Democracy Does Not Work Without Good People

October 10, 2014

I ran across this fantastic article regarding classical liberalism (the notion that people should be “free”, embraced both by progressive liberals and conservatives in America today).  The article provides a thoughtful analysis, including the following:

“An idea of liberty is an essential part of the answer to that crucial unasked question [whether humans are prepared to live free]. But it is not the libertarian freedom generally voiced by today’s left and right. Surely liberation from coercion alone does not prepare us for the practice of liberal freedom. To liberate us purely to pursue our wants and wishes is to liberate our appetites and passions. But a person in the grip of appetite or passion can’t be our model of the free human being. Such a person is not someone we would trust with the exercise of great political and economic freedom.

The liberty we can truly recognize as liberty is achieved by the emancipation of the individual not just from coercion by others but also from the tyranny of his unrestrained desire.


This liberty arises when we want to do more or less what we ought to do, so that the moral law, the civil law, and our own will are largely in alignment, and choice and obligation point in the same direction. To be capable of freedom, and capable of being liberal citizens, we need to be capable of that challenging combination. And to become ­capable of it, we need more than the liberation of the individual from coercion. We need a certain sort of moral formation.”

The author’s suggestion is not that the government begin preparation of souls for freedom; rather, it is that the citizens should on their own begin recognizing the soul-forming functions of family, work, and religious organizations, and “sustain[] the space for them, and put[] them within the reach of as many of our fellow citizens as possible.”  Without attending to our souls through family, work, and spiritual relationships, democracy gets ugly.  What is the use of an election when the electorate is a mass of radically self-interested individuals?

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