry, and Curly, for examples) do, then—voilà!—individualism. Ockham was both a nominalist and a pioneer in the development of modern theories of individual rights; he was also a “voluntarist” in theology, meaning that he explained God’s creation of the world and its laws by recourse to God’s will, rather than to God’s timeless essence or intellect. The problem with Siedentop’s account is that Ockham’s ideas on individual rights neither rest on nor invoke either his nominalism or his voluntarism, as Brian Tierney (ironically, Siedentop’s main source on Ockham) makes very clear: “Ockham is presented in my [Tierney’s] work as an important figure in the development of natural rights theories; but I argue that his characteristic teachings were not derived from his nominalist and voluntarist philosophy, but rather from a rationalist ethic applied to a body of juristic doctrine available to him in the canon law collections that he knew well and cited frequently.”[24] As Tierney and other scholars have demonstrated, parallel theories of individual rights were being developed by thinkers who shared neither Ockham’s nominalism in philosophy nor his voluntarism in theology. Siedentop cites Tierney as a source, but seems not to have followed, or perhaps even read, Tierney’s argument.[25]
Liberal individualism is not an exclusive property of European Christians.
None of that is to suggest that either Christianity or nominalism were unimportant in the history of thought (which would be absurd), nor to denigrate any particular interpretation of nominalist philosophy, of theological metaphysics, or of the ideas of Paul, but merely to point out that Siedentop’s attempt to establish his curious interpretation of Paul and his claims about nominalism as necessary and sufficient conditions for the emergence of liberal individualism fails.[26]
Why is all of that important? For three reasons:
A) Because respect for the universally valid rights of each and every unique individual is compatible with a wide array of philosophies, religions, and cultures and the limitation of liberalism to only one cultural context is incompatible both with the evidence and with the universal claims of liberalism itself;
B) Because Siedentop’s account ignores or downplays important institutional innovations that were significant conditions for the development and triumph of individual liberty and because those institutional innovations may be necessary for the maintenance of liberty; the innovations of greatest concern include constitutional limits on government power, checks and balances among competing powers, freedom of trade and freedom of exit, respect for property, and accountability of authorities to the law and to their publics;
C) Because Siedentop implies that Christianity, or at least his understanding of it, is a necessary element in the defense of civil liberty and, moreover, that “Islam” (rather than intolerant political Islamists) is “challenging” Europe, which he identifies with liberty. Siedentop rather excitedly claims that “Europe is now faced with the challenge of Islam” and asks “Will Europeans come to understand better the moral logic that joins Christianity with civil liberty?”[27] thus suggesting that defending civil liberty requires the embrace of that which is joined to it by “moral logic,” i.e., a particular interpretation of a particular religion. That unjustified claim is in conflict with liberalism itself.
Siedentop’s puzzling reconstruction of liberal individualism’s origins may in fact be quite harmful to the very liberalism he seems eager to defend, for it suggests a closed club of cultures that are open to liberalism; others need not apply. Liberal individualism is not an exclusive property of European Christians; nor is it an inevitable consequence of “Christian intuitions,” nor a necessary implication of an eccentric interpretation of Paul’s writings, nor an outcome of European philosophical disputations over realism and nominalism. It is a philosophy open to people of all faiths or none who embrace the moral principles of respect for the rights of others.
Origins of Liberal Individualism
The historian Walter Ullman presented a strong rebuttal to Siedentop’s thesis, long before Siedentop formulated it. Ullman traced the transformation of the passive “subject” to the active rights-bearing and rights-asserting citizen of liberal society and did not find it in any implications of the texts of Paul: “Most, if not all, of the basic principles relative to the individual as a subject to higher authority are contained in the Bible, notably in the Pauline letters.”[28] For example, the transition from subject to citizen, from obeying laws that were imposed on one to following rules in which one had some role, is not an obvious implication of Paul’s letter to the Romans, which maintains that all earthly authority is ordained by God. In Paul’s account, the power of kings comes, not from the consent of the people, but from God:
The king received his powers as a concession from divinity—another Pauline principle was concretely applied: there is no power but of God—and what he had received through the grace of God in the shape of public power, he could concede to his subjects. The individuals as subjects had no rights in the public field. Whatever they had, they had as a matter of royal grace, of royal concession.[29]
Ullman focused attention, not on the theories of government that were shared by rather small numbers of upper-class people, but on the actual practices and functioning institutional arrangements by which most people ordered their lives. After the collapse of the Roman imperium, European political orders splintered and military defense had to be reorganized to fend off raids and invasions. Following the withdrawal of the Roman legions (or their replacement by Germanic mercenaries) and the greater vulnerability to invasion from the North (the Norsemen), the South (the “Saracens”), and the East (the Avars and Magyars), the old order could not be maintained. Military decentralization was followed by political and legal decentralization, as well. [30]
The institutions that emerged to solve problems of social coordination (including defense against aggression) helped to set the stage for liberal individualism and modernity.
