What Is Required for a Free Society?

  This is part two of a seven part series, with a new post each day. Each post will be linked to the preceding post. The essay in its entirety can be found on the “Page” titled “Politics and Social Philosophy” which will be posted on 2/12/08.

         Clearly more is required than Hayek thought when he argued that economic education would be sufficient to bring the world to an appreciation of free markets. My own conviction is that philosophical education is required, moral education is required, psychological education is required, and that no free society can last without an appropriate philosophy and supporting culture. A free society requires and entails a whole set of values, a whole way of looking at people — at human relationships, at the relationship of the individual to the state — about which there has to be some decent level of consensus.

           Let me describe an event that has had a profound impact on me. About 18 months ago I received a telephone call from a young female Ph.D. candidate in psychology. She had learned that I would be lecturing at a conference in South Carolina, which she would be attending, and wanted to meet with me to discuss my becoming a consultant to her on her doctoral thesis. She described herself as an admirer of my work. Only when we began to discuss how we would find each other at the conference did she mention that she was blind. I was a bit stunned: how could a blind woman know my work so well? She chuckled when I asked that question, told me to wait a minute, and the next thing I heard was a mechanical voice reading from my book “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.” It was a special computer that reads, she explained; first it scans the pages of a book, then it translates the signals into spoken words. I thought of the scientists who identified the laws of nature that underlie that achievement.

           I thought of the inventors who converted those laws into usable technology.  I thought of the businesspersons who organized the factors of production to manufacture that machine and make it available in the marketplace. None of those people are what the conventional wisdom calls “humanitarians.” And yet, if lightening the burden of human existence and ameliorating suffering are considered desirable, then what act of “compassion” for this woman could rival what was given her, not out of someone’s pity or kindness, but out of someone’s passion to achieve and to make money in the process?

            We do not hear the term “compassionate” applied to business executives or entrepreneurs, certainly not when they are engaged in their normal work (as distinct from their philanthropic activities). Yet in terms of results in the measurable form of jobs created, lives enriched, communities built, living standards raised, and poverty healed, a handful of capitalists has done infinitely more for mankind than all the self-serving politicians, academics, social workers, and religionists who march under the banner of “compassion” (and often look with scorn on those engaged in “commerce”).

To view previous parts of this essay please click on the following  link – Part 1 .

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One Comment on “What Is Required for a Free Society?”

  1. paulwakfer Says:

    “My own conviction is that philosophical education is required, moral education is required, psychological education is required,”

    This is certainly true. However, I contend that no amount of education will be sufficient to convince people that total liberty in all actions involving exchange to mutual benefit is the only methodology that will optimize their lifetime happiness and that of everyone else at the same time, as long as those receiving the education are enabled to not individually experience all the results of their actions which are not in accord with this methodology.

    “and that no free society can last without an appropriate philosophy and supporting culture.”

    Even more, nothing correctly termed a “free society” has ever existed because it cannot without its members first discovering, understanding and accepting the fundamental attributes of their nature and the action principles implied by these attributes.


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