values of liberalism

FNF IAF Germany produced video series on the Values of Liberalism: why does individual freedom, the rule of law, tolerance, or accountability matter so much to Liberals?

In this series, FNF IAF I would like to introduce you to some of the different ideas that compose liberalism. Liberalism is a coherent vision made of various components, and that can be grasped complementarily from different disciplines.

Liberal Values: Individual Rights

Now individualism does not mean some simplistic faith that individuals live in an atomistic way. No. Individuals are social beings and that is also precisely why they need rights: individual rights are to be understood in relation to others.

Liberal Values: Freedom and Self-flourishing

Now self-direction and self-flourishing are connected to individual responsibility and freedom of course. There can’t be self-flourishing without individual responsibility. There can’t be self-flourishing as slaves. Only free people, responsible people can achieve the happiness of directing their process of self-flourishing. Freedom is the precondition to self-flourishing.

Liberal Values: Freedom of Choice, Contract and Association

Freedom of choice is essential for civilized society worthy of the name – that is, a society made of free and responsible individuals. A civilized society is a society of grown-ups, not a society of infants to whom Mum and Dad always tell what to do and what not to do – not a society with a Nanny state watching over us as we are too irresponsible or too stupid to make the right choices.

Liberal Values: The Rule of Law

The rule of law is supposed to protect us from arbitrary state power and maximize freedom, a condition for personal and economic flourishing.

Liberal Values: Free Speech

We probably owe the most famous and best defense of freedom of speech to the English liberal philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill in his classic essay “On Liberty”. Why is freedom of speech so important, he argues? Well, first because a silenced opinion could actually be true. And to think that that could not be the case is actually to assume one’s own infallibility.

Liberal Values: Tolerance

Spinoza or Voltaire for example were great thinkers who understood the value – the human value – of tolerance. They described the Dutch society and the English society of their respective times as open and thus civilized. Religious beliefs there were a private thing, they did not prevent people from exchanging in harmony in the public sphere. And this atmosphere of tolerance was fostering peaceful relations actually crucial for economic progress.

Liberal Values: Trust

Trust is like a lubricant in the gears, in the mechanisms of human interactions. Indeed: it lowers what economists call “transaction costs” and, as such, trust is something that makes it easier to do things together, share, exchange and trade.

Liberal Values: Economic Freedom

Economic development is based on the ability of creating value for others. It is based on entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship itself is about freedom: Freedom to have ideas on how to render services, freedom to test them, freedom to succeed, and importantly, freedom to fail and make mistakes – but be responsible for them.

Liberal Values: Freedom to Migrate

There is first a moral argument to be made in favor of open borders to people. My individual right to freedom is also a right to move freely, to move the property I have on my own body, as long as I do not encroach on someone else’s private property. The pursuit of happiness should not be blocked by borders.

Liberal Values: Accountability

Democracy presupposes accountability of the polity. This means transparency of public decision-making on spending on the one hand so we can as citizens assess the services we get, and clear taxation, so we can assess how much we pay for these services.