Sunday, December 25, 2005

Students Need No Special Protection

Tibor R. Machan

David Horowitz, the radical-turned-conservative think tank leader and campus activist, has been making a lot of waves regarding the overwhelming “liberal” bias in university classrooms across the country. He has proposed the drafting of an “Academic Bill of Rights” that, as The New York Times reports, “he says would encourage free debate and protect students against discrimination for expressing their political beliefs.”

The Times was reporting on this in connection with an ongoing inquiry into class room liberal bias in Pennsylvania where some students have protested classroom proselytization by their teachers, especially ones teaching classes that have nothing to do with the issues on which the teachers pontificate. (In particular, an Air Force veteran complained that her physics teacher injected anti-Bush comments in his lectures!)

OK, so, yes, there is a lot of this going on across the nation’s college and university campuses, not to mention in elementary and high schools where teachers routinely advocate environmentalist and other doctrines to really vulnerable captive audiences. I also recall that when I was at New York University, earning my Masters of Arts degree, my professor teaching the philosophy of language (during the Vietnam War) would routinely taunt us with sample sentences such as “LBJ is a murderer.” And given that I was taking mainly courses in the humanities from my undergraduate all the way through to my PhD program, I came across outright preaching by ideologically motivated professors in class after class.

Later when I began teaching I had some fruitful discussions with certain Marxist colleagues (at UCSB) who told me in no uncertain terms that they see it as their revolutionary duty to “teach” students about how oppressive American bourgeois society really is, so as to counter the widespread myth that students are actually faced with genuine choices in this society. They made no excuses for this—the revolution requires vigilance and they were in a good position, as university professors, to lend a hand.

It is difficult for me to imagine any time in human history that many teachers didn’t use their classrooms as a platform from which to preach their ideas. Back in Hungary, when I was in elementary school, the new crop of Soviet-backed “teachers” did this all the time. We were being indoctrinated with Marxist slogans—I recall when one was presenting to us the great merits of the idea, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” (Whereupon I came up with a counterexample that led to my expulsion and reassignment to technical school.)

So, although I am committed to the ideal of liberal education and keep my own lectures as free as I can of my own political orientation—even though I teach political philosophy, ethics, business ethics routinely—I do not believe that students need a great deal of protection against those who try to convert schools at any levels into indoctrination centers. The Marxists in Hungary failed miserably in indoctrinating us, as did the NYU professor, and for a rather simple reason: Students aren’t dummies, not at least those who pay attention. (The others tend to pick up very little anyway.)

It is not all that difficult to spot someone who is corrupting the educational process. The very fact that complaints are being filed attests to this. And once you know what’s going on, I say, “You are an adult, you drive cars, vote, so learn to cope with it. It will provide an additional benefit of your educational experience, since throughout your life—in innumerable circumstances—you will face similar situations in which you will have to act prudently.” I, personally, have never found it very oppressive when a professor took advantage of his or her position and used it to peddle a political agenda. One needs to learn from this, not protest what is nearly unavoidable.

In the end the best remedy against the transformation of classrooms into bully pulpits is to take education away from the government and subject it to the volatile intellectual, ideological and political competition of the free market. Anything else is but a band-aid measure and may even discourage people from being vigilant about resisting indoctrination.

Recently my daughter encountered a professor in a class who intimidated her students by stating that she is ashamed of living in America where Bush is president. (And she wasn’t even an American citizen.) When my daughter told me about this, although I was annoyed I also thought to myself, “Good, this will teach her not to think that educators are free of—while only Enron executives are susceptible to—corruption.”
Monopoly Blues

Tibor R. Machan

In my little community in Silverado, CA, there is a tiny post office where we pick up our mail each weekday. There is no delivery—and, of course, no alternative for first class mail. The two or three people who work there are, unfortunately, quite often absent. I have no idea whether illness or something else keeps reducing their number but more often than not, recently the mail doesn’t get distributed until late in the afternoon. The USPS tells me they have to have the mail out at least by 5 PM but until about six months ago it used to be in our boxes by 10:30 AM or even earlier.

OK, so there is more mail these days, especially during Xmas, but here is how that should play out. The post office should either hire more people so the mail gets out earlier or an alternative mail service should move into the region, offering competing first class delivery service.

But, of course, this is illegal. Competition in first class mail delivery is against the law, never mind demand. And in consequence the post office can keep being later and later with its mail distribution and does not have to hire any extra postal help since no one’s about to come in and take the business from them whatever the economic circumstances.

Perhaps you think this is nothing to fret about. One should be glad just to have postal service, never mind efficiency. But, of course, for some folks the way things are is a burden because of the monopoly of the USPS. I live reasonably close to the little post office but some folks have to drive many miles, including from neighboring canyons, just to check whether their mail is out. Many residents here try to coordinate their trips out of the canyon so they wouldn’t need to waste gas and time driving around all day. The mail often brings us checks we want to deposit and most of us would like to coordinate this with other errands outside the canyon, like shopping. (The closest grocery store is 10 miles away and while many people find this agreeable, they would find it even more agreeable if their mail arrived earlier.)

This is but one of the relatively innocuous results of the postal first class mail monopoly. Other monopolies are far more insidious. Take the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority which was recently struck by the public service union to which all who work for it belong. When in a free market place a strike occurs, people often have other vendors from whom they can receive service. There is usually competition, so that if Chrysler’s autoworkers go on strike, there is Ford, Toyota, Chevrolet and other car makers who are still in business. Of course, sometimes the unions combine and call a strike against all the car or steel makers, although in a free market this could be resisted by the combination of the auto firms in various ways which today is against the law. (In other words, while labor unions may collude, private companies are forbidden to do so! That’s how the anti-trust laws work.)

There are many other instances of economic inefficiency and other maladies caused by government supported monopolies—just think of how elementary and high schools, as well as a great many colleges and universities, are monopolistic by coercing support from taxpayers for themselves, thus restricting other educational options for their clients. (Private schools aren’t allowed to expropriate their operating expenses!)

All in all, these unnatural monopolies—as distinct form the natural ones that exist simply because they have managed to outdo competitors in their line of business—impose serious burdens on many of us. But they are now so entrenched that hardly anyone even discusses breaking them up. The last time a serious change was made was when Ma Bell was broken up and even then the result wasn’t quite what a free market would produce.

Just why the American public is mostly passive about the numerous government protected or operated monopolies is a mystery to me—one reason might be is that the government schools do not explain in their economics classes just how unnecessary and unjust such monopolies are, seeing that the schools themselves are a case in point. But perhaps with some voices making a bit of noise about the situation others will catch on and in time we can get a system in which my little post office would either shape up or find itself competing with an alternative first class mail delivery agency.
Critics of the Halfway Free Society

Tibor R. Machan

Most of us who champion a certain political system concern ourselves mainly with showing why its full implementation would be best. Few people argue for a halfway house—socialists, libertarians, welfare statists, and so forth all tend to find their system of political economy to be sound when it is in full bloom.

Yet hardly anyone expects a full blown actualization of the theory he or she has conceived as the best. This is because we are all aware that millions of people make up a society and there is a great deal of disagreement among them as to what is the best kind of human community. Although whatever system one defends, one will make the case that it is indeed right for everyone, that will not suffice since many will no be convinced and will continue to support others.

Libertarians, too, tend to recognize that although the libertarian alternative would be the best framework for human community life, the most they can expect is something less than a fully free society. This does not deter them for aiming for it but it does moderate their expectations. So the question does arise, which of the many halfway houses gives us the best and most free society we can reasonably expect. Some people have even developed elaborate theories about the “second best” alternative.

