Liberal Values Matter: Trust in an Individual

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What sets liberals apart from representatives of other ideological options is a strong trust in the capabilities of an individual and the key role of protecting the rights of an individual. Today, in the face of the renaissance of various community ideologies (populist, conservative, nationalist or socialist) we shall keep emphasizing why placing an individual’s interests and rights at the heart of a system is so important. At the same time, it does not mean that liberals cannot form a community to protect individuals, their rights and priviledges – quite the contrary. Building a liberal community is currently of utmost importance, both in Poland and Europe in general.

First and foremost, safeguarding the rights of individuals protects us from serious conflicts, aggression or war. Community ideologies are known for trying to force others to believe in or live by somebody else’s rules and principles (which, to the person imposing these, might seem the most suitable ideology). Coercion in a group which does not share such views evokes dissent. Therefore, the more fundamentalist the group cultivating a given set of values is, the stronger a belief that “others” must be forced to follow the same set of values. At the same time, the greater the likelihood that the opressed group radicalizes around its own ideas and strives to induce a clash between the two. It comes as no surprise that the majority of wars took place in the countries overcome with community ideologies – the same goes for military revolutions or civil wars. Wars between liberal democracies are marginal cases.

Secondly, nothing guarantees one’s right to have own beliefs and world view more effectively than liberalism and individual freedoms. Of course, on one condition: that one does not want to impose these beliefs on others. You may have and cultivate them, you might even try to convince your friends and children to adapt them – but never by force.

Liberalism and individual freedoms safeguard a balance between various ideologies. They give us freedom to choose ideology we want to live by. The likelihood that your community ideology will eventualy win over others is, on average, not strong. Moreover, this open fight is usually related to huge economic and psychological costs, as well as may be a cause for aggression and brutality. As a result, the quality of life of all people decreases.

The world is powered by creative individuals, their energy and ideas. The more freedom they have to pursue their own path, the faster shall they develop or act on their ideas and projects, and what may (indirectly) bring faster progress and greater benefits to the entire society. When individuals are forced to fit into strict behavioural patterns, restricted by a number of regulations and caveats, they become – as a rule – less efficient and generate smaller added value for the community. Freedom granted to individuals to allow them to act of their own accord simply pays off.

Trust in an individual is also indirectly related to trust in democracy as the only system that has the capability to utilize people’s wisdom. Moreover, it is also the only system in which people can learn and improve their political choices on the basis of previous experience. Liberals assume that, in general, people behave rationally. On the basis of the exerience of countries where democracy managed to survive for a long period of time, the history of their development, economic achievements and the quality of life of their citizens we may also clearly see that trust in the rational behavior of an individual and democracy pays off. Therefore, fighting for democracy means at the same time fighting for peace and prosperity.

Can liberals form a successful community? In order to do so, they must first learn how to do it efficiently. The alternative is a reality of neverending conflict and fundamentalism. The nature of liberal community of free individuals is, obviously, very different from fundamentalist communities. This is why it is difficult to form it. The task is even more difficult if we take into account the fact that individual-oriented liberals, who love and appreciate their own freedom, are likely to compromise, accept some leader or a given mode of operation whenever there is no other way. Thus, in order to protect our freedom we must learn how to effectively build such a community and its institutions. There is no other way.

The article was originally published in Polish at:

Translated by: Olga Łabendowicz