Social Institutions and Individual Liberty: Can They Co-exist?


My friend, Scott Kistler, is reviewing John Stuart MIll’s On Liberty in a series of posts, of which this is the first: The Beleaguered Individual. I encourage you to check it out. Kistler speculates whether Mill will adopt Deneen’s argument that social institutions will be seen as the “liberal state’s sworn enemy”:

It is Mill’s opposition to social tyranny that I am most interested in seeing him unpack. My first reaction to his complaint is something like, “Welcome to human culture, Mr. Mill. It’s what we do, for good or for ill.” I’m fascinated to see what he will propose as a remedy, because it’s hard to imagine any effective remedy that doesn’t mean destroying culture. Unless it can be accomplished by persuasion, it seems like it supports Patrick Deneen’s argument that modern liberalism’s protection of individuals means that social institutions are (in this understanding) the liberal state’s sworn enemy.

Whether it’s Catholic Social Thought of “subsidiarity” that sees as a positive good mediating institutions – or a Kuyperian understanding of “sphere sovereignty” that allows for various institutions to co-exist in their respective sphere – the Christian tradition has viewed the omnipotent liberal state an enemy to individual freedoms precisely because it obscures mediating spheres to provide meaning and identity for individuals, such as the family, church, mutual aid societies, etc. Looking forward to Scott’s ongoing review. 

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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