It’s clear, I think, that the more freedom—by which I mean the more extensive respect and protection of individual rights to life, liberty, and property—exists, the better a society is for general human inhabitation. Some other system may advance some narrow objectives better—for example, one will probably find that the military virtues are better served by a Spartan society. (North Korea comes to mind in our own times.) But such societies ill serve human nature and eventually show it by the one dimensionality of human excellence evident in them.

Yet even without full freedom for all, arguably a society that has considerable free trade, significant levels of civil liberties, substantial respect for property rights, and so forth is better off, more decent and just, than one where these are seriously and widely curtailed. This, I believe, explains why over the last two hundred years, despite its many—and certain severe—shortcomings, the United States of America has been more successful as a human community than have virtually all other countries throughout the globe. Economically, artistically, scientifically, and on numerous other fronts the creativity and productivity and general satisfactoriness of the USA has be difficult to dispute, even as there are numerous shortcomings that can also be observed there. And most know this well implicitly, at least.

In consequence, also, those who champion alternatives to the substantially or fully free society have focused their criticism mostly on the USA. It is natural that they would wish to deny even the halfway success of America as a suitable human community, arguing that its values, its achievements have somehow been artificial—that the happiness that many do attain there really doesn’t amount to true happiness, that the measure of freedom the citizenry enjoy is not real freedom, that the prosperity attained is mere shallow materialism, etc.

If these points were not constantly reiterated, the idea toward which American institutions point—namely, that greater individual liberty for all would be best—might become accepted and even greater progress might be made toward what the critics find so undesirable.

This, I think, explains, in part, why there is so much and such intense anti-Americanism afoot around the world and even right here at home. The critics seem to realize that America needs to be denigrated on all fronts, in nearly every respect. Its literature, its movies, its schools, its culture, its job market—you name it, and the critics will target the place relentlessly, all the time even giving the impression that throughout the world there are innumerable better places for human beings than America. (The extreme of this is manifest by how willing the Left is to overlook some of the most blatant violations of its very own professed values—equality of the sexes, alleviation of poverty, educational opportunity, religious liberty—in places such as most of the Arab world, just so as not to give even an inch to America’s achievements.)

Some consider the ultimate motivation to be envy but I beg to differ. It is more reasonable, I think, to see the basic source of anti-Americanism—which is to say, anti-freedom for human individuals—to be misanthropy, a fundamental dislike for human beings as they actually are. It explains why Marx’s most important and influential promise to the world was the New Man and why, earlier, Plato hailed the impossible ideal of Socrates' Republic.

Perhaps understanding this will equip us better to repel the ill-founded criticism and focus more and more on improving the very institutions the critics find so repulsive, namely, institutions that extend individual liberty on all fronts.
Being Helpful isn’t Always Best

Tibor R. Machan

Now and then when one shops or patronizes some establishment, one receives favors from clerks or servers and this is usually quite welcome. Indeed, it is often believed that what makes people decent is how willing they are to be benevolent toward others. The late W. D. Falk, a philosophers at the University of North Carolina, wrote about this phenomenon, explaining how it distorts our understanding of what it is to be ethical. Focusing only on the nice things people do for others gives the impression that altruism is the true morality, but this is quite misguided.

Many people who are helpful to others, say, in a store or restaurant, actually are neglecting what they should be doing, namely, work for those who hired them. That is why they were employed, that is the promise they made when they were hired, so to renege on it amounts to breaking one’s word, failing to live up to a promise. Employees are not supposed to be doing kind things for customers over and above acting civilly and being personable, which facilitates business. Professionally they are committed to such conduct for purposes of enhancing the economic well being of those who hired them.

Imagine if when you went to a doctor whose services you pay for (sometimes through insurance but often also up front) he or she didn’t pay attention to you but kept getting on the phone and helping some friend or relative. This would be a serious lapse in the doctor’s professional ethics. Anyone who extends an invitation to people to become his or her clients is, if the invitation is accepted, committed to work for those clients. Being nice to others at these clients’ expense is the farthest thing from being decent and kind. Whatever the motivation, the actual conduct is ethically objectionable.

Also, if one is always being nice to other people while neglecting one’s projects—including attending to the needs of one’s family and friends—this may seem a good thing but it isn’t. Indeed, it may well be done so as to gain brownie points, to “win friends.” But that can take one away from more important but less public tasks. The altruist is doing something nice for someone but often fails to do something nice to those, including himself, he should take care of first. Just like that clerk who gives a customer a special break while failing to work for those who have employed him, the altruist can seem like he is doing such fine things while, when it is all computed, turns out to be hurting those who deserve it least.

Altruism is widely hailed as such a noble ethical stance but this is doubtful. As the poet W. H. Auden once quipped, “We are here on earth to do good for others. What the others are here for, I don't know.” The ethical altruist is in fact part of a daisy chain of self-denial the ultimate goal of which is difficult to fathom—if we all must renounce, what of those whom we serve instead? Do they, too, have to renounce? Who is justified in collecting all the goods given away?

But even more seriously, altruism rests on the dubious idea that by nature we are all cruel and self-indulgent and are naturally self-regarding, so we need to be taught that others matter more than we do. It’s kind of an antidote to natural egotism. Yet, in fact, most folks are very far from self-regarding and quite often botch up their lives which could use a lot more care than they give it. Especially since they tend to know a lot more about their own needs and wants, it would be best if all who can would attend to their own interests first.

But because most of us tend to pay attention to other people to the extent that they are benefiting us, we tend to praise this other-directed conduct on their part and forget that there is an entire life for them to attend to which they may not be doing so well. Instead of bending over backwards to be nice to others, we could probably do much better in life by paying more attention to what we need and should want first.
Federal Judge Dictates Content of Biology Course

Tibor R. Machan

Here you have it, the result of government education: Academic freedom is dead—a federal judge decided what Pennsylvania teachers may teach in biology classes.

As MSNBC reports, “The Dover [PA] Area School Board violated the Constitution when it ordered that its biology curriculum must include ‘intelligent design,’ the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled.” No, I do not believe Intelligent Design makes sense—you need to have a brain to design anything intelligently or otherwise, and since Intelligent Design is supposed to have created brains, the idea is viciously circular.

But never mind. It certainly shouldn’t be judges who make the decision what gets taught in class rooms. Sadly, in government educational institutions it has come to this, that a federal judge dictates the content of a biology course. Where is the principle of academic freedom here? Where is the principle of freedom of speech and expression?

Well, nowhere since elementary, high school, and much of higher education is controlled by the government in this free country. And when government controls something, the rules that apply are those that govern government. These rules are what the constitution states and the courts interpret. So, instead of schools governing themselves, having the sovereignty they must enjoy in a free country, they are bound by the laws of government. And since the government is forbidden to advocate religious doctrines, government schools, too, are so forbidden. Never mind what the administrators, teachers, and parents want.

Notice, in a private college the feds cannot barge in with these rules. Sure, many may disagree with what such schools consider proper educational fare but that’s the nature of freedom of education—no one may enforce his or her way of teaching students for all others. So, in a genuinely private school Intelligent or Unintelligent or Haphazard or whatever design could be taught in biology courses and it would then be up to the parents to decide if this is the kind of biology they want their children to be taught.

This is how the free press works: journalism is no less a definite profession and journalists are ethically bound to report news and voice opinions in certain ways, yet in this vital element of a free society no federal judge has any authority to tell journalists what they may or may not present to their customers. It is a matter of free competition, not a matter of government dictation.

The confidence shown in such a system amounts to no less than accepting the customers as having the capacity to make a determination whether they are receiving proper professional services. Some will accept tabloid “news,” or yellow journalism, or highly partisan reporting, or deceptive opinions—and some will go for the genuine stuff.

