The Role of Competition in a Liberal Society (1979)

  • Ernst Joachim Mestmäcker
Conference paper
Part of the Studies in Economic Ethics and Philosophy book series (SEEP)


A liberal polity, or — as Kant put it — the civil state, should be based on the liberty of individuals as human beings, on their equality as subjects and on their independence as Citizens1. Concern for liberty does not signify, however, state care for happiness; equality before the law does not mean equality of estate and wealth; independence does not mean rising above dependent labour. There exist these economic differences, which arise from the guarantee of civil rights and from the equality of opportunity ensured by them, on which the debate about the theoretical and political legitimacy of liberal principles was kindled. The social processes which generate the distinctions of wealth, of property and of influence are characterised by competition, rivalry and conflicts. It is not a matter here of unforeseen side-effects, of abuses or of degeneration; it is much more the competition for prestige and honour, influence and power, prosperity and riches that are regarded as necessary consequences arising from the natural inclinations of human beings. The love of self2, the amour-propre that draws parallels and the antisocial gregariousness of mankind3, Man’s constant and insatiable striving for power, ending only with death4, are viewed as the anthropological causes of the universal antagonism in society, of the struggle of all against all, ergo: the competition. Therefore the debates about the feasibility and the boundaries of liberal societies can be reduced to being debates about competition.


Civil Society Economic Freedom Competition Policy Liberal Society Resale Price Maintenance 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin • Heidelberg 1998

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  • Ernst Joachim Mestmäcker

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