A False Anthropological Dichotomy

Not long ago I examined an article by Patrick J. Deneen concerning the intellectual divide between American Catholics. If you will recall, Deenen divides American Catholics into a pro-America/liberal camp and an anti-America/illiberal or “radical” camp. At the heart of this divide, so they say (I will challenge this below) is an alleged conflict of “anthropologies”; it appears to be common currency on the illiberal side of the debate. Liberals – and to be clear, we’re talking about classical liberals for the most part – supposedly hold to an anthropological view that is self-centered and individualistic. Worse yet, in this view, human beings are allegedly driven primarily by fear and greed (when they aren’t gratifying their basest urges). All of this contemporary classical liberals are alleged to hold as demonstrated irrevocably by the laws of microeconomics and the sophisticated and often indecipherable mathematical models of neoclassical economists. Dig a bit deeper and the whole rotten anti-Christian edifice can be traced back to John Locke, whose “possessive individualism” birthed the demon-spawns of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson and gave us the American commercial republic.

The reality, of course, is quite different. The fundamental value of classical liberalism is not “individualism”, but liberty. But the nature of liberty is such that only individuals can exercise it, for the human race is not a hive mind; each human being possesses his or her own intellect and will and is, barring some defect, responsible for the decisions they make. Metaphysical libertarianism, which is the position that human beings have free will, is a foundational assumption of Christianity (and indeed of any ethical system that presupposes human beings can make moral choices). It is also the foundational moral and methodological assumption of classical liberal sociology, political theory and economics. People are free by nature, and cannot be studied as if they were not free. And because we are free by nature, we are gravely harmed if we are unnecessarily restricted in our liberty by other men, including and especially governments.

The very word “liberty” is often sour in the mouths of anti-capitalists, however. Just look around you, they might say; look where all of this libertarian rhetoric has gotten us. And yet classical liberals will be the first in line to decry the false liberty that can only be attained through a confiscatory welfare regime and an over-regulated economy. Classical liberals did not invent the Great Society or the Life of Julia, the great means by which the government subsidizes and sustains the destruction of the traditional family. We did not invent the Federal Reserve System, which is directly responsible for the reckless behavior of the large banks and corporations. We advocate a system of genuine liberty, in which the only support one can obtain is that which someone else is willing to provide them. No massive subsidies for degenerate behavior. No endless money supply for banks to gamble with, no bailouts for companies that can’t meet a legitimate demand somewhere in the marketplace. It is unbelievable that anti-capitalist and pro-capitalist Catholics could denounce the same horrible policies and results and yet be on such completely different political pages.

I have come to the conclusion that the real reason for this divergence is not different anthropologies. The anthropological fact of human liberty does have has moral implications, however. The anti-capitalist, especially when Catholic, usually does not deny the mere fact of human liberty or free will but is nonetheless often tempted by the prospect of saving men from themselves and will not hesitate to advocate for coercive policies to try and bring this about (I emphasize try, since such policies often fail). Ban unhealthy food, regulate drugs, run Wal-Mart out of town, get rid of advertising – the people are so empty and so vacuous that they can’t be trusted to deal with these things!

Classical liberals on the other hand do not desire to let people alone out of sheer indifference, but rather because it is in our view, and in the light of free will, an affront to human dignity to force someone to become something that they don’t wish to be no matter how good it might be for them objectively. Persuasion is as far as we are willing to go, and only for so long as we will be heard. As a slightly secondary matter, force rarely works in the manner intended. People do not fall into line like so many rows of virtuous toy soldiers; instead they turn to black markets run by criminal elements or simply leave for greener, freer pastures.

Another sharp dividing line is between classical liberal consequentialism and anti-capitalist deontology. As good economists, classical liberals are always looking for the costs and consequences of a proposed course of action. These costs are often hidden and serious enough to merit finding. Anti-capitalists will often insist upon courses of action that they believe to be moral in themselves, and consider the consequences as a secondary matter if at all. The hidden costs are often lost upon them or irrelevant. And yet in my view, it is immoral to fail to fully consider costs and consequences. To pursue a policy that sounds and feels morally right, perhaps because it is based upon a sacrosanct moral principle, without regard to the potential negative side effects is recklessness. As the possibility for unintended harm remains neglected, the pursuit of moral ends becomes immoral. Libertarians who rigidly adhere to the non-aggression principle sometimes face similar dilemmas.

