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Carl Jung and Lord Acton on the delicate fruit of liberty

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Lord Acton famously wrote that “liberty is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization.”

Liberty, Acton argued was rare and required constant attention to be maintained.  As many have noted, one of the challenges with political liberty is that it creates the conditions for its own demise from within. Whether this comes from decadence and abuse of liberty to revolutionaries within liberal society, or more likely some combination of both.

One would not normally associate the writings of Carl Jung with those of Lord Acton yet Jung addresses the delicacy of liberty in the opening chapter of his book, The Undiscovered Self.  To be clear, I don’t suggest that one look to Jung for the best guidance to lead one’s life.  There are better sources, but this paragraph is worth considering.  Jung writes:

Everywhere in the west there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly intelligent mentally stable stratum of the population. One should not however overestimate the thickness of this stratum. It varies from country to country in accordance with national temperament. Also is its regionally dependent on public education and is subject to the influence of acutely  disturbing factors of a political and economic nature.

Optimistically, Jung thought this would include about 40% of the electorate.  However, he continues,

A rather more pessimistic view would not be unjustified either, since the gift of reason and critical reflection is not of man’s outstanding peculiarities, and even where it exists it proves to be wavering and inconstant, the more so, as a rule the bigger the political groups are. The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.

Liberty is indeed the “delicate fruit of a mature civilization.”  And from Obergefell and the transgender movement to political propaganda on both sides we are succumbing to a fit of weakness, immaturity, and a crisis of critical reason.

 

 

Michael Matheson Miller

Michael Matheson Miller is a Senior Research Fellow at the Acton Institute