Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Enjoying James Fitzjames Stephen's book "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"

Which is an English conservative critique of some of them. While I don't agree with everything Fitzjames Stephen says---I like liberty, equality, and fraternity--and while I think his take on freedom of expression is laughable, the main points of the book so far are solid. The book is an extended criticism of John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty", which is a good little essay. 

What Fitzjames Stephen argues is pretty simple: to make a good society, you have to have some sort of public disapprobation for bad acts that aren't bad enough to warrant being called crimes. Simply obeying the law isn't the same as being a decent person, it's just not being a criminal. People have to take it upon themselves to enforce social standards of conduct that go beyond just not breaking the law. Taking it upon themselves, which is not pure vigilante-ism but just calling people out and not tolerating certain behaviors, is the lesser evil of the two options, the other being to institute some sort of regime that codifies these things in law and enforces this with a vast police force.  

Building up an environment of virtuous conduct through personal action and personal disapprobation, is something that people can do on their own, with no need for the State to get involved. 

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