That’s exactly how it should be in education. But no. Embarrassingly enough, in this so called free country judges can tell teachers how they must teach. Which is scandalous. Yes, it was an early mistake of some American citizens and officials to nationalize education, to give it “free” to children (that is, to provide it at other people’s expense) and to make it even compulsory (that is, coerce kids into the system or something comparable). It should never have happened. Unfortunately, many of America’s early citizens were still quite un-surefooted about the reach freedom should have in their country. They even allowed taxation, a feudal device if there ever was one, to persist for funding legal services.

Sadly, with this contradiction in the country’s devotion to liberty—and of course some even more drastic ones, such as slavery—it is no great wonder that millions of Americans have no clear grasp of what a truly free society amounts to. So they invite more and more government into their lives, so much so that by now George III of England, who was shown the door by the colonists, would find the system quite conducive to his tastes if not actually be offended by its many breaches of human liberty he himself didn’t much like back then.

Not until we separate education and government, as we do the press and church, will there be civility about how our kids are to be taught and will federal judges be kept out of classrooms.
Iraqi Blogger Misguided about Occupation

Tibor R. Machan

The December 18, 2005, New York Times featured some Iraqi bloggers commenting on their recent election. No enthusiastic samples were selected by The Time—naturally, since the editors there probably don’t like what has transpired—but some of them were revealing about how ill-educated certaikn Iraqis are. Here is one of the featured entries:

" Will the new government be stronger or more reliable than the several interim governments we've had? Not likely. A government won't be respected unless it is perceived as sovereign by the people, and occupation in itself goes against every suggestion of sovereignty and democracy. How does one put faith in a government that needs the use of foreign armies to keep it in power?"

I lived in Munich Germany in the early 1950s when the US was the occupying force there, much more deeply entrenched than the US is in Iraq and for a very long time. Indeed, some of the elements of American occupation are still evident throughout Germany.

Why was Germany occupied? In large measure because the country and the US had been at war and the US won and was very concerned that Germany might not accept its defeat. Moreover, many American officials believed that for Germany to recover from the effects of Hitler’s war, it needed American forces—influence, example, and money—in that country for a while.

I am sure there were some other reasons, maybe even dubious ones, underlying the policy of occupation. But there is little question that there were some very good reasons for it, under the circumstances. Moreover, judging by my own experience of living among both Germans and Americans in Munich for three years, the occupation was quite peaceful, although there were plenty of disturbing incidents involving American soldiers as well as German citizens not very happy about the situation.
All in all the US occupation was very different from the Soviet occupation of Hungary, for example, which I also experienced first hand.

So, there is little doubt in my mind that given the vicious war the Germans waged against several countries and the final solution they were carrying out against Jews and others, the occupation was not some vicious deed perpetrated by the Americans. (I do know some folks in America who would probably make such a claim and I, both as someone with a reasonably
decent historical awareness and my personal familiarity with many who supported Hitler, find it incredible for any sane person to side with the Hitler bunch in any respect whatsoever.)

Now what if anything does this have to do with Iraq and the
sentiments of the person whose blog The Times so dutifully reproduced for its readers? Simply that occupation is not at all the horrible thing some make it out to be. I have opposed the Iraqi war all along but by no means because I think Saddam Hussein and his regime was anything other than a vicious, murderous dictatorship that posed a threat to millions of human
beings in the Middle East. Once, however, the war commenced, the good guys were, all things considered, the Americans and those Iraqis who sided with them. But because there are thousands and thousands of contrarians in Iraq and its neighboring countries, ones who would delight in reversing the current trend toward a more civilized society in that country, and since the country is far from having developed an effective defense of the new order from such enemies of the change, the occupation makes sense. It also makes sense from the viewpoint of the Americans who seriously believe that the war was justified and that those who were ousted are very dangerous still and should not be left to destroy what has been achieved.

In any case, all of this is quite complicated but it is not
complicated that occupying a country defeated in war by those who won and are, by all accounts, the better lot, is nothing to be very upset about.

I think the Iraqi blogger doesn’t get it and should do some study of the history of occupations to appreciate whether such a thing can have merit and be justified. Maybe that will calm this blogger’s nerves a bit about such a prospect and may indeed render it something of a welcome development.
Oil and Blood

Tibor R. Machan

Imagine that an emergency made the need for blood transfusions especially urgent but Jehovah Witnesses were in charge. That’s what we are experiencing now, only not with blood but oil supply. In that case the Jehovah Witnesses are the environmentalists.

Jehovah Witnesses are often very nice people, certainly well mannered and often dressed spiffily. But their idea on the merits of blood transfusions is really, really perverse, like the ideas of Christian Scientists on seeking the help of physicians when one’s body is ailing. I am sorry but this is just so. Sure, so long as it pertains to them and they aren’t forcing their views on anyone else, I can live with both, although when either of them inflicts these views on their own children, I get very worried. Children are dependents, not yet of age so as to figure out what’s best, and when they are subjected to parents’ peculiar religious or any other sort of notions, especially ones that can kill them, it’s time to call in the trial lawyers, I say. They are injuring, even killing kids, with ideas the kids never had a chance to consider and decide about.

But never mind that. It is with the environmentalists’ impact on public policy that I am concerned. The country has been terribly dependent on imported oil and that would not be so bad if the oil were owned by reasonable people abroad, people who, like reason would guide one to do, wished to earn a decent living off their good fortune and hard work. That would make for healthy trade between, say, the oil rich Saudi Arabians or Venezuelans and the rest of the world.

Sadly, however, as things are, the oil abroad is under the control of a bunch of rouge states that (a) use it to make the population addicted to free lunches that can only last so long and (b) play geopolitical games instead of conduct trade with people outside their borders. This makes is especially crucial that the rest of the world institute rational economic policies when it comes to oil exploration, extraction and refinement.

No, of course oil will not last forever. But it could do us a lot more good without irrational restraint of production and trade that’s often brought about by the irrational exuberance of too many environmentalists who haven’t found an oil rig they didn’t hate or an oil refinery they didn’t want to ban.

Even in a time of emergency, such as many Americans had and are still reeling from involving the hurricanes, instead of retreating in shame of how little they care about human well-being, both the environmentalists and their political pawns in Washington prefer dragging a bunch of oil company executives in front of pontificating Congressional committees and subjecting them to various attempts to humiliation, as if their duties were first to appease the politicos rather than enrich all those who own oil stocks (which, by the way, includes millions of people who are far from “fat cats,” whoever that insulting term is supposed to refer to).

Oh, yes, about that gauging issue—no doubt some folks love to exploit other people’s dire needs, but it is simply impossible to know from afar who is doing this as opposed to taking reasonable advantage of having prudently saved up (horded) resources while others gave not a fig about a rainy day. If one thinks charging high prices for goods and services in short supply is a bad thing, we might as well shut down all labor unions which flourish by advocating that policy, or doctors who actually live by it (given how they are mostly needed and diligently charge for this when their patients are in dire need of their expertise).

Anyway, I look at environmental opposition to oil exploration in, say, Alaska, or offshore, or anywhere, as rank obstructionism and the cause of much misery, especially to those who can least afford or cope with it. This is just what you get when people’s value systems have become so warped that they are willing to put trees, snail darters, and rare frogs ahead of human lives and well-being on their list of priorities. But, like the Jehovah Witnesses or Christian Scientists, if they do it to themselves, that can only be argued with in a free country. But if they inflict their perverse notions on us all, they should be stopped.
Journalists et al & What Justice Needs

Tibor R. Machan

Someone help me out—why do journalists, priests, psychiatrists and such folks (I can understand about attorneys) get a pass when they obstruct justice? Yes, that’s what they are doing when they refuse to tell who told them about some crime.