If one wishes to understand why and how it came about that from the late thirteenth century the individual gradually emerged as a full-fledged citizen, it would seem profitable to look at two rather practical facets of medieval society: on the one hand, the manner in which those far away from the gaze of official governments conducted their own affairs and, on the other hand, the feudal form of government which was practiced all over Europe.[31]
Both of the facets of medieval society that Ullman identified were matters of practice and trial-and-error, rather than theoretical speculation. Merely intellectual history without attention to the emergence of practice is unable to explain what happened, for without attention to the actual legal practices of the people, “it would seem well-nigh impossible to explain why there was the somewhat radical change toward the end of the thirteenth century, a change that in more than one respect ushered in the period which we like to call modern.”[32] The fracturing of kingly power through the system of political contract that came to be known as “feudalism,”[33] and the emergence of a multitude of legal systems with competing and overlapping jurisdictions[34] all contributed to an ever-wider space for individual action and to greater restrictions on the powers of rulers.
The growth of cities was especially important; it was from the cities that the key institutions of “civil society” were to emerge. The legal order of the cities, or “communes,” was focused on peace and freedom. As Henri Pirenne described the citizens (“burghers”),
The burghers were essentially a group of homines pacis—men of peace. The peace of the city (pax villae) was at the same time the law of the city (lex villae).[35]
The city was a place of peace (relative, at least, to the countryside outside its walls) and the citizens enjoyed liberty, at least relative to the peasants who resided outside their walls: “just as agrarian civilization had made of the peasant a man whose normal state was servitude, trade made of the merchant a man whose normal condition was liberty.”[36] If you could get into a city and stay for a year and a day, you became a free person: “City Air Makes One Free” was a distinguishing feature of the cities of Europe.[37]
As important as Magna Carta is, it was not the only such charter of liberties.
The replacement of war and subjugation with peaceful commerce and contractual relationships corresponded to, indeed, demanded, increases in rational self-control, notably the ability to ignore or control harmful impulses, especially aggression, and to delay gratification. As Benjamin Constant noted, “A man who was always the stronger would never conceive the idea of commerce. It is experience, by proving to him that war, that is the use of his strength against the strength of others, exposes him to a variety of obstacles and defeats, that leads him to resort to commerce, that is to a milder and surer means of engaging the interest of others to agree to what suits his own. War is all impulse, commerce, calculation.”[38] The gradual replacement of war by commerce went hand in hand with the replacement of impulse by calculation, zero-sum games by positive-sum games, short-term by long-term thinking, and subjection to power by personal responsibility and liberty.[39] The gradual replacement of violence and repression has been facilitated by commerce more than by philosophers.[40]
According to Siedentop, authority and legal order descended from above in accordance with theories set out in books, but the historical record suggests that the legal orders of modernity emerged from forms of association generated through practice and trial and error, in other words, from the bottom up.
[T]here were throughout the Middle Ages numerous associations, unions, fraternities, guilds, and communities which in one way or another considered the individual a full member. What these truly numberless associations exhibit is the urge of individuals to combine into larger groups: partly for reasons of self-protection, partly for reasons of mutual insurance, partly for reasons of pursuing sectional interests, these unions were to all intents and purposes communities, which provided for the individual the security which he would otherwise have lacked. . . . In the village potteries, smithies, tileries, quarries et cetera, working conditions were laid down by the village community itself. In other words, we have here a “system” at work which shows all the characteristic features of the ascending theme of government and law, according to which original power resided in the members of the community, in the individuals themselves.[41]
A major element in the decentralization of power (military, political, and legal) was the rivalry between the church and the empire and other political authorities, which set the stage for a competition that distinguished Western Europe from the other political systems of the Eurasian landmass in a way that religious texts did not (as both Latin and Orthodox churches accepted the Pauline Epistles that Siedentop considers so important). Harold Berman terms the change the “Papal Revolution” and it set in motion changes that are still playing out.[42] Notable among them was the formulation of the idea of the supremacy of law (the “rule of law”) and of what has come to be known as “constitutionalism.”
Magna Carta, which doesn’t merit a mention in Siedentop’s book, looms large in the history of nations deriving their political institutions from English law; it was itself strongly influenced by the Papal Revolution.[43] That raises a problem similar to that raised by Siedentop’s account. Focusing exclusively on Magna Carta reveals the danger of a different kind of essentialism, which asserts that “only the English” understand liberty, because Magna Carta, some assert, was unique.[44] But as important as Magna Carta is, it was not the only such charter of liberties; it was an important part of a movement that was European in character, and not merely English. One could mention its many precedents, including Henry I’s “Charter of Liberties” issued in 1100, which made various concessions to the English barons and knights;[45] the Assizes of Ariano, promulgated in 1140 by King Roger II of Sicily;[46] and shortly after 1215 the Golden Bull of Hungary of 1222, signed by King András, which instituted a long period of constitutionalism in central Europe;[47] the Constitutions of Melfi issued by Emperor Frederick II in 1231;[48] and numerous others. Even the important terms regarding “the law of the land” and “trial by one’s peers,” which later reappeared in the US Constitution, predated Magna Carta, for example, in a constitution agreed to by Emperor Conrad II in 1037, which declared that no vassal should be deprived of an imperial or ecclesiastical fief “except in accordance with the law of our predecessors and the judgment of his peers.”[49]
Liberty is an achievement, not an inevitable condition or the logically necessary implication of some one big idea.
