The Good Life, No. 3: Will


This post is part of a new series which explores the freedom-loving mindset and the pursuit of a classically liberal lifestyle in Michigan. Comments are welcome.

I was greeted this morning by a CEI memo regarding individual liberty and National Donut Day … And now, happily sugar-buzzed, I have the energy to tackle an issue that’s at the heart of what The Good Life is about: living. And not just living, but living well. Living an examined life. Thriving. I’ve stacks of notes from  political philosophy classes in which everyone from Plato and  Xenophon to Hobbes,  Machiavelli and Bloom investigate what it takes to get there, but they all start from the same assumption; namely, that one has to have the will to undertake the necessary steps to begin to live well.

The will to live well, however,  seems to be inversely related to the proportions of the government: the more bloated the state, the slimmer one’s volition. The explanation for this phenomenon is bound up with the economics of incentives and rational self-interest. These disciplines show us how elements of society that are critical to reinforcing one’s will begin to disintegrate when individuals rely on the government to function outside its proper realm of operation. Take insurance, for example.

Once upon a time, back when most  employers didn’t provide insurance and commercial insurers were unstable, Americans relied on private mutual aid societies. These associations were classically American: friends voluntarily united in order to offer individually tailored benefits packages at reasonable costs. They were cost-effective, reliable, transparent and self-governing, and they set expectations of responsibility and accountability for each member. If one were to accept disability, for example, he would be well aware of exactly whose money he was spending, leaving him less likely to tarry in bed. It’s a far cry from the way the welfare state operates today; over-complicated wealth redistribution and checks stamped with a federal bureaucrat’s return address put so much distance between the recipient and the taxpayer that any sense of responsibility of one to the other is almost totally absent. It eradicates the will to live well by spending carefully or extending charity on one’s own terms.

This is just one example of that entitlement syndrome that blemishes our society’s hallmark virtues and erodes the will on both an individual and collective level. It’s high time we stood up to it. Start right now. Eat a couple doughnuts, and resolve to live deliberately, live responsibly, live freely. Live well.

Talk to Me: What “classically American” means of living well would you like to see refreshed and renewed in today’s culture?

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