All of the talk about “false anthropology” is really a smokescreen for an alternative economic system that, when taken to its logical implications, is authoritarian, irrational and undesirable. My dream is that we can put all of this nonsense aside and focus on what we mutually agree to be a moral obscenity; the sick and bloated Leviathan that subsidizes and promotes selfish vices and the Federal Reserve System that finances the whole thing. If anything has warped human behavior, it has been this system, which creates incentives for reckless and irresponsible behavior from the bottom rungs of society all the way to the very top. The absurd caricature of “homo economicus” that anti-capitalists have created was never proposed by any classical liberal philosopher let alone held up as an ideal human being, but the policies of the politically-correct welfare tyranny that has arisen in our midst have created a truly Hobbseian struggle of each against all at every level of society. Junkies and single mothers fight for welfare and public housing while CEOs and bankers fight for subsidies, bailouts, and regulations that harm their competitors. The jungle that government was supposed to rescue us from, it created; the society it was supposed to create, it destroyed. No one understood this development better than those evil, wicked, selfish classical liberals of the 19th century.

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28 Responses to A False Anthropological Dichotomy

  • For some reason I cannot share this on Facebook . . . no button.

  • “But the nature of liberty is such that only individuals can exercise it…”

    That is just what Lord Acton denied. Of the liberal parliamentary democracy of his own day, he argues that “It condemns, as a State within the State, every inner group and community, class or corporation, administering its own affairs; and, by proclaiming the abolition of privileges, it emancipates the subjects of every such authority in order to transfer them exclusively to its own. It recognises liberty only in the individual, because it is only in the individual that liberty can be separated from authority, and the right of conditional obedience deprived of the security of a limited command.” Thus, “Under its sway, therefore, every man may profess his own religion more or less freely; but his religion is not free to administer its own laws. In other words, religious profession is free, but Church government is controlled. And where ecclesiastical authority is restricted, religious liberty is virtually denied.”

    In the temporal sphere, too, the Tudor despotism was made possible by the destruction of the old territorial nobility in the Wars of the Roses; Henry VIII could send More and Fisher to the scaffold. Charles V could not send John of Saxony or the Margrave of Hesse or the burghers of the Free Cities to the scaffold. Their “conditional obedience” was secured by “a limited command,” the authority they exercised in their own domains and in the loyalty of their dependants. A state that can neither protect nor punish cannot oppress.

  • This is the reason so-called social sciences are not sciences.

    In a real science, the hypothesis is defined. Experiments and/or tests are run to prove or disprove the hypothesis. If the tests fail, scientists recognize it. They don’t resort to hysterics.

    Quoted at Cafe Hayek: From page 168 of the 5th edition (1966) of Karl Popper’s 1945 study, “The Open Society and Its Enemies”:

    “Aestheticism and radicalism must lead us to jettison reason, and to replace it by a desperate hope for political miracles. This irrational attitude which springs from intoxication with dreams of a beautiful world is what I call Romanticism. It may seek its heavenly city in the past or in the future; it may preach ‘back to nature’ or ‘forward to a world of love and beauty’; but its appeal is always to our emotions rather than to reason. Even with the best intentions of making heaven on earth it only succeeds in making it a hell – that hell which man alone prepares for his fellow-men.”

    Liberals/progressives substitute emotions for data, facts, meaning, truth. They have no decency and will viciously attack you. The lying dung beetles lack the smallest iota of moral or intellectual authority. Just tell it to them. Then, ask, “What evidence do you have?” “Compared to what?” And ask ”How much will it cost? They find it all highly traumatic.

    Central planning by credentialed geniuses who know better than we the people.

    Collectivists

    Command economy

    Group think

    Hive mentality

    The Borg

    Resistance is futile!

  • We did not invent the Federal Reserve System, which is directly responsible for the reckless behavior of the large banks and corporations.

    [rolls eyes]

    All of the talk about “false anthropology” is really a smokescreen for an alternative economic system that, when taken to its logical implications, is authoritarian, irrational and undesirable.

    Shuffling through his bibliography, I will wager that Deneen’s mind shuffles through verbiage derived from intellectual history and philosophy and ‘social theory’ and the man would not know an ‘alternative economic system’ from tiddlywinks. A great deal of this sort of talk (on the part of practitioners august and scruffy) seems to default either to efforts to distinguish the speaker from people he fancies vulgar or to distinguish the speaker from agents (e.g. insurance companies) he has elected to scapegoat.

