Liberty, Dignity, and Responsibility: The Moral Triad of a Good Society:

By Klein, Daniel B. | Independent Review, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Liberty, Dignity, and Responsibility: The Moral Triad of a Good Society:


Klein, Daniel B., Independent Review


In The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich Hayek wrote, "the belief in individual responsibility...has always been strong when people firmly believed in individual freedom" (1960, 71; see also 1967, 232). He also observed that during his time the belief in individual responsibility "has markedly declined, together with the esteem for freedom." In surveying the twentieth century, noting the ascent of the philosophy of entitlement, the doctrines of command and control, and their institutional embodiments--the welfare state and the regulatory state--one can only respond, "indeed." Lately, perhaps, a reversal has begun.

We might advance the reversal if we better understood responsibility and its connection to liberty. We speak often of responsibility, but vaguely, even more so than when we talk of liberty. When Hayek refers to "the belief in individual responsibility," does he mean the striving by the individual to be admirably responsive in his behavior, to be reliable, dependable, or trustworthy? Or does he mean the belief that individuals ought to be held to account, to be answerable or liable for their actions? A drunken watchman can be held accountable for trouble that occurs during his shift; he is then both irresponsible and responsible. Indeed, the two kinds of responsibility tend to occur together, but they are conceptually distinct. As moral philosophers, we usually have the reliability notion in mind; as political philosophers, the accountability notion. To make the terminological distinction clear, I shall call the personal trait of being admirably responsive personal responsibility, and the social-relations trait of holding the individual to account individual responsibility.

Individual responsibility fosters personal responsibility. Policy affects morals. And personal responsibility enhances the appeal of individual responsibility and of liberty. Morals affect policy. Putting policy and morals together, we get feedback loops and multiplier effects.

I shall attempt to clarify the moral dimension of our statist ways. But moral philosophy here is handmaiden to political philosophy. I do not aim to persuade the individual to find or affirm certain moral outlooks or personal habits. I aim to persuade members of the polity to change government policy. One of the most important, if subterranean, arguments for changing government policy, however, is that doing so affects individuals' moral outlooks and personal habits, which in turn affects....

Clarifying Liberty and Individual Responsibility

My usage of liberty has a common recognition and acceptance. By liberty, I refer to private property rights, consent, and contract. By private property rights, consent, and contract, I mean what traditional common-law conventions have meant. Of course, there are gray areas here--what is the precise scope of private property rights? what of implicit terms in agreements?--and one must consider the senile, children, and other hard cases. But as a famous jurist once said, that there is a dusk does not mean there is no night and no day. Some things are gray, but most are either black or white. Despite its areas of ambiguity, the principle of liberty is cogent and well established. In the United States it is most consistently and most completely advocated by the libertarian movement. National and state policies that clearly encroach on the principle of liberty include drug prohibition, drug prescription requirements, drug approval requirements, restrictions on sexual services, licensing restrictions, wage and price controls, health and safety regulations of private-sector affairs, antitrust policies, import restrictions, laws against discrimination in private-sector affairs, and gun control. On the truly local level, such policies might be viewed as acceptable because we might grant town government the status of contract, as for a proprietary community. The point here is not that liberty is everywhere good and desirable, only that it is reasonably cogent.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Liberty, Dignity, and Responsibility: The Moral Triad of a Good Society:
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.