There is No Such Thing as “Public Interest”

In his essay Affected with a Public Interest, written in 1978, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“How should we define “public interest”? What is the public? In a very real sense, all inhabitants of a given community or territory constitute that particular public, for a public refers to a community or populace at large in their common, non-private characters and capacities.

As with other terms, however, the phrase “public interest” has undergone a certain corruption at the hands of the illiberal element. Currently the words seem to convey a belief that the public interest overrides any personal or individual interests. Yet, all interests derive from persons. In that sense, all interests are private interests, at least at their genesis.

You like ballet; you band with others to form a civic ballet association to promote the art. Seminally, the community interest in ballet existed as a wholly private interest: yours. As you gain adherents, does the interest take on an altered character, or does it remain a distinctly individual undertaking? If the private interest changes into a public interest, do we measure such dynamism by the number of supplicants or the character of the interest, or in some other manner? In other words, what is it which transmutes a purely personal individual value or desire into one of such overpowering essence and force that it can be termed a “public interest” and justify the limitation upon the freedom of individuals?”

Read the entire essay here, http://www.thefreemanonline.org/features/quotaffected-with-a-public-interestquot/.

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