Sunday, July 25, 2010

Individual freedom and social justice

I think that, contrary to popular belief, these two aren't completely dependent on each other, but can exist in a sort of pure form on their own. A society can let folks do whatever they want as individuals, and yet be so constructed that the economic system is highly unequal and stratified, distorted by class. A society can on the other hand be perfectly just in terms of economics and economic power, with economic power collectively resident in the people themselves, and yet in the sphere of the individual allow for little personal freedom. Some would argue that individuals can't truly be free in a class society, and this is broadly the case in certain aspects of life, yet when we look at the individual as a pure individual it's apparent that these aspects have more to do with access to resources than with an actual prohibition by the State against certain kinds of behavior. Capitalism can get on fine without much of a State and much coercion of individuals to obey moralistic rules that go beyond basic ideas of not hurting yourself or others, and it can still be perfectly unjust. Others too may object to the opposite scenario, where economics are collectivized, as not really being just because a just society because of the lack of individual freedom, but are the two really dependent on one another? Sure, you can argue that lack of individual freedom makes a society unjust because it inhibits personal economic initiative, but if you're talking about social justice, and recognize that something called social justice exists as a thing beyond just whatever capitalism happens to spit out as a result, then in the main you can have a society that's very just in many ways that nevertheless in the individual sphere restricts freedom, freedoms that have nothing to do or at least very little to do with social justice in the abstract. In fact, it can easily be the case that a person can have a perfectly just life, sharing in the produce of society and enjoying themselves, in a traditional Communist socialist society provided that they don't rock the boat too much. Many people in the former Soviet bloc did just that, and got along fine, and this is more and more acknowledged now that folks see some of the folly in letting a desire for democracy and individual freedom lead them also to support pure market economics.

The trick is to bring the two together so that we have a just society that also honors freedom for the individual in a real way, and that has a democratic basis to it so that the people involved have power over their own destinies, individual and collective.

*on edit: perhaps, even, the democratic process can be the connecting point between the individual sphere and the collective sphere, making the collective sphere and the administration of the collective sphere honest and publicly accountable and limiting structural economic constraints that inhibit the expression of individual freedom.

*on edit #2: the lack of interdependency between a basically just society and one that honors individual freedom is a reason why so many pre-capitalist societies that went over to the Soviet bloc were able to implement social reform, and stay relatively popular, without bothering to pay much attention to individual freedom.

Note to self: democracy as the arbiter in both issues of structural impacts on individual freedom and on issues of lack of individual accountability in the collective sphere.

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