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The Convenient State | The American Conservative

Thus freedom became an assertion of the individual's right to pursue his own vision, and liberty became a prior demand for all human speculation or education. This demand did not lessen as the Hellenic world spread and was transmuted by Christianity. In fact, the Christian emphasis on the individual soul's worth, and its otherworldly goal, deepened the cleavage between man and the religious state. The Christian recognizes a divided loyalty, giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, but to God the inestimably vaster reaches of the soul that belong to God.

But if the state's order is no longer, in the Greek world, coextensive with man's attempt to order his private world, what role is government to play? Where does the supremacy of the private person find its frontier, or verge on other claims? How do the sacred areas of each man's individuality meet and adjust to each other? It is this question that has put the problem of freedom at the center of Western political dispute. And, in a kind of slovenly philosophical shorthand, this problem has been cast as a search for the amount of freedom man is to enjoy. But the problem is that the Greek world introduced an entirely new conception of human life, one still novel today, a conception that runs into contradiction if pushed by a ruthless logic. The autonomy of the individual, the fight against tradition, seem to make government at worst a causeless evil, at best a necessary evil. But experience has taught that a "freedom" which travels down the road of anarchy is never seen again. Thus the problem of the Western world has been to find a new kind of order to act as a foundation for its fugitive new kind of freedom. Many attempts at the solution of this problem have been short-lived because they did not come to grips  with the particular kind of freedom-with its almost impossible demands-that the West has chosen to pursue. The attempts which remain in the central line of Western experiment cluster into two main groups. These continuing schools of thought, or lines of approach, correspond in some degree with the popular division of political thinkers into liberal and conservative. I


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Sep 5th, 2012 at 08:34:37 AM EST

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