It is my impression, and correct me if I am wrong, that the laws of a free country require that no one be complicit in the commission of a crime, neither before nor after the fact. Aiding and abetting criminals is itself criminal, or so I thought. But over the years I have been witnessing this exemption which I just don’t understand. It is my impression, too, that the laws of a free country are supposed to apply equally to all citizens. So, if my friend tells me of a crime, and I am obligated to notify the authorities, I don’t see why if a person tells a priest of a crime the priest gets a pass. Or the psychiatrists. Or, especially, a journalists.

This special privilege accorded to journalists—or at any rate demanded by them and their pals—is a puzzle to me. Journalists are scribblers, no different from many other. I write columns, for example, and have done so for forty years. So by some accounts I am a journalists. If someone tells me “in confidence” that he or she either took part or is about to take part in a crime, why should I be free of the responsibility of notifying those who deal with crimes? Oh, because if I don’t get the privileged of remaining silent about this, in the future I will not receive such confidences.

So what? It seems to me that the one central public responsibility in a free country is to get criminals, to stop them, to protect—to “secure”—people rights from them. Why, if we all must take part in this effort—which is, I think, a sound policy since that’s the point in being part of the legal system of a free country, namely, to crush crime—should some of us get exceptions?

Now there is one thing I can see to support the exemptions, which is that there are stupid crimes that no one should be prosecuted for and no one should have to help detect. Yes, indeed, there are thousands of such stupid crimes, victimless crimes that are enacted simply to please certain people who want to run other people’s lives. I would personally give a pass to anyone who would refuse to take part in helping to catch such “criminals.”

But the issue is not this when it comes to folks like Judith Muller, formerly of The New York Times. The issue with her and hundreds of other journalists is simply to make their jobs easy. Well, my friendships with criminals would also be easier if I were free to shield them from the law with impunity. But I am not. I may indeed gain a whole lot of goodies from being exempt this way. But being a citizen of a free society I am not supposed to gain such a privilege, the privilege of not having to live by sound legal measures. But someone journalists and priests and psychiatrists and some others have managed to hoodwink enough politicians and legal experts that they do not need to live by these sound legal measures.

Or am I way off here? I don’t think so. But I am not perfect and could be wrong. I would need a novel good argument, though, because what I have run across over the years are totally unconvincing and seem to rest on this myth that journalists are something special. They are not—they, like engineers, teacher, TV directors, chefs or anyone else in a bona fide profession are to be treated equally under the law. To the extent they get away with special privileges, they are living unjust lives, at least in some significant part, and this should stop.

By the way, the reason I do not include attorneys in this is that they, in representing accused people, possess their special status because of the legal position they hold, not because of some feature of their ordinary work in the world. Journalists have no such special legal position, nor psychiatrists or priests.

Anyway, I ask for help. Perhaps I am missing something.
Death Penalty for A Reformed Man

Tibor R. Machan

The decision by California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger not to commute the death penalty sentence of multiple murderer Stanley “Tookie” Williams is as right and it can be under the circumstances. The case has attracted much attention because the man has been something of a model prisoner though not because he has asked forgiveness—he has never admitted to the crime—but because he has become a rather well regarded children’s book author.

Whatever the details of this case, there should be no death penalty, however. Not because some people do not deserve it or it’s cruel or barbaric but because we ought to reduce the chances of a mistake as much as it is possible. It’s a matter of prudence, not justice. (If we had infallible knowledge, it would make sense, though. But we do not.)

Since, however, my good idea is not the law and we do have a death penalty for certain crimes, I think it bears considering that writing children’s books, even many of them and good ones, simply doesn’t cut it to get a pass on murdering four people. Never mind that one can be murderous as all get out and still write nice books. Some of the nicest people, in certain contexts, have also been some of the most vile ones in human history, recent and past. But even if one has genuinely reformed, atoned for one’s vicious deeds, even confessed and all the rest, a crime that is so heinous cannot be wiped out by subsequent good deeds. Maybe in “God’s eyes,” but that’s something I nor any other human being, not even the Pope, knows about. The point is, an evil deed is an evil deed and if it does deserve a certain punishment, acting nicely, decently and productively afterwards just has no bearing on whether that punishment is due.

Perhaps this will appear heartless to some, and so be it. But this isn’t a matter of the heart—one hasn’t the luxury and privilege to introduce one’s feelings when it comes to justice. Just as those who haven’t been proven guilty must not be punished however urgently some of us may feel they need it—such as, quite often, the suspect’s alleged victims—so however good a convicted rapist, murderer or traitor has turned out to be, it hasn’t anything to do with what he or she deserves in view of the crime done.

There are, of course, exculpating considerations even in some of the worst crimes. Serious mental illness or brain damage would be a candidate in my book, as would—or at least would warrant reducing culpability—being coerced to commit the crime (say by someone threatening to kill one’s child unless it’s done). Crimes are not simple deeds, which is why the law has been developed to involve all kinds of gradations of culpability as well as punishment and why a trial is so involved and often prolonged. But in the end, once a verdict has been reached beyond a reasonable doubt, the result needs to be accepted.

Because it is a judgment beyond a reasonable and not a shadow of doubt, it is not difficult to understand that at a later time discoveries could be made that would warrant changing it. That is one reason no sentence should be irrevocable, as the death sentence is. True, in other context we often act in ways that cannot be taken back or corrected or compensated—if we are defending our lives with violent force, we can kill an assailant. But that’s because in such cases there is often no other alternative or we are taking worthwhile risks (as in surgical procedures).

Nonetheless, it probably would have been wrong for the governor of California to make an exception with Mr. Williams—although had he commuted the sentence for the right reason, such as having realized at last that no death penalty can be justified, it would have been a good judgment indeed. As it stands, however, the decision he made was fair enough, maybe even just, but also ultimately misguided because of the system that imposes such a penalty that cannot be corrected in light of evidence that would require that.
Impossible Egalitarianism

Tibor R. Machan

Egalitarianism is undesirable, which is often left unmentioned when the idea is discussed. Many have thought it would be so swell if it only could exist but it wouldn’t. Everyone being the same, having the same, etc., etc., is a pitifully dismal vision of human—and the rest of—life.

But leave that be for now. It is, also, quite impossible. And egalitarians around us themselves are proving the point all over the place. Take The New York Times or The New York Review of Books, or its sister in the UK, The London Review of Books. Or take all the professors teaching a prominent colleges and universities, or teachers elementary and high schools who favor the stance. None, not a one, can actually act on it. That’s because people must make decisions, must discriminate as they select what to do in their lives, and the decisions will always be based on some idea of what is better, what worse. And that includes people and their doings.

Try as hard as you may, if you write something the editors of The Times or The NY Review do not like, you won’t get published there. Not that it means they are right to reject your contribution—I am talking only of what they happen to judge as worthy of being published, be they right or wrong in this judgment. And when hiring is going on at departments of political science or philosophy or at primary and secondary schools, even where the faculty is dominated by egalitarian ideologues, do not get the idea that you will not be evaluated by very harsh standards and rejected if you don’t meet them.

The fact is that evaluations are a necessary fact of human existence. The only matter that’s open is whether they will be done justly, objectively—or corruptly, with rank bias. And of course, it is highly desirable as well as quite possible to be sufficiently objective, say as one judges an Olympic gymnastic or diving or skating competition. And one can also botch the job good and hard. So, too, in life, one can make good or bad evaluations, based them on relevant or irrelevant factors, do them carefully or hastily and so forth. But one just cannot avoid them, including when it comes to judging other people.

So the lesson is not to attempt the impossible—not to mention pathetic—ideal of egalitarianism but to make constant, unrelenting, vigilant improvements on one’s evaluations. The problem in many areas of human society isn’t lack of equality but in how achievement is assessed, recorded, awarded. It is the responsibility of human beings to do this well whenever they need to and can but by getting distracted with the chimera of egalitarianism, sadly this reasonable and achievable objective is neglected. All the affirmative action measures, for instance, contribute to this sad situation—instead of upgrading the system of meritocracy, whereby those who are best qualified gain entrance to jobs or schools, there is all this official focus on trying to be fair to all, never mind how qualified they are.

