Liberty is under a renewed challenge and attack in the contemporary world. From “political correctness” and its accompanying growing totalitarian closed-mindedness at institutions of higher learning in both America and Europe, to the rebirth of economic nationalism with its rejection of freedom of trade, investment and people in places like the United States, along with the continuing stranglehold of the interventionist-welfare state seemingly everywhere, we are facing possible reductions in the degrees of individual liberty still remaining in our lives.
The question is, why? Various attempted answers have been offered by those deeply fearful of this direction, especially in “the West,” where the idea, ideal and practice of personal and economic freedom first emerged and took significant hold over the last three hundred years.
This trend has seemed most peculiar in the face of the dramatic, and “miraculous” transformation of the human condition in the last two hundred years, during which life for the ordinary person has gone from abject economic poverty and political oppression to a world of amazing affluence and material comfort for the vast, vast majority, with the institutionalization (if not always the practice) of respect for and protection of wide array of civil liberties.
The Trend Away From Freedom, Back to Paternalism
This trend, alas, has been going on for some time. For instance, in 1936, the noted Swiss economist and political scientist, William E. Rappard (1883-1958) delivered a lecture in Philadelphia on, “The Relation of the Individual to the State.” Looking back at the trend of political and economic events in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Rappard explained:
The revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century . . . were essentially revolts of the individual against the traditional state – expressions of his desire to emancipate himself from the ties and inhibitions which the traditional state had imposed on him . . . which one may define as the emancipation of the individual from the state, to the will of the individual.
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