Spencer on democracy and moral development

From Social Statics:

“Political freedom, therefore, is, as we say, an external result of an internal sentiment-is alike, in origin, practicability, and permanence, dependent on the moral sense, and it is only when this is supreme in its influence that so high a form of social organization as a democracy can be maintained.”

First, Spencer is not saying we must wait, in order to establish democracy, for suitable moral development. But he is saying that the sustainability of true democracy is correlated with moral development. This means, not that we have an excuse for not pursuing democracy, but that we should not hold it up as an ideal to be achieved independent of the moral development necessary for its support.

Second, Spencer does not mean by democracy what, likely, we normally think of. He is thinking of rule by the principle of equal liberty. Rule by this principle would mean that all social life would be voluntary. This would exclude theft by governments neighbors. This would exclude the assault by the neighbor as much as the assault by government. This would exclude the coercive monopoly by the robber baron (largely a myth) and the coercive monopoly of government (which is the only institution that demands it not be competed with). And so on…

Third, the internal sentiment that needs development is the love of liberty, the unwillingness to use aggression to achieve anything.

That may seem like an odd notion of moral achievement. But it is not. The love of liberty is in fact the love of the only room in which the production of anything, including virtue but also other widgets, can take place. It is the man who must say “yes” to the activity. No one else can say it for him. No one else can move anyone else. But to the degree that they aggress in order to produce the “yes” the “yes” itself remains unknowned, weaker, its productivity of a lesser quality.

There is a sense in which the love of the liberty is the jealous protection of room in which for self to work out for self what is best. Any other way of diminished liberty is inferior. I do not mean that self gets to create what is best. I mean that for what is best to be best for the individual it must be freely embraced. Room is needed for that movement.

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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