Maybe this is yet another instance of the perfect being the mortal enemy of the good. Egalitarianism is a kind of perfection fanaticized by all too many visionaries among us. Imagine the world as if we could all be equally beautiful, equally smart, equally wealthy or healthy and champion getting this dream realized. In the meanwhile the prospect of realizing what can be, namely, an objective and just evaluation on all fronts, is neglected or avoided.

If you check out the current political scene, this is one of the corrupting aspects of it on numerous fronts. In economic policies, for example, instead of focusing on the possible and highly desirable objective of creating the conditions for greater prosperity, too many politicians, academics, bureaucrats focus on equal distribution of benefits and burdens. This infantile concern with what’s fair—often derived from modeling societies on how it should go at the family dinner table—is a major obstacle to what really would be of benefit to nearly everyone, a system in which wealth creation is made fully possible.

Alas, despite the near obviousness of all this, the resistance to it is nearly fanatical. Too bad.
Capitalism and Environmentalism

Tibor R. Machan

Political outlooks rarely get put into practice completely, without many compromises made in their principles. Even Soviet style socialism had a lot of free market elements interspersed with it when nearly 40% of farming was done on the black market. And there is no such thing as capitalism in America or anywhere else, not full blown, no-holds-barred laissez-faire capitalism.

Still these political visions can be test by way of thought experiments and some careful history, to see which would be best to try to achieve in practice. And one of the major challenges put before champions of a fully free, capitalist political economy comes from those worried about environmental degradation.

Often the worry is put in terms of “What about all the negative externalities that capitalism would create?” Which means, what about such things as pollution of the air mass, water ways, and so forth. The idea that’s put forth in criticism of capitalism is that if we had full scale private property rights respected and protected, people could do whatever they wanted with what belongs to them and this would involve dumping all kinds of harmful stuff around their property—thus, negative externalities.

But the picture is utterly misconceived. Precisely because private property rights would have to be respected and would gain full, uncompromising legal protection, negative or harmful externalities would be prohibited. (Of course, if I dump a bunch of dollar bills on your property, you probably will not protest a lot, so positive externalities would probably not be widely criticized.) The widespread respect for private property implies that what is mine is under my jurisdiction but beyond my borders it is those who are in charge of those realms who get to call the shots. And no one at all gets to have the authority to invade other people’s property.

Bringing this off in practice has its challenges of course—exactly where does one’s property end, say, looking upward or on a beach front? Does property include ideas, such as a novel or computer software or musical arrangement? And what about images, such as photographs and paintings? These and similar issues would need to be hashed out in theory, as they arise, and sometimes even in the courts—where they would, supposedly, be debated in a civilized, orderly fashion and a sensible resolution—or as close to it as humanly possible—reached and then implemented.

Still, the idea of a system of political economy in which the institution of private property is of primary significance would by no means encourage environmental degradation, waste, lack of conservation and so forth, quite the opposite. As Aristotle already knew, when people need to heed their own stuff, they are more careful than when they deal with commonly owned resources. As he put the point, "That all persons call the same thing mine in the sense in which each does so may be a fine thing, but it is impracticable; or if the words are taken in the other sense, such a unity in no way conduces to harmony. And there is another objection to the proposal. For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few." (Politics, 1262a30-37). The ancient historian Thucydides also observed that “[People] devote a very small fraction of the time to the consideration of any public object, most of it to the prosecution of their own objects. Meanwhile, each fancies that no harm will come to his neglect, that it is the business of somebody else to look after this or that for him; and so, by the same notion being entertained by all separately, the common cause imperceptibly decays.” (The History of the Peloponnesian War, bk. I, sec. 141).

And, of course, history bears out these reflections—near-enough-to-capitalist societies are cleaner, preserve and conserve resources more vigilantly than do near-enough-to-socialist ones where—like in the old USSR and even contemporary China—pollution and waste have been immense. So both on the basis of history and careful reflection, it makes much better sense of trust a free market, private property rights based political economy when it comes to environmental values than those that let the state manage it all.
Reforming Countries

Tibor R. Machan

Sometimes discussions get bogged down completely because the issues are cast improperly, as in the case of whether Iraq and other countries around the globe could become liberal democracies. President Bush and his defenders appear to consider it an offense to the people in such countries when skeptics question whether they are “ready for democracy.” And there is a point to finding that line of doubt offensive.

In principle, as a basic aspect of our lives, human beings can, of course, improve themselves on all levels, including the political. History is witness to this fact, as are our own lives when we change and abandon bad habits for good ones, stop being lazy or procrastinators or liars and cheats. Even the worst of our habits can be overcome with the proper measure of discipline and a little (maybe not so little) help from our friends and neighbors. The fundamental capacity for people to become better on innumerable fronts cannot, then, be reasonably doubted. And this extends to how they comport themselves in the political arena.

Yet, extremely powerful psychological and sociological forces make such reforms very hard to achieve in our lives. That’s especially so when it comes to changing massive institutional obstacles that stand in the way to making improvements in various countries across the globe. For example, when the Soviet bloc countries finally got rid of their massive fascist overlord—for don’t kid yourself, the late Susan Sontag was correct when she uttered her notorious observation in the early 1980s, “that Communism is Fascism—successful Fascism, if you will”—many were surprised that instead of fully embracing the ideals of liberal democracy and free markets, the bulk of the people in those societies reverted to their pre-Soviet era nationalisms and ethnic xenophobia. Indeed, many of them are still thinking along such lines and very, very slow to upgrade their mentality.

The various malignant political habits that human beings have embraced across the globe—not to mention all of the obstacles their political regimes have placed before them to prevent serious improvement and reform—do often pose nearly insurmountable impediments to their making improvements in their countries’ political institutions. It isn’t simply a matter of acknowledging that, yes, indeed, human beings can be ready for such improvements as a matter of their fundamental capacities. Habitual hard drug users, too, are ready in this sense, even if in their particular circumstances it may take years and years before they really kick their self-destructive habit.

President Bush and his supporters in this highly dubious policy of trying to make Iraq and the Middle East into a haven for liberal democracy need to get realistic about the hurdles that stand before such a project, even apart from the problems posed from the sheer paradox of trying militarily to impose liberal institutions on societies. And it appears that Bush & Co. are aware of this at some level since they appear to be resigned to the prospect of an inordinately prolonged effort to do this in Iraq.

Accordingly, skeptical questions raised to them ought not to be viewed as offensive to human nature but very possibly realistic concerns about whether continuing with this war is, all things considered, a reasonable plan. It just may be true that the bulk of the people in Iraq—or at least a decisive number of them—are very far from intending to give liberal democracy a reasonable chance. They may well be so wedded to the perverse political alternatives, influenced by their innumerable dogmatic and quite often grossly malignant religious outlook, that they will not come around for years and years, if indeed they ever will (especially given how the effort to impose change reinforces some legitimate objections they can also cling to).

Quite apart from whether it was ever justified to undertake the war in Iraq—and I have my own serious doubts about that and have voiced them often in the past (namely, to put it very simply, it really wasn’t our job to rectify Iraq’s problems)—there is good reason to consider putting an end to the effort. Some people will not accept even the help that’s very good for them, period. We surely know this from our personal familiarity with some of those closest to us.
Hollywood, History, and Economics

Tibor R. Machan

When Plato warned that artists cannot be trusted about truth because they deal with images, fantasies, not facts, he could have been talking about today’s Hollywood celebrities who are making movies after movies feeding the public half-truths and out and out misinformation. The latest one to join in this orgy of anti-capitalism and Neanderthal economics is George Clooney. Frankly I liked Rosemary much better since she tended to stick to what she knew something about, singing. George is now out there, taking over Martin Sheen’s role as the wise political sage who will awaken us to what we need to know about world economic and political affairs.

