Is a Free Society Stable?

Brad Miner | July 12, 2023

The title for this column is borrowed from a nearly 5,000-word essay by Milton Friedman (1912-2006) that appeared in a 1981 issue of The New Individualist Review. (I’m not, by the way, a new individualist; I’m an old Catholic.)

Friedman wrote: “Only during short intervals in man’s recorded history has there been anything approaching what we would call a free society in existence over any appreciable part of the globe.” That much is evident. But Friedman adds this chilling note: “the rare episodes of freedom are themselves by their nature transitory, so that the kind of society we all of us believe in is highly unlikely to be maintained, even if once attained.”

It’s hard not to see this prophetic statement as now being fulfilled.

Attacks on the free society are now coming at a furious rate, surely to an extent unlike any other period in American history. At various times, there have been protests about war, economics, and injustices of various kinds. But opposition to, say, the Vietnam War, or intractable poverty, or racism always sought to reawaken America’s foundational principles. The intent was reform, not revolution.

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