Monday, March 19, 2012

Dialectics of Freedom

Sublation (Aufheben) is a technique described by dialecticians (eg, Hegel 1770-1831) that turns the meaning of a word into its opposite.

The American founders applied their classical education to the question of Liberty. They came up with the ideas we see in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I call this philosophy "classical liberalism."

In the generations after the founding, partisan groups sought to interpret the US Founding to their favor. In the early 1800s, intellectuals in the US adopted the dialectical style as the political system devolved into the Left/Right framework of The French Revolution.

In this split, the progressive left seeks radical change and conservative right seeks to preserve the social order.

In this game, both the left and right play a game in which they twist the definition of freedom in ways that demand action from the state. For example, progressives like to give people freedom from things. To provide freedom from hunger, the state must take resources from group A to give it to group B (with politically connected businesses skimming just a little off the top for good measure).

In the current culture wars, the Obama Administration sought to give people free contraception by compelling employers to pay for the contraception, including contraceptive methods the some regligious groups find morally objectionable.

The dialectician Joseph Smith (1805-1844) created a very interesting twist on freedom. Unlike Adam Smith, who argued that freedom itself was a good thing, Joseph Smith claims that the Heavenly Father gave mankind "free agency" as a sort of test. You have free agency as a test to see if you willingly follow the teachings of the Church.

In the article "My case for HB 363 (sex ed bill)," Paul Mero of the Sutherland Institute provides an example of Joseph Smith's teaching on free agency in action. Since free agency is a test given by the Heavenly Father, then political authorities must give people an outline of the test to help people know the righteous path. Therefore, the Legislature needs to write the curriculum for Utah schools. Mero says:

"It represents another front in the culture war over Utah values, how we see ourselves as human beings, how we view the proper role of government and, ultimately, how we view freedom."

Mero claims the freedom perceived by the US Founders was incomplete. He says:

"Freedom is not simply 'individual liberty' or 'economic freedom.' Those qualities are important components of freedom, but incomplete. A complete definition is that freedom is the sum of liberty and virtue."

This idea might sound compelling until one realizes that 'virtue' is an undefined term. One need only look at the Roman and Machiavellian concepts of 'virtue' to realize the horrible things people do to eachother in the name of 'virtue.'

The US Founders clearly saw virtue and freedom as different subjects because they included freedom of speech and religion in the Bill of Rights. With a classical education, the Founders would have realized that there are radically different definitions of virtue.

With Mero's definition of freedom, one is drawn immediately into a never ending culture war with his his partisan group claiming righteousness while labeling others evil and naive gentiles.

I like classical liberal ideas of our nation's founders. I've blogged on the contraception mandates of PPACA to show how government controlled health care leads directly to deep moral conflicts. Notably PPACA forced religious groups to pay for contraceptive methods they find morally objectionable.

Unfortunately, it is now harder to argue this point because conservative in Utah are using their own dialectical tricks to demand that the State Legislature write the curriculum for the schools based on their own twisted definition of freedom.

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