It is interesting that many moons ago, when I first got interested in Ayn Rand, everyone at the colleges and universities I attended scoffed at her novels in large measure because they carried a message. They were too didactic, not like those true novelists Joyce or Updike. But after a while quite a few of the novelists of the Left, like Gunter Gass, began writing message books. Philip Roth got on the bandwagon as well, so now Rand cannot be so easily dismissed. And Hollywood movies are now unapologetically preachy.

There were those, of course, before, mostly schmaltzy fare like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and, much later, Seven Days in May. These made no secret of their Left wing bias, seeing to it that the audience never had its mind taken off the important notion that only little guys matter in life while all wealthy and productive people are crooks and that people who think America is worth defending must be fascists.

Their one virtue was, however, that they tended to be fictional through and through. Yes, they suggested that the bad guys must be business executives or right wing politicians while the good guys were “liberal democrats” to their bone. Still, that was palatable because it didn’t manage to do a disservice to history.

Clooney’s, Good Night, and Good Luck is supposed to be docudrama, about a particular period of Edward R. Murrow’s career and America in the early 50s. Syriana, in turn, is the massive conspiracy flick about the evil oil companies which doesn’t so much distort history but does completely misrepresent economics.

Talk about someone believing that commerce, especially in oil, involves a zero sum game—the oil companies’ gain must be our loss. As if nothing good was ever done with the oil they extract and refine and transport to where we can fuel up. No, they are just senselessly, even self-destructively, vicious and mean. It’s as if Ralph Nader had been the ideological adviser to Clooney.

In Good Night, and Good Luck, Murrow’s nemesis is Joe McCarthy. This is no great revelation to those who were around at the time or have some knowledge of recent American history. What is so appalling about the flick is that it pretends that everyone charged with being a communist and traitor was innocent like a newborn babe. No Hisses, no spies in the state department, nada. Only innocent artists and intellectuals with inquiring minds, “intellectuals” whose minds were under Moscow’s control! They somehow get the treatment by Clooney & Co. that Stalin used to give to the generals with whom he appeared in photographs and then had executed—they were smudged out.

By Clooney’s account, then, all communists in America were idealists with dreams of a peaceful world in which everyone loved everyone else and competition, rivalry, and anything less than intimate lovey-dovey among all had disappeared. Never mind that all efforts to make this dream a reality turned out to be hell on earth because the fantasy assumes that people are simply interchangeable, akin to voice in a choir (and therein only when they sing the same note together). But when Murrow was saving American from our Uncle Joe, it was the 1950s, not the 1920s or even 1930s when some delusion about the Soviets may have been excusable. The gulags were up and running full steam and Stalin had butchered most of his comrades and the American commies didn’t manage to hide well enough that they were mostly following Moscow’s orders.

OK, Joe McCarthy was a bully. But this Hollywood myth that he was a greater threat to peace and justice than Stalin and his American supporters is balderdash.
Predictability and Free Will in Economics

Tibor R. Machan

At the beginning of each term I mention an apparent problem for students taking my business ethics course in our school of business and economics: While economists tend to approach their discipline with the understanding that human beings are relentless utility maximizers, in business ethics that idea would be very odd. The reason is that business ethics assume economic agents to be free to choose what they will do and holds them responsible to do the right thing.

The late Nobel Laureate George Stigler of the University of Chicago put the widely embraced economists’ stance quite succinctly when he said, “. . . Man is eternally a utility-maximizer—in his home, in his office (be it public or private), in his church, in his scientific work—in short, everywhere.” In contrast, the position of business ethics teachers could best be expressed as Professor M. van Swaay of Kansas State University puts it: “Because ethical behavior implies free choice, it cannot be captured in rule. The standard of reference for what is ethical has to exist 'outside human definition', and therefore cannot be open to human negotiation. Some may know that standard as Human Rights, some may know it as the Seven Virtues, some may know it as the Ten Commandments, and some may know it by yet another name. It is impossible to force adherence to that standard: the notion of coercion itself is foreign to it. But individually we can make a promise to abide by it....” Ethics and, in particular, business ethics assumes that human beings can choose what they will do, what they will pursue in life, how they will conduct themselves.

So there appears to be a conflict of assumptions about human life under the same roof in most business schools: Economics seems to be deterministic, business ethics rejects determinism. But there is a way out.

Although human beings have free will and thus can choose between different courses of conduct, they are also able to—and often do—commit themselves to engage in long-term behavior. Just think, when people marry, they promise to do what (as a result) be can be expected of them (remain loyal, help raise the kids, provide for the family, etc.). When the enroll in school or take up a job, they intend, most of the time, to embark on a planned course of conduct.

Taking this into the realm of economics, people also commit to seek economic security and prosperity. They are, in other words, prudent. Because of this, economists, in turn, can expect them to follow through with their commitment. The general idea is that when people commit to go into the market, they will ordinarily seek to make good deals. This is why economists can expect us all, often, to be economic agents, or to use Stigler’s words, utility maximizers. They can, as a result, also and often enough, make predictions about what we all will do, and their predictions are likely to be confirmed. From this way of understanding people, the discipline or science of economics can emerge, with all its (probabilistic) laws and theorems.

On the other hand, the above doesn’t assume that people cannot make free choices. Indeed, they not only often choose some plan of conduct but also often enough choose to abandon their plans or commitments, change course. Even when they commit to go to market, sometimes they get sidetracked and stop being in the economic mode (say, if in the course of business they meet a friend and instead of making deals, they focus on indulging in the pleasantries of friendship). When this is multiplied throughout an economic system, it introduces much uncertainty and unpredictability in the midst of the opposite, reasonable certainty and predictability.

As regards ethics, because they are able to choose, people can also choose well or badly, including in the course of doing business. In terms of this understanding of people, they can be viewed as having the responsibility to act ethically in all realms of their lives, including commerce and business. Accordingly, both the economist and the business ethics specialist can continue to work with similar but slightly different assumptions about human behavior: people commit to market activities enough so as to forget the social science of economics. Yet they are also free to make choices for which they are responsible, thus giving rise to ethics and business ethics.

This is important because as the world goes, contradictory theories cannot both be correct—that would violate the law of non-contradiction. It cannot be true both that people are determined to act as they do and also not so determined but free to make choices (despite some torturous efforts to defend this possibility). But with the above proposed resolution, there need be no contradiction between the economic and the business ethics understanding of human nature.
The Mess Created by Nationalization

Tibor R. Machan

I use the term “nationalization” a bit loosely because what I mean by it is removing an area of human life from society and placing it under any, not just national, government management. So, if a municipal, county, state or federal government took, say, barbershops and brought them under
their management, this would amount to nationalization as I use the concept here.

Most law schools are, in line with this usage, nationalized institutions. And even private law schools that receive federal support, either directly or by way of grants to students or faculty, practically come under such a designation. They have become nationalized, subject to government
regimentation and management.

So now let’s look at the current case at the US Supreme court in which the issue is whether military recruiters must by law have access to law schools. To begin with, no one has some basic right to gain such access, to recruit at law schools, not unless there is a contractual arrangement giving such authorization. Law schools and other educational institutions
usually welcome recruiters because students benefit from this—they may well find a job this way. The same might also be true with military, CIA, or FBI recruiters. But no one has a human right to visit a campus to which he or she wasn’t invited, where no agreement of association has been reached.

