All Commentary
Tuesday, October 1, 1996

Taking Responsibility: Self-Reliance and the Accountable Life

Capitalism Will Survive Only in a Culture of Self-Responsibility

Mr. Madden is an instructor in communication at Mt. Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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 sets forth a sound approach to this critical issue. While much of what Branden says will be familiar to readers of his previous 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, demonstrating its self-contradictory nature and what happens when politics and law fail to reject this erroneous principle.

In Chapter 3, Self-Reliance and Social Metaphysics, Branden explores the 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 obedient to authority, some seek 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, advocates the idea that we are not entitled 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. Avoiding the initiation of force and respecting individual rights provide the moral foundation of mutual respect, goodwill, and benevolence that are the hallmarks of a free and decent society.

The recent emphasis on downsizing and corporate restructuring makes Chapter 7, Accountability in Organizations, timely. Here Branden explains that fostering self-responsibility in a company must begin at the top of the organizational ladder. But employees should also work to better the company, not simply do the minimum to get by. 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 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 survive only in a culture of self-responsibility.