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All civilizations must strike a balance between individual autonomy (that is, the amount of freedom an individual can have) and the common good.

 

Sigmund Freud wrote an important book (one of the most important in the twentieth century), Civilization and Its Discontents, in which he argued that that conflict (between self and society) is the chief source of unhappiness and neurosis. In the modern political world, this conflict is typified by the argument between libertarians on the one side and liberals and conservatives on the other. Libertarians believe (as John Stuart Mill did) that as long as an individual’s actions do not interfere with the another person’s rights, society should not restrict that individual’s actions—even if those actions are harmful to that individual himself. Liberals and conservatives both subscribe to the idea that some individual actions can and should be restricted or prohibited sometimes for the good of the individual and for the larger society—even if the individual’s actions do not immediately cause others harm.
Write an argument in which you defend either the libertarian or the liberal/conservative positions regarding the conflict between the individual and the society using two to three works we have studied in this course. Questions to consider: are there wholly individual actions that have negative social ramifications? how do you balance the needs of society and the individual? what good can society derive from a libertarian culture? what good can individuals gain from a liberal/conservative culture?
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