But, of course, these places are not free institutions, not by a long shot. It is not legally up to the law school’s administration to decide who gets to invade their premises. It is now a matter of, to use the new Chief Justice’s blunt terms, “if you want our money, you have to let our recruiters on campus.”

In the case in point, many law schools have adopted a policy that employers who discriminate on the basis of race, sex and similar irrelevant criteria will not be invited on their campuses. But because of the enormously heavy financial involvement of the federal government in most of these law schools—through grants, fellowships, research support and the like—the feds have leverage by which they can coerce the laws
schools to admit military recruiters whether they meet the criteria of admission the law school’s administrators have set up. Or that is how it is likely to work out if Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s remark is any guide to what the US Supreme Court will decide.

The plain issue is: who are these people to coerce law schools about who will be admitted on campus? Where do they come off imposing their (arguably warped) criteria on free citizens who happen to be in the law education profession? Judging by Justice Robert’s perverse reasoning, if I refuse to allow someone to come into my house, he or she could go to court and claim that Machan is, after all, the beneficiary of tax funds—I do drive on public roads, use the US mails, am legally entitled to various
services and provisions of the various governments surrounding me—so my liberty to decide who comes into my home may be violated. How outrageously more intrusive, even tyrannical, could government get? Have these people ever heard of the right to freedom of association? Is that right voided because one has a student on campus who gets a government loan or a faculty member who has accepted a government research grant?

Evidently, if one goes by the remark Justice Roberts offered during arguments about the case, no one touched by any government benefits can claim any right to freedom of association, none.

Sadly, this is how it goes, with the encroachment of various layers of government into our lives. When restaurants were prohibited from allowing customers—or even proprietors—from smoking on the premises, the legal excuse (in California) was that they were connected to public roads (the sidewalks people use to approach the establishment). By this reasoning even freedom of the press is in danger—after all, newspapers, magazines, books and such are delivered to us by using public roads and mails and often the papers are sold in boxes sitting on public sidewalks.

It is not for nothing that the respect and protection of the institution of the right to private property is so vital to human liberty. Wherever it is compromised, your liberty is likely to vanish.
Rights, the Constitution, and the Ninth Amendment

Tibor R. Machan

Before the US Constitution there was the Federalist Papers and before that the Declaration of Independence and before that John Locke’s political works and those of some others. The lineage involved most fundamentally a theory of basic human rights—natural rights, as Locke had called them, meaning they exists as a feature of our very humanity and membership in a human community.

There was debate as to whether any of these rights should even be listed in a constitution lest people in the future would think that only the listed ones exist. So as to disabuse people of this notion, the Ninth Amendment was crafted saying that unenumerated—that is, unmentioned—rights exist, let’s not forget it.

In our time the Ninth Amendment has been roundly neglected—some have dubbed it “the forgotten” Ninth Amendment as a result. Quite oddly, such stalwart originalist jurisprudential thinkers as Antonin Scalia and, previously, rejected nominee Robert Bork, have expressed strong disdain toward the Ninth. When I ask my friends with jurisprudential expertise how this can be, they answer that folks like Scalia and Bork worry that if the Ninth Amendment is taken seriously, it will open the door to justices creating rights out of thin air. They often think this about those justices who have claimed to find the right to privacy in the US Constitution by way of the Ninth (as in Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 decision that invalidated the state’s ban on selling contraceptives).

Yet this concern is artificial or based on a misguided conception of rights, at least our basic ones. As the Ninth Amendment puts it, the unenumerated rights “are retained by the people”—they exist, period. They are not subject to being invented, created out of thin air. When, as reported, Scalia and Bork have concerns about the Ninth Amendment’s opening the door to the invention of rights by justices, this shows that Scalia and Bork do not take the founders’ and framers’ words seriously. The latter didn’t worry about justices inventing rights because they held that these rights existed; they could be identified as an objective fact of our lives in human communities.

Even with the current muddled understanding of individual rights—usually dubbed “human” rights, suggesting that they may have nothing to do with individualism as Locke and the Founders thought—it is widely taken that the rights do indeed exist. That is how it makes sense to criticize the various regimes around the globe that fail to honor human rights. Failing to honor rights—to respect and protect them—can only make sense if they exist even apart from being acknowledged in a country’s legal system. Such a legal system is misguided to the extent it fails to recognize such rights.

Similarly, the justices of the US Supreme court, or actually all persons, who think of rights as possibly subject to being invented if they aren’t listed in the US Constitution have a mistaken understanding of rights. Basic human individual rights, such as those to life, liberty, private property, privacy, etc., are not subject to being invented when not mentioned in the US Constitution. They exist although not mentioned and in various cases the justices would need to discover or locate—not invent—them.

For instance, does a human being have the right to privacy? Well, is human nature such that in their community lives people require their own realm of authority, their own sovereignty—self-government—with respect of various aspects of their lives? Of course they do—that’s what being a responsible moral agent amounts to. So the right to privacy exists. It stands as a bulwark against meddlesome other people, especially governments.

This is all discernible by understanding human nature, or so the founders and framers believed. So originalist justices should have no problem about the matter. As I have noted before, it is curious that in America those on the political Left would keep insisting that we have a right to privacy. It is those who profess respect for the American political tradition who should be most loyal to this and all other rights we have.

The correct way to view the issue raised by the Ninth Amendment is to see the US Constitution as mainly enumerating limited powers for the government, with the citizens having rights to do anything that those limited powers may not intrude upon. We have the right to dance, to sing, to write books, to garden, to travel, to make love to anyone who will make love to us in return, to teach anything someone hires us to teach them—yes, to do anything that isn’t violating any rights of others.

That is the meaning of a constitution of liberty and the Ninth Amendment alerts us to this in unambiguous terms indeed.
Saddam Hussein Learned from Richard Rorty

Tibor R. Machan

In his very instructive book Natural Right and History the justly famous classical political scientist Leo Strauss—sometimes credited with (or blamed for) neo-conservatism—make the point that without firm standards of right versus wrong, all that can count in the determination of right and wrong is who is being earnest—whose is “a resolute or deadly serious decision.” Here is how he put the point:

If there is no standard higher than the ideal of our society, we are utterly unable to take a critical distance from that idea. But the mere fact that we can raise the question of the worth of the idea of our society shows that there is something in man that is not altogether in slavery to his society, and therefore that we are able, and hence obliged, to look for a standard with reference to which we can judge the ideals of our own as well as of any other society. That standard cannot be found in the needs of the various societies, for the societies and their parts have many needs that conflict with one another; the problem if priorities arises. This problem cannot be solved in a rational manner if we do not have a standard with reference to which we can distinguish between genuine needs and fancied needs and discern the hierarchy of the various types of genuine needs. The problem posed by the conflicting needs of society cannot be solved if we do not possess knowledge of natural right.

