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To educate the public about the morality and effectiveness of voluntary, market-based institutions that develop organically from a culture of liberty.
America’s social and economic problems stem largely from ill-informed public policies coupled with an often dysfunctional culture. The political and cultural sources of our social problems are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. Reforming our society and creating a culture of liberty requires changes in pernicious government policies as well moral suasion to redress a deficient culture.
The Liberty 21 Institute (Liberty21) addresses social problems from both the policy and cultural perspectives. It recommends practical reforms that foster an open, dynamic society that is simultaneously rooted in America’s traditions. Liberty21 focuses on three projects in particular:
- The Center for Social and Economic Transformation (CSET) has two aims:
1) To analyze the effects of public policies and cultural trends on individual initiative and personal character; and
2) To recognize and promote understanding of economic, technological, institutional, and cultural developments that bolster personal responsibility, facilitate decentralized decision-making, and encourage public needs to be met through voluntary, cooperative action.
CSET outputs will be policy papers and opinion articles in both legacy and alternative media.
- The American Culture (TAC) website focuses on cultural topics of the day, including reviews and analyses of current movies, music, books, TV shows, and broader cultural trends. The website is updated at least daily and addresses the all-important cultural foundations of public respect for liberty and personal responsibility.
- A quarterly Catallaxy magazine will explore policy and cultural issues in greater depth and lay the intellectual foundations for a liberty culture and a free society in which acceptance of personal responsibility is the norm.
The founding of the United States was an exceptional event. For the first time in human history, a nation was established on explicit principles and values designed to promote the well-being of the average citizen. The most fundamental of these principles—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—were deemed to be inalienable and could not rightfully be abridged. The value of liberty was therefore central to the nation’s founding, and it has made the United States an inherently dynamic and forward-looking nation from the beginning.
Importance of Private Associations
Meanwhile, Americans’ exercise of liberty has necessarily been molded by an institutional setting and framework. The most important public institutions were the U.S. and State constitutions and the legal system to which they gave rise. The U.S. Constitution was established to safeguard individual and not group rights, by explicitly enumerating the powers of the Federal government. Any powers that were not explicitly enumerated were delegated to the people or the states. The principle of federalism and decentralized political power has therefore always been essential to the nation’s public institutions and the exercise of American liberty.
Americans also immediately established other formal but voluntary and private institutions and organizations which were critical for achieving broader public aims. These institutions had a number of diverse purposes and motivations, including religious, civic, professional, educational, and charitable. Several early observers (especially Alexis de Tocqueville) considered the diversity of our private institutions to be one of the defining characteristics of American life. American society has therefore traditionally been rich and multi-faceted, with the State playing an important but relatively minor role.
American society has also been supported by informal institutions that helped formal institutions function effectively and minimized the need for government action. These informal institutions included values and mores that were communicated and reinforced by families, churches, schools, and printed media.
A Culture of Liberty—and Its Enemies
The formal and informal institutions that existed at the American founding gave rise to a “culture of liberty.” This national culture had three main pillars:
- Personal independence and responsibility;
- Economic and political liberty safeguarded by constitutional and legal protections (including a federalist governance structure); and
- Voluntary aid and support among the members of a community as the primary means of satisfying common goals.
Unfortunately, over time this culture of liberty has been eroded by public policies that usurp local, decentralized decision-making and undermine voluntary cooperative action and personal responsibility and initiative. America’s culture of liberty has also been undermined by cultural trends that provide moral and intellectual support for pernicious public policies.
Indeed, some of the nation’s largest and most powerful cultural institutions are either openly and actively hostile to liberty or promote alternative notions of “freedom” that run counter to the nation’s founding ideas. These institutions include much of America’s higher education establishment, its internationally dominant arts and entertainment industries, and the mass media. This hostility feeds and supports policy choices that further undermine liberty while reducing economic prosperity.
Given this erosion in America’s longstanding culture of liberty, there is a need for an organization—a new institution—actively devoted to renewing and reinvigorating America’s traditional culture of liberty by:
- Recognizing and promoting economic, technological, institutional, and cultural developments that support liberty; such trends may reinforce personal responsibility, promote decentralized decision-making, or encourage public needs to be met through voluntary action;
- Critiquing cultural trends and public policies that undermine respect for liberty;
- Informing and educating the public on American institutions that have been instrumental in fostering liberty and personal responsibility and
- Creating and strengthening links among individuals in culturally important professions (e.g. between college students and the entertainment industry) to promote greater understanding and cultural expression of the principles of liberty.
Because the political and cultural factors that undermine liberty today are intertwined, Liberty21 employs an interdisciplinary analytical approach that focuses on the intersection of economics, policy, and culture. It is important to recognize the interdependence of these factors in order to make lasting changes in public policy. Even “pure” policy critiques must be communicated in a way that resonates with the broader culture if they are to move public opinion. People are also far more likely to vote consistently against activist government if they understand the value and, indeed, the positive morality of voluntary, market-based institutions that develop organically from a culture of liberty.
Liberty21 emphasizes the moral superiority of freedom, with the greater efficacy of market institutions an important but supporting consideration. The public is affected more strongly by moral than utilitarian arguments, and this is an honorable reaction on their part. The importance of moral arguments is also something Ronal Reagan understood, but conservatives have largely lost sight of since the fall of communism. Liberty21 means to restore Americans’ understanding of the moral value of our traditional culture of liberty.