Self-reliance can be a virtue, but if it’s over-emphasized, as it is in the United States, this characteristic becomes a vice because it produces a hyper-individualistic, socially Darwinian “society” that falls on its face, for example, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, because (1) many Americans couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone else, (2) think they know everything even when their information comes from half-baked conspiracy theories on the web, (3) distrust authorities, (4) fall into blinkered political tribes that call for the destruction of the opposing side, (5) troll that side relentlessly instead of doing what’s right for their future generations and for the country as a whole, and so on and so forth.

No, the fact that soldiers are physically rugged and self-reliant (i.e. capable of protecting themselves especially in dangerous situations, without being coddled) doesn’t make them immoral. What I meant in the article is that _physical_ strength doesn’t make you morally right, unless you think might makes right. What’s more important to morality and to ethics (virtue) is _inner_ strength, not mere physical capability. If the latter mattered more, robots and computers would have some kind of sci-fi obligation to exterminate humanity just because they’re more powerful than fleshy mammals.

Notice, by the way, that soldiers aren’t actually so self-reliant in the virtuous, morally significant, inner way, because they’re often traumatized by war and are too proud to admit it, so they return home with untreated mental health problems such as PTSD. Likewise, many libertarian Trump supporters who boast about loving their liberty are the very ones struggling and hooked on opioids. By trolling with Trump, they’re lashing out to avenge themselves against the rigged neoliberal establishment.

When you say that self-reliance guarantees liberty, that depends on what you mean by “self-reliance.” If you mean that everyone should be competent enough to take care of themselves and that those who fail should be left to rot or at least that the country has no obligation to help them, that kind of self-reliance amounts to selfishness and it’s the stuff of social Darwinism. That dog-eat-dog, me-first-and-damn-the-rest kind of society would be expected to break down into tribal hostilities, as it obviously has now in the US.

What happens is that that sort of “society” goes through a political cycle in which the have-nots band together to take down the wealthy elites who’ve rigged the system. This happened in the late 19th C. populist era when the farmers united in revolt against the usury system put in place after the Civil War; it happened after the Great Depression, leading to the New Deal; it happened in the ‘60s with the civil rights protests; and it’s happening with the current polarization of American politics, with the support for populist figures like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

But the populist revolts are eventually co-opted because the culture at large is traditionally individualistic, puritanical, hyper-competitive, and xenophobic. So this warped view of personal freedom (which leads to barbaric struggles for survival even within a wealthy nation) produces giant economic inequalities and a super-powerful and corrupted aristocracy (the “one percent”) that consolidates its gains by manipulating the system until the next round of mass discontent boils over.

I agree that morality makes no sense without freewill. What this article is about is an analysis of whether freedom entails libertarian egoism and social Darwinism. I argue that it doesn’t.

To the extent that “socialism” entails tyranny, that would be immoral. But if we’re talking about democratic socialism, this kind of system arguably follows from a superior understanding of freedom. The freedom of those who fail to flourish in a hyper-competitive, dog-eat-dog marketplace is wasted. Love of liberty shouldn’t mean just love of your personal liberty and indifference towards that of strangers. In Kantian terms, that kind of selfish love of freedom is incoherent. No, you’re supposed to revere everyone’s potential to freely pursue their interests, which means revering everyone’s humanity.

If those who fail were suicidal and wanted to suffer the indignities of poverty and disenfranchisement, that would be one thing. But if they want to succeed to the best of their abilities and have merely been double-crossed by a crony-capitalistic and plutocratic economy and government, there’s hardly any honour in letting them languish or perish.

There are different kinds of conservatism and I agree that the article doesn’t rigorously distinguish between them. I focussed on the emptiness of the sanctimonious boasting about the love of liberty in the US. Libertarians and other American conservatives, including many Evangelical Christians are confused enough to engage in that boasting with no chance of avoiding massive incoherence.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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