Who should determine the course of our lives? There is no shortage of people who aim to control others, imposing their will and restricting choice through the force of government. A new book edited by Dr. Tom G. Palmer, Atlas Network’s executive vice president for international programs, explains how choosing personal responsibility allows us to regain control over our own lives. Self-Control or State Control? You Decide features essays by experts who delve into the relationship between freedom and responsibility, their philosophical and scientific underpinnings, and the practical value of self-control.

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“Each of us faces a great choice,” Palmer writes in the first chapter. “Shall I quietly accept the system of state control or shall I stand up for self-control? Self-control offers a life of freedom and responsibility. It enables us to realize our dignity in peace and harmony with others. It is a life worthy of a human being. It’s the foundation for prosperity and progress. State control offers a life of obedience, subservience, and fear. It promotes the war of all against all in the struggle for the power to control the lives of others. Self-control is a clear and simple principle applicable to all: every person gets one and only one life to live. State control has no clear and simple principle and invites conflict as individuals and groups struggle to control the state, and thus each other, or to evade control by others.”

Palmer’s opening framing of the problem is followed by contributions from many other notable thinkers, including New York Times science writer John Tierney, who explains the interplay between brain chemistry and willpower; DKT Liberty Project Policy Analyst Lisa Conyers, who shows how a pervasive welfare system keeps people trapped in a cycle of dependency; Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, who demonstrates why drug prohibition is a harmful policy, no matter whether consumers are rational or irrational; Northwestern University economist Lynne Kiesling, who illustrates how property rights foster environmental stewardship; poet and literary expert Sarah Skwire, who provides a history of protest literature in defense of individual autonomy; British economist Philip Booth and historian Stephen Davies, who use well documented histories from the United Kingdom to show how regulation can be produced without state power or intervention;  and Swedish analyst Nima Sanandaji, who demonstrates that social trust is not produced by the welfare state, but precedes it, and how that trust is undermined by welfare statism.

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In the concluding chapters of Self-Control or State Control, Palmer explores the relationship between individuals and their communities throughout history and across world cultures in a survey that shows how freedom and responsibility have emerged together.

In the final chapter, on “Increasing and Improving Your Own Self-Control,” he writes, “We have the metaphysical freedom to shape our own lives, to become the people we want to become. Doing so takes work, even struggle. Achieving greater self-control yields benefits not only in better lives, but also in greater ability to struggle for our freedom as legal equals in free societies. Greater self-control is something we can acquire, something we can integrate into our lives, something we can learn.”

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