The Magazine

How Freedom Rings

Ten ways of looking at man’s greatest gift.

Jan 24, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 18 • By RYAN T. ANDERSON
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Scruton brings the collection to a close by discussing the previous nine essays with an eye to the limits of liberty. Borrowing from Locke, he distinguishes liberty from license: Liberty is the ability to direct oneself toward individual and communal fulfillment without trampling on others’ well-being, but too much of what passes for liberty today is actually license​—​self-assertion at others’ expense. As he notes, “freedom that can be enjoyed by one generation only by condemning the next to dependency surely deserves the name of license.” But it is hard to specify when liberty turns into license without a robust account of human well-being. Just as gender equality should be used to draw out what is best in each gender, and just as academic freedom should be used to discover and appropriate what is noblest in human life, so too political liberty should be used for human excellence, and not as an excuse or a defense for moral corruption. 

The Western metaphysical and political tradition points the way between the excesses of religious extremism and secularism, between libertinism and statism. At the heart lies liberty, not license.

Ryan T. Anderson is editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, an online publication of the Witherspoon Institute.

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