Personal Responsibility: The Touchstone of Freedom

In his essay The Unkept Promise, written in 1987, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“Freedom necessarily includes the freedom to fail. Choice involves selection from a range of alternatives. Finite human creatures may choose beneficially, or they may err significantly, or their pick may rest somewhere along the continuum between merit and detriment. Further, the range of effects, good or ill, may not become readily ascertainable. Freedom compels each choosing actor to accept all consequences of his selection; it does not permit him to toss out his bad choices, to ameliorate the detrimental effects thereof by compelling another individual to accept those unintended or unhappy results, in whole or in part. A society which allows some participants to retain only beneficial results and to thrust the discards upon their neighbors is not free; it operates in the same fashion as the mandate state of the past, where, in George Orwell’s prophetic Animal Farm, “some pigs are more equal than others.” The compelled recipient of another’s bad choice loses an important aspect of his very humanity; only a poltroon would term him “free.”

Personal responsibility forms the touchstone of freedom. The delegates understood that each man’s liberty depends upon that equal and reciprocal right residing in every other individual. If A employs the law to shunt the burden of his bad choices unto the unwilling shoulders of B, B loses his freedom to that extent, no matter how moderate and polite A’s motives. A also loses some of his liberty (albeit by his own choice) and humanity, for tyranny requires unproductive effort to keep the slaves in line. Also, in the democracy of the day, B may seize the juridical apparatus in order to get even or get ahead. The result: Frederic Bastiat’s circle of pickpockets, each mulcting the other.”

Click here to read the entire essay, http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/the-unkept-promise/.

 

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