Social Norms and the Free Society

We must endeavour to view them with the eyes of other people, or as other people are likely to view them.

We don’t have to agree on everything.

That’s the point of free society. We only need rules to deal with boundaries and boundary crossings. The determination of those boundaries ought to be through an ongoing process of law (not legislation) and also as a social process where social norms help us determine what is acceptable in shared spaces. The basis of libertarian thought is that you at least own your mind, body, and home and in so far as you are not violating others’ rights to the same, you are free to do what you want.

This doesn’t say that what you choose to do is GOOD or should be followed by others.

Society, literature, family, and education all serve as counterpoints to our own personal mishegoss and our own worst impulses. Adam Smith writes:

The love and admiration which we naturally conceive for those whose character and conduct we approve of, necessarily dispose us to desire to become ourselves the objects of the like agreeable sentiments, and to be as amiable and as admirable as those whom we love and admire the most. Emulation, the anxious desire that we ourselves should excel, is originally founded in our admiration of the excellence of others. Neither can we be satisfied with being merely admired for what other people are admired. We must at least believe ourselves to be admirable for what they are admirable. But, in order to attain this satisfaction, we must become the impartial spectators of our own character and conduct. We must endeavour to view them with the eyes of other people, or as other people are likely to view them. When seen in this light, if they appear to us as we wish, we are happy and contented. But it greatly confirms this happiness and contentment when we find that other people, viewing them with those very eyes with which we, in imagination only, were endeavouring to view them, see them precisely in the same light in which we ourselves had seen them. Their approbation necessarily confirms our own self-approbation. Their praise necessarily strengthens our own sense of our own praiseworthiness. In this case, so far is the love of praise-worthiness from being derived altogether from that of praise; that the love of praise seems, at least in a great measure, to be derived from that of praise-worthiness.

But the qualification of these is a process and can’t be dictated by some government official (whose information will always be less than is available to society). See Hayek.

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KDR is a writer, editor, and economist.