  • Bonchamps,

    While I am broadly sympathetic to your position, I don’t think you are being fair or treating Dennen’s concerns carefully. For example, you say:

    “Classical liberals on the other hand do not desire to let people alone out of sheer indifference, but rather because it is in our view, and in the light of free will, an affront to human dignity to force someone to become something that they don’t wish to be no matter how good it might be for them objectively. Persuasion is as far as we are willing to go, and only for so long as we will be heard. As a slightly secondary matter, force rarely works in the manner intended. People do not fall into line like so many rows of virtuous toy soldiers; instead they turn to black markets run by criminal elements or simply leave for greener, freer pastures.”

    The problem with this is that there are certain goods and services that are not ethically and morally neutral — it is positively evil for society to allow pornography and prostitution (to use two classic examples) to flourish because providing these good and services are evil acts in and of themselves. Yes, I know I’m now bringing in the dreaded “anti-capitalist deontology” — but as Catholics we have to — we cannot do evil so that good may come of it, period. We must oppose evil whenever and wherever we find it. So the State should never be ‘neutral’ about the selling of certain goods and services and therefore some market regulation will always be necessary.

    I think pointing to liberty as a guide can be helpful, but the Church’s notion of the common good is probably better — this makes our work more difficult because we are then left with case by case prudential decisions and for some communities it might serve the common good to ban Walmart (e.g. a place that wants to retain a certain ‘small-town character’ including little shops that can’t compete with a big Walmart), in others it will only limit consumer options and economic growth and people value those goods more than the small-town character. But ignoring the common good for individual liberty is not always wise and doesn’t always give us a government that knows how to govern well.

  • The problem with this is that there are certain goods and services that are not ethically and morally neutral — it is positively evil for society to allow pornography and prostitution

    So, Deneen is arguing with the Libertarian Party and the Reason Foundation. What’s that got to do with the rest of us?

  • Jeffrey S.,

    No one told St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas that legal prostitution was a positive evil that cannot be done for some greater good. Both men advocated exactly that, for exactly that reason.

    “We must oppose evil whenever and wherever we find it.”

    If by “we” you mean us, as individuals, choosing to oppose evil with virtue, yes, I agree. If by “we” you mean the state, then you are arguing for totalitarian government, because men are fallen and evil is everywhere. I prefer the classical approach, which ironically enough developed in the pre-capitalist world. Men will always seek out illicit sex, and there is nothing we can do about it.

    “But ignoring the common good for individual liberty is not always wise and doesn’t always give us a government that knows how to govern well.”

    We can govern ourselves, by and large, because we are free beings with the use of reason. I’m not an anarchist, but I would shrink government down to Grover Norquist levels.

  • here’s a reminder: Pope John Paull II on the US Constitution and Freedom

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2013/09/17/pope-john-paull-ii-on-the-us-constitution-and-freedom/

    freedom gives us the opportunity to do good–

  • Thank you, Anzlyne: “freedom gives us the opportunity to do good–”
    .
    Need I say more?

  • The notion that Conservatives have been traditionally hostile to state interference is not borne out by history, as Tocqueville notes in his speech of 12 September 1848 to the National Assembly: “And finally, gentlemen, liberty. There is one thing which strikes me above all. It is that the Ancien Régime, which doubtless differed in many respects from that system of government which the socialists call for (and we must realize this) was, in its political philosophy, far less distant from socialism than we had believed. It is far closer to that system than we. The The notion that Conservatives have been traditionally hostile to state interference is not borne out by history, as Tocqueville notes in his speech of 12 September 1848 to the National Assembly: “And finally, gentlemen, liberty. There is one thing which strikes me above all. It is that the Ancien Régime, which doubtless differed in many respects from that system of government which the socialists call for (and we must realize this) was, in its political philosophy, far less distant from socialism than we had believed. It is far closer to that system than we. The Ancien Régime, in fact, held that wisdom lay only in the State and that the citizens were weak and feeble beings who must forever be guided by the hand, for fear they harm themselves. It held that it was necessary to obstruct, thwart, restrain individual freedom, that to secure an abundance of material goods it was imperative to regiment industry and impede free competition. The Ancien Régime believed, on this point, exactly as the socialists of today do. It was the French Revolution which denied this.”
    In France, in Austria, In Russia, in Prussia, in Spain, the “Throne and Altar” Conservatives were all notably dirigiste in their economic views.

