Sunday, August 21, 2011

Abusing a beautiful idea

The idea of individual freedom is a compelling one. Free trade is only the natural result of the freedom of individuals. This duo of liberty/free trade then forms a coherent, elegant and free-standing intellectual argument which has been debated for centuries, yet today it is the bed rock of modern "western" civilization.

But how much intellectual authority does the idea wield today?

In a 1992 article "Intellectual Authority and Institutional Authority", Charles Collier says (albeit in the context of jurisprudence):
Intellectual authority is defined as the authority of arguments that prevail by virtue of good reasoning and do not depend on coercion or convention.
Collier goes on to define another term:
A contrasting notion, institutional authority, refers to the power of social institutions to enforce acceptance of arguments that may or may not possess intellectual authority.
When the American president asks Syrian president Assad to step down, it is a perfectly acceptable act within the realm of the intellectual authority of the idea of individual freedom and democracy. But when bombers roll over Vietnam, Libya or Iraq to tamp down undemocratic regimes, all intellectual authority is lost, that is when the idea is being forced.  As an ardent proponent of individual rights and free trade, it distresses this writer to see the abuse.

Communism's fundamental appeal to the senses was mauled for generations by the repression that Communist states subjected their populations to. The idea of Islam has been corrupted in the minds of modern observers by the random violence inflicted on others by some of its proponents. It follows that the intellectual weight of freedom is also tarnished to some extent at least when its proponents use military might to advance it.

Instead of using the force of persuasion, the persuasion is through force.

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