Front Page Titles (by Subject) Nature and Liberty - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3
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Nature and Liberty - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3 
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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Nature and Liberty
“Political Philosophy and the Issues of Politics.” A Harry Girvetz Memorial Lecture on the Bicentennial of The Wealth of Nations, 19 February 1976, University of California, Santa Barbara.
The bicentennial of The Wealth of Nations (1776) prompts us to reflect upon the basic moral objections to a commercial liberal society. Related issues are the nature of liberty, determinism, self-interest, and nature vs. forms of convention, all of which arise from moral reflections on “capitalism.”
To begin with, Marx's pejorative label of “capitalism” ought to be replaced by Adam Smith's own description, “a system of natural liberty.” Next, this system of natural liberty proves to be either a tautology or a paradox. It may be a tautology since persons in the state of nature simply are at liberty; it may be a paradox since natural liberty can mean a movement toward liberty or nature from the present society and thus imply the dissolution of society itself.
We may strive to extricate Smith from the grips of this dilemma. To achieve this, it is well to contrast “doing what one desires” with the notion of “self-legislation.” These two concepts are actually incompatible. The latter concept, taken in its Kantian sense, would imply that one is a slave to one's passions and thus not at liberty at all.
Moreover, Smith mirrors modern man's peculiar moral predicament, namely, that since nature is a deterministic mechanism, whatever is natural must be determined. A social system which is natural (and thus deterministic) would therefore not seem to be a system of liberty at all. Smith does seem to interpret nature in this mechanistic fashion: man is a passive object moved by the forces of nature.
Smith's project was to find a way to extricate man from this slavery. He does so by viewing nature in an expanded sense, that is, not man's nature but nature as a whole. From this perspective nature appears as an ordered system; thus if men are left to nature's hand, they are moved, as if by an invisible hand to order as well. Man's natural egoism generates social harmony, for egoism is coupled with what Smith termed “sympathy.” Smith understands sympathy in its technical sense of “com-passion” rather than mere kindliness. Sympathy applies to all sentiments whether they be gentle or angry, and is linked to man's powerful need of approbation.
Man's concern for his own survival as well as his need of approbation gives birth to morality and virtue. Nature thus prods us in the direction of harmony, sociability, and other values applicable to all men. Accordingly, Smith is the fountainhead of modern moral naturalism. Smith speaks as the advocate of the natural as against the conventional; however, it is modern natural science that determines the natural.
In Adam Smith's usage, the term “liberty” is restricted to social and political contexts. The more cosmic issue of freedom in mechanistic nature is not an issue for Smith. He reasoned that if nature is all there is then there cannot be anything else to which man is in bondage. Man is neither free nor unfree with respect to nature as a whole. Liberty and bondage are terms appropriate only in political contexts.