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Political philosophers have explored the relationship between economic liberty and human flourishing for centuries, and this relationship continues to play an important role in political debates today. At an AEI event on Tuesday, political philosophy scholars emphasized that it is first necessary to understand the nature of human flourishing itself, which they explored through the perspectives of great thinkers in Western civilization.
Harvey Mansfield of Harvard University explained how for Aristotle, a flourishing life meant happiness, or the enjoyment of using what you have. Aristotle believed that economics and the freedom to participate in economic and political life provided a road to virtue, which is the core of happiness. Yet, emphasized Mansfield, according to Aristotle, economic liberty itself was not a singular or even necessary precept for individual flourishing.
Ryan Patrick Hanley of Marquette University then discussed how Adam Smith viewed economic liberty as a way to allow the poor to flourish, which was a precondition for a happy society in Smith's view. Because capitalism allows for the decentralization of economic power, Smith believed that capitalism promotes flourishing in society.
Steven Bilakovics showed how, in a way, Alexis de Tocqueville's philosophy synthesizes the views of Smith and Aristotle. Much like Aristotle, Tocqueville emphasized the benefits of political liberty and participation in promoting individual and societal well-being. But, concluded Bilakovics, Tocqueville understood and admired the way American economic liberty promoted individual flourishing, especially as it democratized economic power.
Is economic liberty necessary for human flourishing? While is widely accepted that human flourishing requires political liberty, the role of economic liberty has received comparatively little attention. Some writers and thinkers believe that political liberty is paramount; others have argued that economic liberty surpasses political liberty in its importance to human flourishing. What is the case for the importance of economic liberty?
Join us at AEI to explore this question through the perspectives of the greatest thinkers in Western civilization -- Aristotle, the writers of the Scottish Enlightenment, and Alexis de Tocqueville -- and to understand why their insights matter for public policy discussions today. The panel will feature leading contemporary scholars of political philosophy, and a wine and cheese reception will follow the discussion.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.
Michael R. Strain, AEI
Steve Bilakovics, Christopher Newport University
Ryan Patrick Hanley, Marquette University
Harvey C. Mansfield, Harvard University
Stan Veuger, AEI
Wine and Cheese Reception
For more information, please contact Emma Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.862.5862.
For media inquiries, please contact MediaServices@aei.org, 202.862.5829.
Steven Bilakovics is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Study of Liberal Arts and Free Institutions and the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of “Democracy without Politics” (Harvard University Press, 2012), which draws on Alexis de Tocqueville, among others, to expose the democratic sources of political cynicism. He is currently working on his next book, “Exploring the American Dream,” which analyzes the dream’s cross-cutting dimensions of individual liberty, moral community, and material prosperity. Bilakovics has previously taught at Harvard University, the University of Pittsburgh, Yale University, and Christopher Newport University.
Ryan Patrick Hanley is an associate professor of political science at Marquette University. Before coming to Marquette, he was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University's Whitney Humanities Center. His research in the history of political philosophy focuses on the Scottish Enlightenment. He is the author of “Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue” (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and coeditor, with Darrin M. McMahon, of “The Enlightenment: Critical Concepts in History” (Routledge, 2010). Hanley is also the editor of the Penguin Classics edition of Adam Smith's “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (2010), the editor of the forthcoming “Adam Smith: A Princeton Guide” (Princeton University Press), and current president of the International Adam Smith Society. His recent articles have appeared or are forthcoming in American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, Political Theory, the European Journal of Political Theory, Review of Politics, History of Political Thought, and the Journal of the History of Philosophy, among others. He is also the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arête Initiative, and is currently studying love and wisdom in Enlightenment moral and political philosophy.
Harvey C. Mansfield is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Niccolò Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism, and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Alexis de Tocqueville's “Democracy in America.” His 2007 book “Manliness” (Yale University Press) was a New York Times bestseller. He was chairman of Harvard’s government department from 1973–77, has held Guggenheim and National Endowment for Humanities fellowships, and has been a fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from former president George W. Bush. He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.
Michael R. Strain is a research fellow at AEI. His academic research papers and policy papers study labor economics, applied microeconomics, and public finance. His work has appeared in the Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking; Tax Notes; and National Review, among other publications. Before joining AEI, he was the manager of the New York Census Research Data Center and an economist with the Center for Economic Studies at the US Census Bureau. Previously, he was a member of the research group of Census's Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Program and worked in the macroeconomics research group at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Stan Veuger is an economist at AEI. His research focuses on the intersection of economic and political behavior. In particular, he has researched voter behavior, political activism, banking supervision, and policy uncertainty. At AEI, Veuger is concentrating on the impact of the Tea Party movement, on the relationship between job losses and economic policy uncertainty, and on the design of various social insurance programs.