"Responsibility" is a favorite buzzword on the current political scene. Yet even many conservatives have a faulty notion of what the concept actually entails. In his latest book, psychologist Nathaniel Branden seeks to illuminate and explain the proper approach to this critical issue. While much of what he says will be familiar to previous readers of his books, this volume may bring these ideas to the attention of a wider audience and, perhaps, focus debate on the implications of fully accepting self-responsibility.
For Freeman regulars, chapters 2 through 4 and 7 and 8 may be of most interest. In those sections, Branden deals more directly with political and economic issues.
Chapter 2, "Freedom and Responsibility" shows what does and does not fall within one's realm of personal responsibility and what can occur when that boundary is breached. Branden also touches on Marxist determinism, demonstrates its self-contradictory nature, and considers the implications for politics and law of failing to reject this erroneous principle.
In Chapter 3, "Self-Reliance and Social Metaphysics," Branden explores the various ways in which people come to rely on the judgments of other people rather than their own independent thoughts. While many of these individuals are distressingly obediant to authority, some seek to gain power over others in vain attempts to substitute control over others for the self-control they lack. The most egregious examples of such "social metaphysicians" have been the dictators who have plagued us throughout this century.
Chapter 4, "A Self-Responsible Life" enforces the idea that "we are not entitiled to treat other human beings as means to our ends, just as we are not means to their ends." Branden notes that "ours was the first government ever to recognize and affirm the inalienable rights of the individual. It upholds...the idea that the individual belongs not to the state or the nation or the society, but to him- or herself. The life, liberty, and happiness that one is guaranteed the freedom to pursue are one's own." Avoiding the initiation of force and respecting individual rights provide "the moral foundation of mutual respect, goodwill, and benevolence among human beings" that are the hallmarks of a free and decent society.
The recent emphasis on down-sizing and corporate restructuring makes Chapter 7, "Accountability in Organizations" even more timely. Here Branden explains that fostering self-responsibility in a company must begin at the top of the organizational ladder. Yet even granting that, employees should work to better the company, not simply do the minimum to get by. Too often, individuals engage in the corporate equivalent of avoiding pain rather than seeking happiness. When a difficulty occurs, workers should take it upon themselves to solve the problem and not just ensure no one blames them.
Finally, Chapter 8, "A Culture of Accountability," recognizes the fact that we must demonstrate self-responsibility ourselves and require it from others if we want to halt the slide into victimhood gripping our nation. In all aspects of our lives, we must teach consequences, i.e., causes and effects, if we hope to raise a generation able to accept and handle the challenges freedom presents. Capitalism will only survive in a culture of self-responsibility. Since in this economic system "rewards (are) tied to production not to extortion; to ability, not to brutality; to the capacity for furthering life, not to that for inflicting death," it is unsurprising that government-by-pressure-group has led to unfortunate and unpleasant increases in polarization, anger, cynicism, violence, and crime.
Self-responsibility "is not an onerous burden but a source of joy and personal power." When that sentiment becomes the norm rather than the exception, we will be well on the way to curing the malaise afflicting our society. Until that time, however, books such as this will remain useful weapons in our fight for freedom.