Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on April 10, 2015

in Civil Society, Complexity & Emergence, Myths and Fallacies

… is from page 213 of the 1994 re-issue of Charles Murray’s 1988 volume, In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government:

Strongly bound communities, fulfilling complex public functions, are not the creation of the state.  They form because they must.  Human beings have needs as individuals (never mind the “moral sense” or lack of it) that cannot be met except by cooperation with other human beings.  To this degree, the often-lamented conflict between “individualism” and “community” is misleading.

Murray is correct.  It is a canard that libertarians and other advocates of free markets believe that human beings are, or ought to be, atomistic – that individual human beings are, or ought to be, unaffected and uninfluenced by the thoughts, attitudes, reactions, writings, talk, interests, and actions of others.  Liberal theory (“liberal” according to the original and correct meaning of that term) is an exploration of human society – of how society forms and evolves, and of what purposes it serves.  Libertarians and true liberals no more believe that the individual human being is, or ought to be, independent of society than does any respectable biologist believe that the individual selfish gene is, or ought to be, independent of the organism which it helps to form, of which it is a part, and which is crucial to its own survival and ability to reproduce.

What the libertarian and true liberal does do is to recognize each individual’s independent moral agency and worth and – again akin to the respectable biologist – reject creator-based explanations of complex social orders.

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