Personal responsibility is the idea that human beings choose, instigate, or otherwise cause their own actions. A corollary idea is that because we cause our actions, we can be held morally accountable or legally liable. Personal responsibility can be contrasted to the idea that human actions are caused by conditions beyond the agent's control. Since the late 19th-century, personal responsibility has become increasingly associated with political conservatism and libertarianism. More recently, personal responsibility has been associated with the reform of social welfare programs (e.g. in the Personal Responsibility and Welfare Reform Act of 1996). The earliest known English use of the phrase is by Massachusetts Rep. Nathaniel Gorham at the U.S. Constitutional Convention on July 18, 1787.
- The ingenuity of man is coterminous with his cupidity. Out of the claptrap of law came the confusion-confounding device of corporate ownership. Thereby a man-made person, utterly soulless and therefore without moral identity, nevertheless serves to absorb the personal responsibility of moral beings. That this contraption prospers by virtue of an imperialistic venture must be sheer accident; for, surely, one cannot associate the stock holding widow with the exploitation of some worker in Iran or India. Nor can the directors be individually charged with moral turpitude, since they act only in a collective capacity and everybody knows that a collectivity is without moral responsibility. In Russia the cartel, or trust, has attained beatification by way of “common ownership,” thus absolving all and sundry, especially the commissars, from conscious complicity in the exploitation of Finnish miners or Polish peasants. If “everybody” is an imperialist, nobody is.
- Frank Chodorov, Fugitive Essays (1947).
- Social power resides in every individual. Just as you put personal responsibility on political behavior, so must you assume personal responsibility for social behavior. It is your own job. You think poorly of legislator Brown not because he has violated a tenet of the Tax Reform Society to which you belong, but because his voting for a tax levy is in your own estimation an act of robbery. It is not a peace society which passes judgment on the war maker, it is the individual pacifist. All values are personal. The good society you envision by the decline of the state is a society of which you are an integral part; your campaign is therefore your own obligation.
- Frank Chodorov, Fugitive Essays (1946).
- Public bodies feel no personal responsibility, and give full play to intrigue and cabal.
- Massachusetts Rep. Nathaniel Gorham, U.S. Constitutional Convention, July 18, 1787
- What does it mean to live esthetically, and what does it mean to live ethically? The esthetic in a person is that by which he spontaneously and immediately is what he is; the ethical is that by which he becomes what he becomes.
- Soren Kierkegaard Either/Or Part II, Hong p. 178
- In a spiritual sense that by which a person gives birth is the formative striving of the will and that is within a person’s own power. What are you afraid of then? After all, you are not supposed to give birth to another human being; you are supposed to give birth only to yourself. And yet I am fully aware that there is an earnestness about this that shakes the entire soul; to become conscious in one’s eternal validity is a moment that is more significant than everything else in the world.
- Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or Part II Hong P. 206
- There is only one thing I do not want to fail to stress, that as soon as the ethical person’s gymnastics become an imaginary construction he has ceased to live ethically. All such imaginary constructing is equivalent to sophistry in the realm of knowledge.
- Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or Part II Hong P. 253
- Freedom brings men rudely and directly face to face with their own personal responsibility for their own free actions.
- Frank Meyer, In Defense of Freedom (1962)
- “What a man does by another, he does by himself is a maxim.”
- The Framers did not pioneer the concept of man as a personally responsible agent. That notion, arguably the greatest of all Western ideas, dates to line 32 of Homer’s Odyssey, where Zeus asks people to stop blaming their bad choices on the gods.
- The conservatism I grew up around was a combination of lower taxes, less government spending, freer trade, freer markets, individual liberty, personal responsibility and a strong anti-Communist foreign policy.
- Andrew Sullivan, The Conservative Soul (2006)
- To liberals and leftists, the message would be equally blunt. In particular, your insistent, almost pathological, fear of understanding the importance of personal responsibility astonishes us. … [W]hat makes us one nation morally is an insistence on a set of values capacious enough to be inclusive but demanding enough to uphold standards of personal responsibility.
- Alan Wolfe, One Nation, After All (1998).
- There is no means by which anyone can evade his personal responsibility. Whoever neglects to examine to the best of his abilities all the problems involved voluntarily surrenders his birthright to a self-appointed elite of supermen. In such vital matters blind reliance upon “experts” and uncritical acceptance of popular catchwords and prejudices is tantamount to the abandonment of self-determination and to yielding to other people’s domination. As conditions are today, nothing can be more important to every intelligent man than economics. His own fate and that of his progeny is at stake.
- Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (1949)