Front Page Titles (by Subject) Social Determinism and Objective Values - Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2
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Social Determinism and Objective Values - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Social Determinism and Objective Values
“Godwin, Oakeshott, and Mrs. Bloomer.” Journal of the History of Ideas 34 (1974): 611–624.
The Victorian era's rational dress movement illustrates how the social reformer can sanely evaluate or criticize society's institutions and also escape being passively molded by society.
Michael Oakeshott attacks in his writings such “institution-haters” as William Godwin (1756–1838, author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice) and prefers to regard the individual as deriving his reality primarily from social institutions. Curiously, Oakeshott's defense of institutions closely resembles Godwin's attack on them. Both authors worry about conceptual Procrustes' Beds—the blinkering and distorting effects of preconceptions that are floating abstractions not concretely anchored in personal experience. Both authors also resemble cultural determinists: men are molded by society, especially by political institutions. On the one hand, Godwin rebels against political institutions' authority which infantilizes the individual's autonomy and independent moral conscience. On the other hand, Oakeshott piously venerates the way that, traditions and social institutions fashion the individual's personality and beliefs.
As an “institution-lover” Oakeshott, in Rationalism in Politics (1962), seeks to invalidate individualist social reformers who distrust institutions, by citing the alleged blindness of the rational dress movement and its eponymous heroine, Mrs. Amelia Jenks Bloomer. Oakeshott maintains that rationalist reformers (such as Godwin or the creators of bloomers or knickerbockers) must fail because their abstract ideology blinds them to the nature of the social institution they seek to reform. Such reformers, purportedly, also are unconscious of how social institutions subtly influence their own thoughts and desires. Oakeshott would have us believe that the rational dress reformers cavalierly disregarded the complex folklore and social purposes of feminine dress in an exclusive preoccupation with making a costume suitable for women riding bicycles.
However, the history of the Rational Dress Society and the actual motives in designing such women's clothes as bloomers reveal not simplemindedness but complex considerations (including modesty, fashion, functionalism, warmth, hygiene, comfort, economy, and esthetics).
No one disputes that society and institutions can subtly influence us. The real issue is what should individuals do when society places contradictory demands upon us. Women were expected by society to perform household chores, but the same society imposed a cumbersome costume to impede such chores. If society imposes conflicting demands on individuals, how is a person to determine society's real direction and desires? More fundamentally, even if individuals know the true and stable direction of society, why should they obey it if such direction does not satisfy their individual desires and happiness?
Even if society molds an individual's purposes and desires, why should it be irrational to judge society and its institutions by their ability to make individuals happy? Why should not a creature judge his creator? It seems a pointless design for society to create individual aspirations only to thwart them. Individual happiness can serve as a sensible standard for judging social institutions. In reforming such institutions (dress or the state) we can still consult complex purposes rather than remain simplemindedly fixated on one aspect.
In sum, the rational social reformer can choose an independent and objective standpoint for evaluating society. The rational dress example does not demonstrate that the only course is to drift with the deterministic flow of society. Individuals can objectively examine and choose social values.