Liberty: Hard to Achieve, Easy to Squander

Oct 11, 2019 by

A distinguished MIT economist looks at how today’s events line up with how liberty dies.

Statue of Liberty on Lake Mendota

We live with the belief that political liberty is a durable construct, arrived at by some process of “enlightenment,” and that the architecture of the Constitution will somehow save us. Daron Acemoglu, an MIT economics professor and the guest of this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, thinks this view is a fantasy.

He argues that there is a reason that liberty flourishes in some nations but turns to authoritarianism or anarchy in others. He believes that countries rise and fall based not on culture, or geography, or change, but on the power and strength of their institutions.

Further, the elements that came together to create our governmental system are just as delicate and unique as the circumstances that led to the creation of life on this planet. And, as climate change is showing us, both are seriously at risk.

For Acemoglu, liberty is hardly the natural order of things: it emerges only when there exists a delicate balance between “state” and “society.” Given the destabilization we are experiencing today, there is no reason to assume that the institutions or their societal foundations will hold.

The danger on the horizon, Acemoglu says, is not just the loss of our political freedom, however grim that is in itself: it is also the disintegration of our prosperity and safety, which critically depend on liberty

Even if President Donald Trump were gone tomorrow, Acemoglu argues, we would need new and stronger civic mobilization and participation in society. What we have experienced is, in Acemoglu’s opinion, like a severe heart attack. The muscles of the heart have been weakened, and without a course of civic exercise and rehabilitation, the patient will die.

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Photo credit: Sara / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Source: Liberty: Hard to Achieve, Easy to Squander – WhoWhatWhy

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