  • MPS,

    1. Concision is a virtue.

    -

    2. Early modern economic regulations in France were what they were. What precise bearing does that have on latter-day conflicts over political economy in the United States?

  • The notion that Conservatives have been traditionally hostile to state interference is not borne out by history[.]
    That would be why Bonchamps used the term “classical liberal.”

  • Bonchamps,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. While it might seem the height of folly to disagree with two of the finest minds in all of Western thought, with all due respect, Saints Augustine and Aquinas are just wrong about legal prostitution. Utilitarian ethics are always going to lead you to hell (e.g. abortion — “but the woman isn’t ready to have a baby at 18 and her life will be so much better if she can just abort”). But putting that argument aside, I notice you ignored my comment about pornography, which is a tendency of defenders of “liberty”, tout court. Obviously, even in wild and crazy free-market America it is possible to envision state regulations that govern restrictions on the market that support a more virtuous culture (think back on the 50s).

    Perhaps, like “Art Deco” you would support certain state regulations of the market. As I said before, I’m actually sympathetic to small, limited government of the Grover Norquist style — I just think that philosophically we need to be careful when we defend small, limited government using the concept of “liberty”. The older American (Puritan) tradition was “ordered liberty”, which had the sense that liberty always entailed social responsibilities (and limits) because “man is not an island” and we are part of families and communities and owe duties to each. This is all part and parcel of Catholic social thought, so I’m sure you agree — just as the idea of subsidiarity (I think) can support a robust federalism and limited, small government in the U.S.

  • “What precise bearing does that have on latter-day conflicts over political economy in the United States?”

    Conservatives, starting with Plautus in 195 BC have always recognised the maxim, “Homo homini lupus” – Man is a wolf to his fellow man. The mass of the people may, indeed, be “weak and feeble beings,” but some few are not and they will form packs to prey on the rest.

    As Turgot saw, “If the supreme power is needlessly limited, the secondary powers will run riot and oppress. Its supremacy will bear no check.” Moreover, “Men who seek only the general good must wound every distinct and separate interest of class,” so no effective government can be the creature of the many. “The problem is to enlighten the ruler, not to restrain him; and one man is more easily enlightened than many.”

    I fancy “Illiberal Catholics,” like their Continental Throne & Altar counterparts, recognise this.

  • Jeffrey S. wrote, “Saints Augustine and Aquinas are just wrong about legal prostitution”
    They may have been wrong on the particular issue, but they recognised an important distinction.
    Similarly, Portalis, one of the commissioners that drew up the Code Napoléon and a Catholic, who had suffered for his faith during the Revolution says, “Christianity, which speaks only to the conscience, guides by grace the little number of the elect to salvation; the law restrains by force the unruly passions of wicked men, in the interests of l’ordre public [public order/public policy]” By way of illustration, he points out that Christianity forbids divorce, whilst the Mosaic law (which was the civil law of the Jewish commonwealth) permitted it.
    Likewise, the new Penal Code, proposed by Louis Michel le Peletier, Marquis de Saint-Fargeau (promulgated September 26 – October 6, 1791) abolished, without a debate, the crimes of blasphemy, sodomy and witchcraft [le blasphème, la sodomie et la sorcellerie] along with other “offences against religion.” They had a good precedent in the Roman jurisprudence: “deorum injuriae diis curae” – Injuries against the gods are the gods’ concern.

  • “The problem is to enlighten the ruler, not to restrain him; and one man is more easily enlightened than many.”
    I fancy “Illiberal Catholics,” like their Continental Throne & Altar counterparts, recognise this.

    Can any earthly prince be so enlightened as to command and control the market?

  • Ernst Schreiber asks, “Can any earthly prince be so enlightened as to command and control the market?”

    No, but he can intervene in it, as he deems appropriate.

  • ” [H]e can intervene in it, as he deems appropriate.”

    That’s the rub now, is it not? Deeming when it’s appropriate to intervene, and when it’s best to stay hands-off?

    And I’m not speaking about easy distinctions, like prostitution, I mean hard ones, like minimum wage laws.

  • Conservatives, starting with Plautus in 195 BC have always recognised the maxim,

    You’re already off the rails here.

