Saturday, 17 March 2012

Freedom in Western Civilisation

A paragraph under the above heading, by Ludwig von Mises; from an essay named 'Liberty and its Antithesis'.
The concept of freedom and its antithesis make sense only in referring to the conditions of social cooperation among men. Social cooperation, the basis of any really human and civilized existence, can be achieved by two different methods. It can be cooperation by virtue of contract and voluntary coordination on the part of all individuals, or it can be cooperation by virtue of command on the part of a F├╝hrer and compulsory subordination of the many. The latter system is authoritarian. In the libertarian system every individual is a moral person, that is, he is free to choose and to act and is responsible for his conduct. In the authoritarian system the supreme chief alone is a free agent while all the others are bondsmen subject to his discretion. Where the authoritarian system is fully established, as was for instance the case in the Incan empire of pre-Columbian America, the subjects are human merely in a zoological sense; they are virtually deprived of their specifically human faculty of choosing and acting, and are not accountable for their conduct. It was in accordance with this degradation of man’s moral dignity that the Nazi criminals declined any responsibility for their deeds by pointing out that all they did was to obey the orders of their superiors.

Western civilization is based upon the libertarian principle and all its achievements are the result of the actions of free men. Only in the frame of a free society is it meaningful to distinguish between what is good and ought to be done and what is bad and ought to be avoided. Only in such a free society has the individual the power to choose between morally commendable and morally reprehensible conduct.

Man is not a perfect being and there is no perfection in human affairs. Conditions in the free society are certainly in many regards unsatisfactory. There is still ample room for the endeavors of those who are intent upon fighting evil and raising the moral, intellectual, and material level of mankind.

Found in the the collection "Economic Freedom and Intervention", published by Liberty Fund, and viewable here at their own Online Library of Liberty.

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