“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 8-9.
Have the current round of pursuers of freedom for all groups understood the threat to the individual by the tyranny of the majority? Does this help explain the rise of libertarianism (most definitely not religiously conservative)? Are we heading toward a more European style relationship between church and state?
More on Utilitarianism here.
Addition: And a quote from Friedrich Hayek, sent in: ‘Not Locke, nor Smith, Nor Burke, coul ever have argued, as Bentham did, that ‘every law is an evil for every law is an infraction of liberty’.; Their argument was never a complete laissez-faire argument, which as the very words show, is also part of the French rationalist tradition and in its literal sense was never defended by any of the English classical economists.’
In Hayek’s thinking, freedom is not a state of nature, but rather a product of human civilization realized through trial and error, slowly, as a product of our institutions. Those institutions, such as the common law, depend upon traditions for their survival. Those traditions and institutions rely on the vast experience of many, many people over many generations and such, is a work in progress. The rationalist (often French), as well as Benthamite utilitarian ‘projects of reason’ seeks to use these institutions, and with a deep suspicion of any tradition, to enshrine theories or ideals which are assumed to be universal and absolutely true, and enforce them from the top down. This is one political/philosophical consequence of ignoring the empiricist tradition as Hayek might have it.
I’ve heard it argued that Hayek, much like Karl Popper, was an Austrian more versed in the Rationalist tradition, and both were building a Rationalist theory of knowledge more than they knew, trying to bridge the continental divide to empiricism out of a dangerous devolution into communist/socialist vs. fascist/militaristic societal strife.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome on the above. Feel free to highlight my ignorance.
Also On This Site: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …
A Classical Liberal, bent on using the law and enshrining ideals there…she’s worth reading: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’…Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder… ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum
Will the logic inherent in some of the greatest enlightenment thinkers lead to nihilism, or does it contain a belief in rationalism/transcendentalism that can sow the seeds of its own destruction (Kant to Hegel to Marx to the social sciences to value free relativism?)…is a return to the depths of religious moral thinking and Platonic idealism, among other things, in order? Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’…Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’…Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?
Is our Constitution designed, in part, to avoid the extremes of anarchy and hierarchy in Europe? Repost: Daniel Deudney on Bloggingheads
How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?