    Perhaps, like “Art Deco” you would support certain state regulations of the market.

    I do not think you can carry on economic activity more sophisticated than what you see at a farmers’ market without a body of corporation law, debtor and creditor law, commercial law, and contract law. You need to delineate property ownership and adjudicate disputes concerning ownership and tenure, hence a body of estate law, real property law, and personal property law. Any society needs answers to the question of the degree to which and the circumstances under which a magistrate can coerce a person; answers to those questions inform both the penal code and labor law.

  • Jeffrey,
    .
    “with all due respect, Saints Augustine and Aquinas are just wrong about legal prostitution.”
    .
    I’m not one of these rad-trads who thinks that Aquinas is infallible. I do think that their view on the matter demonstrates that we are not morally obliged to outlaw every immoral act. I think their view was realistic and rational. Look at the way it played out historically; prostitution was more or less legal in certain medieval cities but confined to designated areas of town. I don’t mind the interference of local zoning laws for the sake of public order. Families and children have rights too.
    .
    “Utilitarian ethics are always going to lead you to hell (e.g. abortion — “but the woman isn’t ready to have a baby at 18 and her life will be so much better if she can just abort”).”
    .
    I don’t advocate utilitarian ethics. I think utilitarian considerations have an important place in moral calculations, though. In the case of abortion, we are dealing with the fundamental natural right to life. Utilitarian considerations should not enter the picture; rights are fundamental, personal utility is not. Utility is something properly considered within the broad parameters of fundamental rights, not something that ought to override them.
    .
    “But putting that argument aside, I notice you ignored my comment about pornography, which is a tendency of defenders of “liberty”, tout court. Obviously, even in wild and crazy free-market America it is possible to envision state regulations that govern restrictions on the market that support a more virtuous culture (think back on the 50s).”
    .
    Even our amoral Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutionally acceptable to censor hardcore pornography. It’s an issue I would be happy to leave to the 10th amendment, just like prostitution, and advocate for its ban within my state. The problem we face now is the Internet. It’s barely worth discussing; there is next to nothing we can do about it. You can get all of the magazines off the store shelves, you can close down strip clubs, adult shops and disreputable theaters, but there’s a massive world of filth and degeneracy just a few clicks away. This means we have to confront vice the old fashioned way – by converting people.
    .
    “Perhaps, like “Art Deco” you would support certain state regulations of the market.”
    .
    I do agree with his last post. Corporate law, contract law, etc. are all necessary, there have to be ways to settle disputes, etc. I don’t really consider these “regulations”, though. They don’t impose burdens on the free market for the sake of some do-gooder’s subjective idea of what is best for other people; they help the market function.
    .
    “As I said before, I’m actually sympathetic to small, limited government of the Grover Norquist style — I just think that philosophically we need to be careful when we defend small, limited government using the concept of “liberty”. The older American (Puritan) tradition was “ordered liberty”, which had the sense that liberty always entailed social responsibilities (and limits) because “man is not an island” and we are part of families and communities and owe duties to each. This is all part and parcel of Catholic social thought, so I’m sure you agree — just as the idea of subsidiarity (I think) can support a robust federalism and limited, small government in the U.S.”
    .
    Sure, nothing disagreeable there. I just don’t believe that people can be saved from themselves, or that it is moral to even attempt such a thing.

  • Any society needs answers to the question of the degree to which and the circumstances under which a magistrate can coerce a person; answers to those questions inform both the penal code and labor law.

    Quite right — which is why invoking “liberty” to settle such questions isn’t good enough. We need to look to other sources of wisdom, including Catholic morality/social teaching and/or the natural moral law to help us guide decisions about how best to serve the common good. We must weigh competing claims on the body politic (personal property rights versus other moral goods, like defending the weak or protecting public morals). As I’ve said before (this makes three times), I often think many of these goals can be achieved via local, private civic institutions and when the government needs to step in I prefer local, smaller units of government as outlined in our original Constitution. I’m a State’s rights, 10th Amendment guy who generally favors small government — but again, the question is always how we defend these institutions.

  • They don’t impose burdens on the free market for the sake of some do-gooder’s subjective idea of what is best for other people; they help the market function.

    I will let the lawyers’ here offer their piece. I suspect you can find moral and ethical notions incorporated within commercial law, bankruptcy law, and contract law.

