Morals and the Free Society: 1. Intro; Is a Free Society a Paradise of Moral Tolerance?

“Morals and the Free Society” is an essay I’d like to get feedback on. It’s much too long for a single blog post, so I’ll post it in installments every few days. For reference—or if you just can’t wait to read the whole thing in all its glory—the complete essay is posted here. To advance to the second installment, click here.


What is the appropriate place of morals in a free society? By “free society,” I mean a social order that places heavy emphasis on individual liberty; for example, freedom of speech, of assembly, of religion; freedom from coercive state power, as exemplified by unreasonable search and seizure, incarceration without trial, conscription (military or otherwise), etc.; and freedom of commerce, particularly including the protection of property rights. By “morals”—which I shall use interchangeably with “ethics”—I mean fundamental principles for the conduct of life, making no preconceptions about what those principles must be. For instance, even a simple egoistic hedonism is on the table as a possible moral system and conceivably even as the best.

In asking about the appropriate place of morals in a free society, part of what I’m asking is which morals, if any, are encouraged or even required by a free society. Do the political arguments in favor of a free society imply any particular system of morals? Does the operation or the structure or the maintenance of a free society require or imply any particular system of morals? If a free society does not require any particular moral system, does it at least encourage (or inhibit) any? Or are the politics of a free society and morals completely independent? What moral vision, if any, should we associate with a free society?

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