Personal responsibility is out of fashion. The idea that adults are accountable for their own actions and choices, that they have a responsibility to uphold certain societal standards and accept moral responsibility for wrongdoing no longer underpins British society as it should. A society that rejects this principle will inevitably see its freedom ebbing away.
According to its opponents, personal responsibility is a principle believed in only by cold hardliners who lack empathy. As a concept it is undermined relentlessly by the left not only because of the emphasis it places on the individual being held accountable for their actions, but because it contradicts so many cherished leftist assertions.
They believe that the collective has more responsibility for the happiness, wellbeing and prosperity of the individual than the individual themselves. They believe in using the power of the state to regulate and modify individual behaviour over and above allowing people the freedom of choice and expecting them to exercise a sense of morality and accountability as a point of duty.
Personal responsibility and self-reliance weakens the state, when they are undermined the individual inevitably becomes infantilised as they abdicate themselves of responsibility for their actions. When they do wrong they feel no sense of penance and are quick to direct the blame outwards rather than attempt to self-improve.
The solution to this is generally thought to be in either medicalising a behaviour which is actually nothing more than a lack of restraint, or for the government to use regulations and tax to discourage certain behaviours. This is how the nanny state grows exponentially and the citizenry become gradually more infantile and expectant.
Without personal responsibility there can be no self-reliance and self-improvement and so they grow hopelessly dependent on the collective. The individual comes to think of the support it receives as an entitlement, and state support is more likely to be met with resentment rather than gratitude. Thus the individual’s relationship with the state becomes that of a serf to the lord of the manor.
Immanuel Kant said that the, ‘human capacity to be a moral agent gives each human dignity”, and this dignity gives worth to every human being. All thinking individuals are capable of seeing their duties and responsibilities. Your background does not determine irrevocably your fate and everyone is potentially reformable.
We are therefore not helpless trapped creatures lacking free will and destined to be shaped and controlled by our environment and background.
Left wing philosophy emphasises people’s backgrounds and social status as an explanation of behaviour. This is then used as an excuse for irresponsible acts; it is not down to the individual, it is society which is at fault.
Crime is society’s fault and we are all, essentially, guilty. Thus crime should be punished leniently and dealt with sociologically. Punishment is redundant because it is unjust to punish someone who is, essentially, a victim. Welfare should not place obligations on the recipient, for there are no deserving and undeserving cases, nor any superior or inferior forms of moral, cultural, economic and spiritual ways of life.
The natural conclusion of the belief that irresponsible behaviour is explained – even excused – by social ills like poverty, unemployment and inequality is the assertion that “social action’ is the necessary cure. This generally means greater public spending, redistribution and the necessity for the state to step in at every opportunity to support the individual throughout their life and forcibly equalise society.
The hope is that this will change the culture of the underclass for the better, but it doesn’t, and it hasn’t. It never will either, not without a culture change, not without the breakdown of cultural and moral relativism and the restoration of personal responsibility and self-reliance.
Leftists cannot bring themselves to believe in personal responsibility because it would deny them their anointed status as social justice warriors who rescue the people treated unfairly by society. This is taken to such an extreme that their excuse making and encouragement of a victim mentality becomes detrimental to the people they are supposedly trying to help.
They do not realise that by denying personal responsibility they have helped create new social divides and foster a sense of resentment towards an underclass of infantilised state dependents. By saying that certain people cannot be held responsible for their actions, and therefore must be held to a lower moral standard, you are subtly encouraging others to look down upon them and creating a culture of low expectations. This creates social division and resentment, as well as harming the sense of self-respect and aspiration amongst those they deem to be incapable of individual responsibility.
As individuals we are all moral agents responsible, and therefore accountable, for our own actions and choices. To instill people with a sense of personal responsibility is to empower them and to put faith in their capacity to change and do better. We will all make mistakes and sometimes behave irresponsibly but without taking personal responsibility we will never learn and self-improve. We cannot change the circumstances in which we were born, nor can we change society or the world alone, but we can change ourselves and take responsibility for our own actions.
In a society lacking in this sense of personal responsibility and utterly dependent on the state, people are too quick to pass the buck, to blame “society” and all its ills for their problems and to expect entitlements without fulfilling any obligations, neglecting to realise their entitlements come from the pockets of their fellow citizens.
Only when one takes personal responsibility can one widen the scope to family and social responsibility; to accept our moral and ethical obligations towards our family, friends, community, country and indeed all of our fellow human beings. Once we have taken responsibility for ourselves, and fulfilled our obligations, only then are we entitled to receive anything in return.
Personal responsibility is necessary for a strong, cohesive, individualist free society, without this we are all destined to be suckling infant slaves to the state. Then everything from a sugar tax and minimum alcohol pricing to a whole variety of blanket bans on behaviours, pleasures and indulgences is deemed justifiable and necessary.
Conservatives for Liberty are holding a lobby evening on Wednesday
25th November called Forgive us our Trespasses: The moral case for
choice and responsibility. This event gives you the opportunity to
hear from a number of MPs about why they believe in individual choice,
and to ask them any pressing questions you may have.
The evening will focus on freedom of choice and the belief that adults
should be free to weigh pleasure and risk and decide for themselves
when it comes to products such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, alcohol,
and fatty or sugary foods. You can read more about the evening here.
If you want to attend, you will need to RSVP by emailing
email@example.com. This event will be held in parliament, and the
details of the Committee Room will be sent to people who sign up. We
have a limited capacity, so you are encouraged to RSVP soon.
In the spirit of freedom of choice, and in true Conservatives for
Liberty style, there will be drinks after the event in a nearby pub.
Further details and updates can be found on our Facebook event here.
Ben is a writer, editor and Brexit campaigner. He advocates a counter-revolution to achieve the restoration of constitutional liberty and national independence. He blogs at The Sceptic Isle. Follow him on Twitter: @TheScepticIsle
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty