Is a high degree of responsibility necessary for the people to live in freedom? Do the people have to be responsible, honest, and hard-working—in a word, virtuous—before they can handle freedom? It can be a chicken-and-egg argument, certainly. Do the people lose their virtue and then lose their liberty? Or, do they gradually lose their liberty and then lose their virtue, in proportion? The cause and effect is important, because it provides a clue about how best to restore freedom. If the former, then the people must be taught virtue again, presumably by the State. But this approach is hopeless and absurd. Or, the people might somehow be drawn again to religion and absorb the moral teachings therein.
To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.
In any case, if the people lose their virtue and then lose their freedom, there would need to be a moral revival before we could return to freedom. But if the people lose their liberty and then their virtue, the approach is more straightforward: set them free. When people are free to face the full consequences of making poor or immoral choices; when sloth, greed, envy, lying, cheating, stealing, unreliability, and broken promises have real social and economic consequences, they will be induced to become more virtuous. When the State penalizes saving and investment, when it taxes incomes and wealth away, and when it provides unearned benefits for free, it not only discourages positive, productive behavior, it rewards bad character at the same time. It subsidizes bad behavior.
To reward responsibility and penalize irresponsibility, we don’t need a moral revival first. Just set everyone free. Let people make mistakes, let them live by their own choices. Let them learn, let them experiment, let them cooperate. Wards of the State are not self-reliant, competent, independent individuals. In freedom, individuals build good character. In freedom, relationships are strengthened; societies become more virtuous. Harry Browne wrote an article on this topic that addresses the issue quite well.