Jul 10, 2018

Tension between autonomy & care in modernity

Russ Roberts and Patrick Deneen discuss:

Roberts: I do think there is two conflicting impulses in human beings... we have a desire to be free. We want autonomy. We want to craft our own identities.

We also like to be taken care of... as a parent you are telling your kids how to behave. You are trying to tell them what are good choices. There come a point where they don't want to hear that any more. And whether you want to tell them what's a good choice or not, they are not interested. And, so that – we go through that phase. But deep down inside there's still that part where, 'I want someone who knows better than I do what's good for me.'

And, so, when you talk about good choices, I think a skeptic would say, 'Well, whose choices? Who decides what a good choice is?' and 'Our culture is increasingly tolerant of all choices. There are no bad choices. Anything you do, as long as it's your choice and it feels right to you, that is to be honored.' And, that's a strange idea, a very modern idea. But, I understand it.

We have a deep impulse to make our own choices and lie in our own bed. At the same time, I think we have this desire to be coddled... we want to avoid those choices. So, I see, when I look at sort of the mixed bag of modernity's political upheaval... I see this conflict playing out over that dimension: my inner conflict between wanting to be free and wanting to be taken care of. And as a classical liberal, I'm always pushing for people to have, to embrace their own freedom, their own autonomy.


Deneen: You could say we have the worst of classical liberalism and the worst of progressive liberalism combined there. In other words, it's only when freedom and responsibility are combined in a very strong relationship – that you could say that freedom is properly understood, and its consequences are properly embraced. So, freedom without the responsibility of the consequences of the choices you make is, leads to a condition in which you have, broadly speaking, societal irresponsibility.

Also this:

Deneen: I think you are right to describe that we need these kinds of, let's say, sort of external encouragements to a kind of self-control and a kind of self-discipline. But, we have largely disassembled the institutions...

Going back to something we were saying earlier: that the upper classes have largely been able in some ways to create new forms of those institutions. Largely through the exercise of their wealth and their privilege.

These institutions used to be a lot more egalitarian. Used to be simply a part of the fabric of social life. And the kind of breakdown of, especially of what we see in the lower and the working class, the breakdown of these kinds of institutions has made it extremely difficult for people who are struggling at the margins of our economy today to do things that weren't that difficult, even when, you know, they were arguably even poorer. And had fewer opportunities.

During the Great Depression, for example – there was a great encouragement and support for marriage and for family and formation of a kind of human life that was encouraged through church and Boy Scouts and, again, the broad set of institutions that existed in the country.


Roberts: So, I think the Left's critique of your point would be, and I think there's something to it, which is, 'Okay. We've had all these institutions before. The family was stronger. More people were religious. Local community and norms imposed by that community were much more powerful. We were much less atomistic. We were connected in ways that you talked about. But those were bad institutions. They were patriarchal. They were sexist. They were racist. They were homophobic. We had to get rid of those, because all the liberation that they promised and were able to achieve were only for a small set of people. And, it's better now. Of course, it's imperfect. But, this current system, this current world we live in, this current culture that is – that you call liberalism – is a big improvement.'

Deneen: ...the liberation of the individual in this instance, to govern their own kinds of choices when it comes to something so deeply personal as sexuality, now, actually, ends up empowering the State in interesting ways. I mean, what we've seen, certainly here on college campuses, is: in the absence of or the demolition of the in loco parentis customs and the role that the adults on the campus were supposed to play in helping young people enter, again, this time of fraught and challenging relationships with the opposite sex, that in the absence of that kind of formation, what we now find is that we need now the State to come in and exercise a kind of juridical realm over questions of whether or not consent was given or consent wasn't given.