Kenneth Minogue’s “Self-Interested Society”

Kenneth Minogue’s final article, The Self Interested Society, the text of the speech he gave to the Mt Pelerin Society, was published by The New Criterion this month. As everything he ever wrote, it is excellent and penetrating and immense food for thought. Here is the last para: now go and read everything that came before.

It seems to me that our preoccupation with the defects of our civilization is a standing temptation, and a dangerous one, to have recourse to civil authority in order to deal with what we may be persuaded to understand as social imperfections. And that preoccupation with our imperfections is most commonly grounded in the corrupt sense of explaining freedom in terms of self-interest. To recap, such an assumption about the motivation of moderns invokes the moral criterion of justice or fairness as condemning many of the consequences of our economic life (in terms of the supposed distribution of benefits). Such a view in turn generates a succession of vulnerable classes of people each with claims on the state for redress. Welfare programs responding to this process have no determinate end in sight. There is no viable conception of a society without vulnerable classes demanding special treatment as victims of one or other kind of injustice or unfairness. We begin to conceive of modern societies as associations of incompetents and cripples, which is absurd. The human condition is not like that. We entertain many foolish ideas, and no doubt will continue to do so. But this is a piece of nonsense that we can no longer afford.

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