What Is Your Preferred Flavor of Freedom? — Recommended Readings

Anderson, Charles W. Statecraft: An Introduction to Political Choice and Judgment1977, New York: John Wiley & Sons.  Click here for snippets from the text.

Anderson, Charles W. Pragmatic Liberalism. 1990, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Anderson, Charles W.  A Deeper Freedom: Liberal Democracy as an Everyday Morality, 2002, Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Click here for his free podcast-course on Political, Economic and Social Thought.

Freedom is a concept that is easy to understand.  Right?  Since we throw this important word around a lot, we must all be clear that we mean the same thing when we say it, right?  Not according to the late Professor Charles W. Anderson.  Referencing the classical use of the word “liberalism,” which comes from the same word as liberty or freedom, Professor Anderson distinguishes four schools of liberalism, each based on very different foundational assumptions about what freedom is, how it shows practically in the world, and how to support it.  The four schools he suggests are: classical, utilitarian, egalitarian, and pragmatic.  According to Professor Anderson, classical liberalism focuses on individuals living their own life as they see fit, with minimal interference.  In utilitarian liberalism, the individual maximizes freedom by maximizing the utility–the calculated net benefit of benefits minus costs–of the consequences of every decision.  In egalitarian liberalism, the emphasis is on the equal opportunity to experience freedom, based on equalizing starting points, rights, and access to opportunities.  In pragmatic liberalism, the individual engages in a world that is too complex to understand fully, so the task is to consider the practical impacts of an action, and to take that action to see what happens. In his podcast-course, which I highly recommend, Professor Anderson provides a very engaging, 54-lecture tour through the development and use of schools of political, economic, and social thought, highlighting the ebb and flow of definitions of what it means to be free, and how the different schools of liberalism have come and gone, multiple times.

This series of books shows how the application of these different understandings of liberalism lead to different politics, different institutions and roles.  “Political decision making takes place in a context of institutions, roles, and relationships” (Statecraft p25).  “To act politically is to attempt to impose direction and form on the course of human affairs…Everyone makes political decisions.  But often we do not recognize that this is what we are doing, even while we are doing it.  Political activity is not confined to the affairs of government.  It is present in every human association.  In essence, we act politically whenever we make decisions on behalf of other people and not for ourselves alone.  Politics means planning and organizing common projects, setting rules and standards that define the relationships of people to one another.” (Statecraft pvii).  Here he references the ecosynomic question of “who decides and enforces?” and power over the five primary relationships.  A further nuance in Professor Anderson’s book looks at the “tension between the values of liberty and equality.  All liberals endorse both, but classical liberals tend to emphasize the former and [egalitarian] liberals the latter” (Statecraft p20).

Within this framing of schools of liberalism, this book series lays out practical suggestions for statecraft: how to look at public policy, making choice on behalf of other people; political strategy, coping with power and influence; and political structure, the design of institutions.  I highly recommend these books and Professor Anderson’s podcast-course.

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