June 11, 2018


Minogue on States, Institutions, and the Enemies of Liberty (DONALD DEVINE, 6/11/18, Law & Liberty)

The Greeks were the first to take the fact that it was difficult to intimidate free warriors to the conclusion that a warrior society must create a "negotiating group" of cooperation among equals. As late as Aristotle, government by public discussion among equals was the best. Paradoxically, each individual's freedom was limited by the self-discipline, negotiation, and reasoning required by cooperation that produced ancient Greece's great military and social successes. The same factors fashioned Rome and European martial feudalism.

Europe followed Greece into recognizing that "Freedom is only Freedom when it is given up" in commitments to group, work, and marriage, and in living under laws based upon a "morality of integrity" dependent upon warrior courage.  [...]

In his final piece, from 2013, entitled "The Self-Interested Society," Minogue concedes that he must go against his most basic teachings and become "perilously engaged in an abstract sociological sketch" to make sense of today's disorder. He begins by noting that the West first evolved the nation-state as "an association of individualists managing their own lives," as opposed to the governments in the rest of the world, which promised a "comprehensive system of justice" promoting social harmony. The Western model that he identifies with liberty was not so much based on self-preservation (this was common to Western and non-Western) but upon self-interest, which can only be understood as the historical event of moving from traditional to modern society, where "individuals must find some niche or enterprise within which to live," to become self-reliant rather than being component parts within a traditional, cosmologically integrated community.

Traditional nations based upon "legitimization in terms of a comprehensive system of justice" grew from a common culture, with clear functions for each in a hierarchy based upon one's contribution to the common good. Only in Europe and its colonies did a long history develop the concept of the individual into a "contractual order of social relationships" based upon self-interest, a development that became most obvious by the 17th century with the rise of words hyphenated with the word "self." This fostered a "process of moral calculation" that manifested itself even "more in our moral life than in the economy," which balanced such choices in "the interests of both the actor and those his acts will affect," creating the free way of life enjoyed by Westerners.

Minogue ends by warning that most supporters of this historical European liberty seem to assume a universal desire for making free moral decisions. The truth, though, is that "what most people seem to want is to know exactly where they stand and be secure in their understanding of the situation." Freely-decided rules and processes are risky; they will produce unexpected and sometimes unwelcome outcomes. It is this tension between the desire for security and the risks inherent in freedom that makes the latter "constantly vulnerable to those who try to seduce us with dreams of perfection." Centralized compassion for "abstract classes of vulnerability" rather than individual calculations leads to nations becoming unable to say no to chronic debt, which threatens their survival and erodes the virtues of the people.

"Societies are necessarily imperfect and making them perfect is not an option for creatures such as humans," writes Minogue. All that is possible is to "choose where imperfection may least harmfully find an outlet in our complicated societies" and to remember that freedom is what made the West so successful.

The genius of the ThirdWay/compassionate conservative is that it returns us to the universal class, instead of abstract ones.

Posted by at June 11, 2018 4:12 AM