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Liberty and the Progress of the Human Condition: July 2014

Directed by Reed Watson

Why do some societies succeed and others fail? How should we understand failure or success within civilizations? How do markets and the environment interact? These are enduring questions with direct implications for our understanding of liberty.

The works of Christopher Dawson and Matt Ridley stand out as distinctive approaches to these questions. The former offers a very powerful view of the roles of faith and culture as defining characteristics of a civilization. The latter puts forward a sophisticated analysis that targets the role of trade and exchange for innovation and growth. Both Dawson and Ridley’s views face the newer challenge of environmental and geographical theories of the growth and failure of civilizations. Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, cites environmental disaster and the resulting societal decisions as the cause of decline, but has he ignored the role institutions and culture may play in halting such decline? Readings in this conference also consider writings by Adam Smith, Francis Fukuyama, Eric Jones, and Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw’s claims for guarded optimism based on markets. Together, the texts raise essential questions about the individual, his continuing progress, and the nature of liberty. All authors offer reasons for hope as well as pessimism. Which of the theories about the progress and decline of the human condition is most hopeful for freedom and why? Where are the most pressing challenges to civilization?

The participants for this program will be alumni of PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute, an intense, two-week educational experience in Bozeman, Montana for environmental entrepreneurs who seek a better understanding of how business and economic principles can be applied to environmental problems.


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