  • I agree that prostitution should be illegal, but do regard the decision as requiring a prudential analysis even though prostitution is intrinsically evil always. It is folly to place in the hands of the state the putative ideal that all evils should be criminalized. The evil accomplished by any attempted execution of such a principle would be appalling. Indeed, this is the only rational defense of the pro-choice position — that the wrong of abortion is compounded by state intrusions upon personal privacy — a view that simply cannot withstand honest scrutiny. That said, I am of the view that all laws are essentially prudential in nature, meaning that it requires judgment and discernment to determine which evils should be criminalized and implicate state enforcement. Some are easy calls, such as abortion and other murders; others are more difficult such as pornography; and still others are easy for different reasons, such as remarriage after divorce. Of course, laws reflect culture and vice versa, and sometimes laws can be prescriptive for a culture rather than just describing its embedded norms. Presumably the healthier the culture the greater its ability enact and enforce laws in complete alignment with natural law, but we will always be assessing degrees given man’s fallen nature. I do think prostitution should be illegal, but that does not mean Aquinas and Augustine were wrong. Much depends on the era and its culture, and that even includes enforcement ability and tactics. Those who advocate a system of laws that is coextensive with morality, as opposed to being simply informed by morality, will lead us to a Hell on earth.

  • AD,

    I’m not suggesting that business law is devoid of ethics. A system that protects against force and fraud is an ethical system. A system designed to save people from themselves at the expense of others – what Sumner decried as A and B taking from C to give to X – claims to be ethical but is really a tyranny.

  • “Utility is something properly considered within the broad parameters of fundamental rights, not something that ought to override them.”

    Well said.

    “The problem we face now is the Internet. It’s barely worth discussing; there is next to nothing we can do about it.”

    I’m going to agree to disagree. Technology provides problems and solutions. Take filtering software — seems reasonable to install in public places like libraries. But libraries object because of ‘First Amendment’ worries. Nonsense — public morality should take precedence.

    “It is folly to place in the hands of the state the putative ideal that all evils should be criminalized.” [this was Mike's comment]

    I agree — I suspect that ultimately I only disagree with Bonchamps (and maybe others on this comment thread) over the use of some rhetoric and over some prudential considerations about where to draw the line over state action. Unlike Bonchamps, I do believe that at times the state can help people “save them from themselves”, or at least make it easier for parents and communities to create an environment in which the human person can flourish. I’m basically talking about a return to the public morality of the 1950s — not the Middle-Ages.

  • “Likewise, the new Penal Code, proposed by Louis Michel le Peletier, Marquis de Saint-Fargeau (promulgated September 26 – October 6, 1791) abolished, without a debate, the crimes of blasphemy, sodomy and witchcraft [le blasphème, la sodomie et la sorcellerie] along with other “offences against religion.” They had a good precedent in the Roman jurisprudence: “deorum injuriae diis curae” – Injuries against the gods are the gods’ concern.” Injuries against the gods are the gods’ concern.”
    .
    “Injuries against the gods are scandals and seduction of infant, un-emancipated and minor citizens, and contrary to the general welfare and the common good; public policy. If the children learn to blaspheme God, what will they do to their parents? If the children learn to cast evil spells or deny the human soul through sodomy, how will they come to recognize their immortal soul? How will they come to see beauty and know the truth when all they have seen is ugly? How will they come to realize their innocence and Justice after it has been erased from their memory? It is contrary to human nature and human rights.
    .
    Is that why there are so many zombie films on TV?

  • Art Deco wrote, “I will let the lawyers’ here offer their piece. I suspect you can find moral and ethical notions incorporated within commercial law, bankruptcy law, and contract law…”

    Iuris praecepta sunt haec: honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere, says Ulpian in the Digest { Dig.1.1.10.1 Ulpianus 1 reg] – These are the precepts of the law: to live uprightly, not to harm another, to give to each his own.

    Contract law is replete with the notion of good faith and there are remedies aplenty for fraud, accident, mistake and breach of confidence. Bankruptcy is all about a fair sharing of limited resources between creditors and, in Europe at least, protection of the vulnerable, by giving priority for arrears of wages.

    The law of delict is based on the obligation of the wrongdoer to make reparation. Property law, too, often has to adjudicate between the owner deprived of possession by some rogue and the bona fide possessor.

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