“Capitalism” and “the Free Society”

"'Capitalism' and 'the Free Society'," (a reply to John K. Jessup), The Public Interest, Winter 1971.


Now, there is only one rejoinder that someone like Jessup can make to this point. It is the libertarian answer given by Hayek and Friedman: what legitimates a “free society” is the high degree of personal liberty it makes possible. In other words, if you start with personal liberty as an absolute ideal, needing no further justification, then a “free society” is legitimate by definition. Indeed, it is then the only legitimate society—again by definition. But this kind of scholasticism cannot satisfy those of us—and we are the immense majority—who have no such dogmatic attachment to liberty. Yes, individual liberty is a very fine thing, one of the very finest even. But order is also a very fine thing; and justice; and morality; and civility. All of these fine things have to be accommodated, one to another, in such a way as to “make sense” to the citizens of a society. A free market is a superb economic mechanism; but it is not self-justifying. Such justification is the function of a living political philosophy—a “public philosophy,” in Walter Lippmann’s phrase.

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