It was not inevitable that liberal individualism would emerge among European Christians (and Jews), nor were the ideas of Paul (or “Christian intuitions”) sufficient to germinate liberal individualism among the countries in which Orthodoxy held sway. To identify the processes that gave rise to liberal individualism entails identifying those that could have produced it elsewhere, as well. We should remember that ideas do not have to be created or germinated independently by each person or group for them to be shared commonly; having once been produced, ideas may be communicated in poems, songs, and books, through art and science, in blog posts and Tweets, and they may be understood, embraced, or followed by people whose ancestors did not themselves produce the ideas. In the case of the moral, legal, and political principles of liberalism, that’s especially obvious; refugees from tyrannies often embrace the norms of the freer societies in which they find refuge, including the expectation of respect for their rights and willingness to respect the rights of others, even if their societies of origin had had little tradition of such respect.
Liberty is an achievement, not an inevitable condition or the logically necessary implication of some one big idea. It was through particular kinds of associations that people came to enjoy, and later to theorize, liberty. As Antony Black put it of the guilds and communes of Europe,
The crucial point about both guilds and communes was that here individuation and association went hand in hand. One achieved liberty by belonging to this kind of group. Citizens, merchants, and artisans pursued their own individual goals by banding together under oath.[50]
What emerged were societies of greater individual liberty, but to understand such societies one must realize that a group is not a big person like the persons who constitute it, or even a great body of which the “members” are precisely like the “members”—the hands, feet, kidneys, head—of a human body. Groups, associations, churches, clubs, societies, and governments are made up of individuals and their complex and multifarious relationships. There is no individual who is completely unrelated to any others who joins similarly unrelated individuals to form human society, but within the context of their inherited relationships humans do, in fact, form myriad associations, connections, and relationships. The more complex the social order, the greater the need for its members to exercise self-control.[51]
The right to liberty is not limited only to inheritors of one or another tribe or culture, or to practitioners of only one or another religion, or to speakers of one or another language. It is the right of all human beings as such, regardless of religion, color, language, nationality, or other features. It offers the choice to live one’s life as one chooses in association with others in communities one chooses. Some exercise their self-control to live in highly structured voluntary communities (monasteries and convents are the obvious examples), others in fluid urban neighborhoods; some like to live in stable and rooted communities and others prefer to roam the world and experience many ways of life. Free and self-controlling persons make such choices for themselves. They are not dictated to by others. The self-controlling individual is neither atomistic nor anomic, but creates or accepts relations based on choice and voluntary agreement.
Those who pursue happiness may not always achieve it, but when someone does, it is his or her achievement.
The legal historian Sir Henry Sumner Maine described well “the movement of the progressive societies” as “a movement from Status to Contract.”[52] Creating contracts, rather than merely acquiescing in what is assigned to one by birth, means acquiring the habit of self-control. The philosopher Robert Nozick called it a “framework for utopia,” meaning not that one perfect and blissful utopia, but a framework of choices from within which people may choose their own preferred arrangements.[53] It’s not perfection, but it is far better for the vast majority of human beings than being subjected to controls imposed on them by others who are generally no wiser, no smarter, no more moral, and no better informed about the life situations of those they control.
Self-controlling individuals pursue happiness by using their own knowledge to achieve their own ends. Those who pursue happiness may not always achieve it, but when someone does, it is his or her achievement, which is something that slaves, serfs, subordinates, subjects, and those subjected to the coercive will of others cannot say.
Once learned and embraced, principles and ideas can also be forgotten; their transmission may require certain ongoing experiences. Habits and practices generally require repetition for them to be sustained and transmitted to new generations. At least some of the conditions that made liberalism possible may be necessary for its maintenance, as well, such as free exit from legal and political orders and competition among political and legal authorities to attract taxpayers and capital. (Thus, federalism, when combined with freedom of movement for person and goods, recommends itself to classical liberals as a political structure that tends to sustain liberty.) Much as some sciences require laboratory experiments to be learned, some moral, legal, and political principles require continuous manifestations of the institutional conditions under which they emerged for their maintenance.
Individualism and limited government have their particular intertwined histories, but as with other concepts and practices, history does not preclude universal application. Those who would reserve them for only some have failed to understand them.

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