Daneen’s recurring thesis is the contradictory tension between two understandings of liberty.
- Self-rule – practicing virtue, moderation and prudence – to rule and be ruled; or
- The maximized ability to live as one likes.
America has both understandings woven into its philosophical fabric. Our Puritan Pre-Revolutionary War founders lived the first Aristotle based definition of liberty, contrasting it against the second inferior understanding of liberty. Quoting Cotton Mather (1663-1728): “There is a liberty of a corrupt nature, which is affected both by men and beasts, to do as they want. This liberty is the grand enemy of truth and peace.”
America started out with the noble definition of liberty but then our founding legal documents were heavily influenced by the John Locke and Thomas Hobbes understanding. They believed that human nature consists of ceaseless motion without a natural end that constitutes happiness. There is no finis ultimus (utmost aim) or summum bonom (greatest goal) as understood by ancient moral philosophers. It’s reflected in the Declaration of Independence – our inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness (not the acquisition of happiness but the pursuit of it, implying that it’s always just out of reach). We are free to define our own conception of the good (or to reject anyone else’s idea of it). The purpose of Government then is to provide the conditions that expand personal freedom to the greatest extent possible.
De Tocqueville warned that this sounds all well and good – BUT in practice, it eventually leads to a mass Hedonism and Statism. The two forms of liberty worked together in a salutary manner to defeat the intellectual obvious black hat villainous idea of collectivism (communism and fascism). But our victory in the Cold War over the threat of collectivism may have been won at too great a cost.
The historical co-existence of the two forms of liberty is now ending in a slow but steady advance of the “live as one likes” liberty, which is conquering the “rule and be ruled” understanding. It’s happening in both political parties, which have both conflicting liberties in their platforms. The Democrats call for restraint on the economy, arguing that free markets encourage greed, inequality and environmental damage. But then they call for total freedom concerning personal lifestyle, particularly in sexual matters. The Republicans defend personal morality and family values but call for less regulation in the capital and labor markets. The “Lockean” side is winning in both parties. Republicans are successful in promoting free markets, not so much with family values. The Democrats win victories in personal choice and lifestyle, not so much in restraining capitalism.
Our tribe’s intellectual enemy is Hedonism, Statism and the politicians that pursue them. The war of ideas rages on. Our enemy is also millions of living, breathing people. The Estate Planning War Chest introduces you to them next week.