Speak up for ideals
We see political freedom as being a fundamental requirement for any democracy. But is freedom something that can simply be obtained, or is it something that needs to be taught? In the opening lecture of the series 'Speak up for ideals' culture critic Theodore Dalrymple showed how liberal thinking without morals leads to an overregulated, bureaucratic society where citizens are kept dependent on the state.
We all know and often act according to the philosopher J.S. Mill's principle of a liberal society, even if we have never read his work. According to Mill, we are free to act as we please as long as we do not harm a fellow citizen. However, 'no man is an island' and our actions usually, if not always, impact others. This renders Mill's principle useless. Freedom is, therefore, strongly coupled to taking responsibility.
Responsibility is a multifaceted concept, according to Dalrymple. Although upbringing, education and social influences certainly affect a person's morality, in the end the person is responsible. Arguing otherwise is reducing the person to an object that is only governed by external forces. However, the government has a certain responsibility as well. Dalrymple argues that the welfare state, and specifically unemployment benefits, leads to dependent citizens with low self-esteem. This means we might not be as free as we would like to be: for example, why would you work if you can reach the same living standards from benefits? These benefits might encourage, or at least don't discourage, risky behaviour. For example teens that get pregnant suffer less severe consequences because they receive benefits. These benefits are of course helpful, but they would rather want a stable home situation and loving family for their children. However, they live in, what Dalrymple calls a 'loveless society' in which this is sometimes difficult to realise. In order for people to have freedom they have to have a certain independence and self-worth, having a job can provide that. In some parts of Great Britain the locals wholly 'rely' on the state in terms of income. Because of the poor economic situation, there are hardly any supermarkets for proper food and people mostly eat at pizza places.
This is not something that can be regulated by law, but something that must come from a change of mentality. We should once again value family bonds, self-empowerment and lower class jobs. In a liberal society without morals, citizens become dependent and indifferent.
You can watch the lecture by Theodore Dalrymple here. On March 11th prof. Frank Furedi will speak about the culture of fear that we live in and how fear is used to influence our ideas.