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Afraid to be Free?

My colleague Jim Buchanan has a new article entitled “Afraid to be Free: Dependency as Desideratum.”  It’s forthcoming in a special issue of Public Choice.

In this paper, Buchanan identifies four “sources or wellsprings of ideas that motivate extensions in the range and scope of collective controls over the freedom of persons to act as they might independently choose.”  These four sources of collectivism are:

1)      “managerial socialism” – that is, the idea that central planners can outperform the market at producing material prosperity

2)      “paternalistic socialism” (or what in French is called “dirigisme.”)

3)      “distributionalist socialism”

4)      “parental socialism”

It’s parental socialism that’s most interesting.  Here’s Buchanan on this source of collectivism:

In one sense, the attitude is paternalism flipped over, so to speak.  With paternalism, we refer to the attitudes of elitists who seek to impose their own preferred values on others.  With parentalism, in contrast, we refer to the attitudes of persons who seek to have values imposed upon them by other persons, by the state, or by transcendental forces.  This source of support for expanded collectivization has been relatively neglected by both socialist and liberal philosophers, perhaps because philosophers, in both camps, remain methodological individualists.


Almost subconsciously, those scientists-scholars-academics who have tried to look at the “big picture” have assumed that, other things being equal, persons want to be at liberty to make their own choices, to be free from coercion by others, including indirect coercion through means of persuasion.  They have failed to emphasize sufficiently, and to examine the implications of, the fact that liberty carries with it responsibility.  And it seems evident that many persons do not want to shoulder the final responsibility for their own actions.  Many persons are, indeed, afraid to be free.

Interesting – and frightening if Jim is right.