R&D propound a "neo-Aristotelian version of perfectionist ethics" that is "objective, inclusive, individualized, agent-relative, self-directed, and social." Of these properties, they latch upon self-direction as both a means to and an essential constitutive part of human flourishing. "Self-direction is a feature of every act of flourishing." (332) There is simply no substitute for it. An other-directed person, however seemingly contented, is not himself happy. Perhaps they'd approve of the following description:
Within the hegemonic societal body and as far as it directs its subordinates' conduct, only the director acts.
The wards act only in choosing subordination; having once chosen subordination they no longer act for themselves, they are taken care of. (HA, 196)
A person who is "taken care of" is not flourishing, because he has no self which is to flourish.
Self-direction for R&D is exercise of practical reason to secure flourishing for oneself or loved ones; not necessarily correct or flawless or successful such exercise.
The chief and only for them aim of the political system is to provide a framework in which self-direction is possible. Perhaps it is better to say not that the political order must "allow" for the possibility of flourishing, but that it must maximize it. Then the choice of liberalism as precisely such a system becomes more defensible. It is obviously impossible to prevent a man completely from planning his own actions. Every system thus permits some amount of self-direction, but only liberalism presumably maximizes it. Every non-liberal regime then diminishes opportunities for self-direction. It curtails or infringes upon the people's use of their practical reason in one way or another.
This formulation allows us to evaluate alternatives to liberalism.
R&D's only example of such is crude paternalism by the state over the consumers, say, by banning or taxing tobacco products. Who dares to be "saving us from ourselves"? I agree that this is verboten on their theory, and this is a welcome result. But there are others.
First, consider socialism. It obviously reduces the scope of self-direction by preventing people from planning and executing their business activities. Thus, in the heyday of socialism, liberals would point out that the issue was not "planning" production; it's who plans: only the dictator or every individual? Socialism would have it that "mankind is to be divided into two classes: the almighty dictator, on the one hand, and the underlings who are to be reduced to the status of mere pawns in his plans and cogs in his machinery, on the other." (HA, 113) Such a society is hardly an embodiment of self-direction.
Take further the government regulation of private business. In order to satisfy the consumers, an entrepreneur must possess mighty prudence and enviable courage. A business is a creative endeavor. Obeying minute, meaningless, and counterproductive rules is the opposite of that; it's the essence of being directed by bureaucrats rather than by oneself. The scope of self-direction is to that extent narrowed.
Self-direction must be so important to flourishing, because it is directed toward benefits to oneself (or again, those one loves who then become as if other selves to him). But taxes recruit one into serving the state. One has no choice but to work 5 months per year for the government and only 7 month for himself. Self-direction still exists but its purpose is defeated.
A free man has the most extensive liberty in planning his own virtue and narrow happiness. He is encouraged by this fact to exercise his practical reason at all times, thereby becoming eventually, well, practically wise. That character traits, too, is a key part of being morally good. Non-liberal systems, on the other hand, as Herbert Spencer put it, by shielding men from the effects of folly, fill the world with fools. Thus, liberalism allows for the possibility of self-direction in every area of life; anti-liberal regimes deny that possibility in some or even many areas, ending with socialist prison nations.
In sum, if the government simply outlaws coercion, then it increases the areas of life where self-direction is possible; if it goes beyond that, then it shrinks those areas.
The contrast between classical liberals and R&D can be put thusly. A person concerned with narrow happiness will say: "Liberalism is a system that cradles a constantly improving economy, and among all the possible types of economies that also improve, liberalism improves the fastest." But B&R argue: "Important though narrow happiness is, our concern is different, it is with virtue." Therefore, in my terms:
- for nature and natural rights, my duties are for the sake of others;
- for virtue, character, and composition of the self, both my duties and my freedoms are for my own sake;
- for narrow happiness, my freedom is for the sake of others.
(Thus, regarding (3), Mises points out that "ownership of the means of production is not a privilege, but a social liability. Capitalists and landowners are compelled to employ their property for the best possible satisfaction of the consumers. If they are slow and inept in the performance of their duties, they are penalized by losses." (HA, 321))
The recognition of (2), that my freedom is essential for my self-direction which is essential for my self-perfection is an important and perhaps neglected argument in the liberal / libertarian political philosophy. The authors are to be commended for developing it so well.