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Human Dignity and the Limits of Liberty

John Bolt

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Libertarianism and statism end in the same place: rule by powerful elites.

Advocates of liberty as the highest political virtue are regularly confronted by what I will call the libertarian accusation. When facing a staunch defense of liberty, especially economic freedom, conservatives and collectivists alike often nervously reply, "but isn't laissez faire just morally dangerous? Don't we need government to restrain powerful business interests? Isn't it the only way we can stop greed, pollution, and oppression?" In such cases liberty is simply identified as libertarianism, where unbridled freedom trumps all moral, legal, and civic limits.

The tendency to regard a passion for liberty as straightforward libertarianism is a serious confusion, a confusion not remedied by considering the state as the only possible restraint on bad behavior by the powerful. We are then left with the choice between letting everything go or massive state control. Ironically, in both cases the consequence is a form of social Darwinism where the powerful rule unchecked. In libertarian societies there are no constraints on the powerful; there is nothing to stop them from having their way. In collectivist, statist societies the powerful are the only ones who do the constraining and are themselves unconstrained. The fabric of constraint and rule of law is arbitrary. There are no public grounds given for the rule of law other than the will of those who rule. The result is the same as in libertarianism--the powerful have their way unfettered by social norm or legal rule.

Read the entire article on the Acton Institute website.



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