Freedom makes us nicer.


Human imperfection can be counted upon as surely as death and taxes. Despite this, study after study seems to confirm that most of us are rather decent fellows when push comes to shove. I am willing to wager that a desire to do good, whatever that may be, is an evolved trait innate in the condition of most people. Against this, our nature is certainly affected by the conditions in which we live, and resultantly subject to change for good or ill. Our natures cannot be summed up in a single phrase or formula, and any attempt to produce such a rule tends to prove intellectually awkward. Commonality of behaviour, however, suggests that on the whole we do not benefit from the kinds of societies autocrats would force upon us. The material ages of humanity, as outlined by Marx, give a clear indication of how the economic superstructure can warp our natural instincts. The licence of masters, the dehumanisation of slaves, and the mutual fear and loathing induced by this asymmetry in power does not make for moral and responsible agents.

Though the divisions of rank and legal status have been smoothed by time, the continuing divisions between property owner and unemployed tenant still shape the behaviours of both classes to some extent. The property owner has an interest in conservation and expansion of their material interests, the welfare dependent on extracting subsistence from others, both through the coercive power of the state.

Changing the behaviours of both groups will require a new phenomenon, the liberating force of popular capitalism. Universal property ownership which began with right-to-buy should be extended, with planning liberalisations to allow for more house building, and support for personal savings and retirement accounts. As with the sale of council houses in the 1980s, the right to save for old age, and support in the form of replacing National Insurance Contributions with a tax free pensions saving allowance, will change attitudes. The division between property owner, and those alienated from the capital rewards of progress will be erased, with, as its result, a concordantly greater understanding and support of the market.

The greatest role for institutions may be elsewhere. As Randolph Churchill defended constitutional traditions for their role in guiding and balancing the state and its leaders, so too must liberals champion the great pillar of the free society: the voluntary association. Tradition adds colour and a spiritual connection between generations past, present and unborn, but its true purpose is to get the best from each of us. The friendly societies, cooperatives, clubs, universities and trades unions of this country can do just that; and have evolved and sustained themselves out of the better nature of free individuals. You don't need to engineer or manipulate the individual to make them good, you simply need people to discover the essence of what it is to live well with one another. Left to our own devices, human beings will creatively find new ways to overcome our own failings, learning from the past experiences of others through the living network of societies. If institutional memory can teach us how to be good without reference to a state compelling us to live in one particular or narrow fashion, then every liberal person should celebrate. The victims of arbitrary authority reflect its character; therefore, lets make ourselves freer so we can carry on being nice.