Place. Limits. Liberty.

I think I am going to really enjoy Front Porch Republic (motto: “Place. Limits. Liberty.”), which as far as I can tell is an enterprise devoted to the idea that a world filled with little islands of intense moral chavinism is a better world. Anyway, I was drawn in by this amusing passage in this Daniel Larison post:

[L]et us reflect on the fallen state of man. How did it happen, and what was the cause of the Fall? Our ancestors chose to try to be as gods and willed the one thing that God had forbidden them. Individual autonomy is at the heart of the Fall, and so it is part of our fallen nature, the part that St. Maximos described as the gnomic (deliberative) will. This is how we are now, but this is not how we were created. As fallen creatures we can embrace this autonomy, celebrate it and make it one of our highest goods, as most modern traditions would have us do, or we can turn back to God and change our mind.

I read this to Kerry who submits that “it sounds like he's talking about Dungeons and Dragons or something,” which I think is about right. I know it's rude for unbelievers to step into conversations between people who take wizards seriously, but I imagine Larison has a point we can all appreciate, and I'd like to know what it is. My secular reconstruction, which I'm sure leaves out the ineffeble essence of the thought, is that the ideal of individual autonomy is alien to human nature and we would be better off surrendering ourselves to our little platoons to be made as they see fit. Is that it?
Larison goes on to offer a caveat, which he then half withdraws:

In our case, it is also true that none of us would be where and who we are without many of the things we are critiquing and rejecting, and indeed ultimately none of us would be here at all had our first ancestors not disobeyed God, but while we should not be entirely ungrateful for our inheritance neither should we acquiesce in repeating the same errors and persisting in false beliefs about human nature and nature.

I'd like to know what these false beliefs are, plainly stated — if they can survive de-theologizing. I always find myself agreeing with communitarian types that individuals do not spring fully formed from the clay. Human development is indeed a richly social process of enculturation. But it's a silly non-sequitur, which I find myself running into again and again, that since human development is social, it is a mistake to socialize humans into an ethos of individualistic autonomy. As far as I can see, humans flourish best where autonomy is most celebrated and encouraged, though I'm pefectly open to evidence to the contrary.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center