12. Individual Freedom And Individual Responsibility
From The Australian Achievement: From Bondage To Freedom by LJM Cooray

The importance of the concept and personality of the individual is crucial in the evolution of the western democratic order. The importance and the role of the individual has been analysed above. See sections 4 and 5.

Supporters of law and order as well as the socialists and marxists have a fear of unrestrained individualism. The former emphasise the importance of the basic criminal law as the means of avoiding anarchy. Socialists and Marxists have a fear of the market and are antagonistic to ethics and the common law. They put into place ever increasing government controls which are directed primarily against owners of property (companies and individuals). These have the inevitable effect of increasing taxation, reducing the area of individual action, limiting consumer choice and creating a new serfdom based on the power and authority of politicians and bureaucrats; subject to influence from unrepresentative pressure groups of various types.

The fear of unrestrained individualism is a real one. The interventionist answer, as experience demonstrates vividly to those who are willing to look at the consequences, is ever increasing and counter-productive regulationism. Classical liberal thinkers and libertarians do not address the issue of unrestrained individualism except to base their faith on consumer sovereignty. They also argue that the imperfect market in the vast majority of cases is unquestionably superior to the imperfect bureaucrat.

The evolved western democratic order has provided its own answers based on a system of checks and balances. There are two major restraining forces. They are (i) the constitution and law, the roles and functions of which are analysed above (see sections 17 and 18); and (ii) the existence of values and institutions derived from religion and morality, which restrain the individual and provide a balance between individual freedom and individual responsibility (see particularly sections 8-11).

The individualism of the western democratic order is one which seeks to free the individual from the suffocating embraces of government and at the same time to emphasise the importance of individual responsibility. An individual has to draw on his own resources in the great game of life, subject to a safety net placed by government for the genuinely poor and disabled.

The importance of the individual in this context is summarised by Margaret Thatcher who (unlike many liberal politicians in Australia) is unafraid to voice these sentiments. These sentiments have brought her a great deal of abuse from the media, politicians and educationists but her commonsense has been recognised by the British people, who thrice elected her Prime Minister. (Quoted in Patrick Cosgrave, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister, London (1979) pp 215-216, 191).

... You have continually to assert that people have a moral responsibility which they must accept. Moral in the widest sense of the term. Moral responsibility for their own actions. We must exorcise the idea that if you do something wrong it is not your fault but the fault of society around.
... The encouragement of variety and individual choice, the provision of fair incentives and rewards for skill and hard work, the maintenance of effective barriers against the excessive power of the state, and a belief in the wide distribution of individual private property ... they are certainly what I am trying to defend.
Let our children grow tall (and some grow taller than others), if they have it in them to do so. We must build a society in which each citizen can develop his full potential, both for his own benefit and for the community as a whole: in which originality, skill, energy and thrift are rewarded; in which we encourage, rather than restrict the variety and richness of human nature.
... It is not my job, nor the job of any politician to offer people salvation. It is part of my political faith that people must save themselves. Many of our troubles are due to the fact that our people turn to politicians for everything.

Freedom, subject to law and individual responsibility, is basic to the Western Democratic Order.