These lines by Strauss were written in the 1950s but they could easily have been addressed to the position advocated by Richard Rorty, who does believe that “there is no standard higher than the ideal of our society,” thus no way to compare the standards of one society to another. As Rorty put the point, “Non-meta-physicians [which by his account includes Rorty and all wise persons] cannot say that [e.g.,] democratic institutions reflect a moral reality and that tyrannical regimes do not reflect one, that tyrannies get something wrong that democratic societies get right.”
OK, now fast forward to the trial of Saddam Hussein going on in Iraq just now. The defendant has been charged with innumerable heinous crimes, including genocide, but he protests not that he is innocent but that those sitting on the bench do not have the authority to judge him. As he shouted the other day, "I will not return, I will not come to an unjust court! Go to Hell!"
Indeed, if there is no justice beyond what one’s own society views believes, Hussein has no reason to acknowledge that the court now embarking to stand in judgment of him can dispense justice. The only justice he will accept is the only justice our relativists philosophers accept, namely, the justice of one’s own society, of one’s own community. There is no higher justice.
This, in part, is the logical implication of the irrational tolerance that has been advocated by multicultural modern liberals, thinkers who do not acknowledge any common standard by which human beings and their conduct can be evaluated or judged. No, only relative standards exists, the standards or ideals of one’s society which, in practice, can mean simply one’s very own standards or ideals (needs, desires, wishes, hopes, fantasies). And by this very widely promulgated position—in many universities by major moral and political thinkers in our time—Saddam Hussein has no reason to accept any standard other than his own. Accordingly, he is justified in dismissing the court in which he is being tried, a court that is not of his own choosing.
Some people have the idea that philosophical opinions are but part of a clever game, of various sophistic verbal acrobatics. As the late David L. Norton put it in his unique, dissident book, Personal Destinies (1976), “philosophy bakes no bread.” They believe philosophy need not be taken seriously at all—we can fantasize about parallel universes, multicultural justice, logic without reality and reality without logic. All of this is fair game since in our imagination we can find some legitimate room for such speculations. And what else is there in the world but speculation? All of what we take to be true, such thinkers maintain, is but our own subjective truths with no claim to any universality, with no reference to some common reality, especially when it comes to matters of morality and politics.
Mr. Hussein has learned his contemporary philosophical lessons—at least those of some of our most prominent philosophers—very well. He would easily get his PhD in the field.
Why Teaching Intelligent Design is Such a Problem

Tibor R. Machan

Whenever a controversy arises in government funded and administered educational(?) institutions, no one in the mainstream media mentions the real source of the problem. Whether it is making the study of sex, environment, or, currently, intelligent design mandatory, the real issue is systematically avoided. This is whether there ought to be government education in a free society at all.

It is widely recognized that there should not be a government newspaper to which everyone must subscribe and which must be read by all. For good reason. The press must be free from entanglement with the government, with an agency that has as its sole job in a free country to protect individual rights. The tools and methods required for this job are entirely out of order when it comes to producing newspapers. Newspapers report on what the publishers and editors deem to be vital issues within the various layers of community of readers are members. We have local, state, national and international coverage, all important to some readers, but none of these is government’s job to accomplish. So in a free society there is likely to be a wide variety of approaches to news coverage, not to mention to editorializing. Government must adhere to the rule of law, which is supposed to be the same for all. It is naturally a one-size-fits-all undertaking.

Sadly, the fact that education should be in exactly the same position as the press within a human community simply hasn’t gotten recognized, probably because once some profession has gained the government’s support, it isn’t likely to give it up no matter how many problems arise from this. Look at PBS and NPR and Amtrak and the US Postal Service’s first class delivery. They are all well entrenched governmental undertakings and have produced a firmly loyal constituency that will not let go. Look at all the subsidies and protectionism certain industries receive—none want to give it up.

Public elementary and high school education administrators and teachers are no different, nor are those at public colleges and universities. They have a government protected monopoly, a job with tenure possibilities and in no danger of falling prey to the volatilities of free markets. Sure, millions of people are not finding work in these government run institutions because those who are there have managed to achieve job security. Sure, many subjects do not receive any attention from the teachers because giving them attention would reveal the malpractice perpetrated. History courses are virtually all taught with blatant bias, as are public finance courses, those in civics and so forth. But never mind, the faculty has a guaranteed position and hardly any elementary and high school, nor again state college or universities, ever goes out of business (the way private businesses routinely do). And what cannot be seen, isn’t missed much.

Now we have this hoopla about intelligent design—whether public schools should or should not teach it, make mention of it in biology courses, and all the rest. A case is pending in Kansas and if the judge rules in favor of public schools there having to include mention of it, the issue may end up in the highest court.

In a free country, however, there would be no such problem. Within a given school, college, or university the matter could surface, just as it could now at various private schools, colleges, and universities. But it would all be decided by their administrators and faculty independently of government, just as is the content of newspapers. It could not become a national political issue.

It is because governments run schools that these matters become so politicized and dealt with by legislatures and courts. Sadly even the private entertainment sector may be faced with government intervention—legislators in Washington are threatening to regulate cable and dish television content!

With the public sector growing by leaps and bounds, soon it’ll be a political issue whether one may part one’s hair or worship in this or that church.
Contra Campos

Tibor R. Machan

University of Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos, who is a regular columnist in the paper for which I, too, write columns, recently took on author Sam Harris (who has a degree if philosophy and is working in the field of neuroscience), whose book The End of Faith has stirred up quite some controversy over the last few months. Harris's basic thesis is that faith is a dangerous way to go about ascertaining what the world is like because there is no common ground that can be known by it. Faith is, after all, a non-rational commitment and, except for just a few theologians, is understood as ascent to various beliefs without evidence and argument, indeed, even ascent against evidence and argument.

Harris is not putting forth some incredible idea. After all, to believe that Mary gave birth to Jesus without having had intercourse, that Jesus walked on water, made wine from water, and raised the dead does require the rejection of evidence and reason. Ordinarily, if one were informed that someone can do such things, one would naturally be incredulous. These claims contradict established facts and principles of reality. But as matters of faith they are acceptable precisely because faith is not based on evidence and reason but on an act of commitment regardless of evidence and reason. This also best explains why there are so many different, indeed conflicting, faiths, whereas there is just one chemistry, physics, mathematics, or biology (although disputes exist in all these disciplines but with the clear anticipation that they will be settled).

In his column Professor Campos claims that instead of a religious faith, Sam Harris embraces the philosophy of materialism. This is the view that all of reality is composed of but one kind of thing, namely, bits of matter-in-motion. However complicated something may appear—say human life, a tree, a musical composition, and so forth—it must be a variation of matter-in-motion.

This view is indeed one that many accept who reject faith but after reading Harris's work one can only conclude that he is a materialist but a naturalist. And that’s something else. A naturalist holds that everything that exists is part of nature—it must obey natural (scientific) laws, and can be understood by means of the scientific method. But a naturalist, unlike a materialist, is not committed to the reductivist view Campos has attributed to Harris.

Campos appears to be aware of the above when he writes, "Harris wants us to reject 'faith' and embrace 'reason,' by which he pretty much means the philosophical view known as materialism...." But he does not give any evidence that Harris is a materialist. So nearly all of the attributions he makes to Harris' outlook are unfounded, including that Harris cannot provide any rational ground for claims such as that "Torturing a child for one's own sexual gratification is evil," or that "Shakespeare is a better writer than George Lukas," or again that "Human beings have free will." As Campos would have it, "An intellectually honest materialist must reject all these claims." And he is correct, a materialist would—but not a naturalist.

For example, Aristotle, perhaps history's first and foremost naturalist philosopher (who only accepted a purely naturalistic, impersonal “God,” the "unmoved mover" or the first cause of reality), had no trouble making any of those kinds of claims based on rational argumentation. Even Spinoza, for whom God and Nature are one and the same, could defend ethical statements and a certain type of free will. There is indeed a long tradition of human thinking that finds plenty of room for consciousness, mind, free will, ethics, politics, and aesthetics within the realm of the natural. (In our own time Professor John Searle of UC Berkeley would be a prime example, as would the late novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand, as well as the distinguished academic philosophers Professors Martha Nussbaum and Philippa Foot, among many others.)

There is much else in Professor Campos' column that is quite wrongheaded—such as the idea that belief in materialism is a faith. It's not a faith, although it may be a mistaken philosophy. There really is a difference between convictions or beliefs based on reasoning, argument, evidence, etc., versus those based on faith, as I've already noted. Indeed, several theological schools (excluding, however, that of St. Thomas Aquinas) insist that having faith is a virtue precisely because it is held against all evidence to the contrary.

In any case, it is a matter of simple justice to identify Harris not as a materialist but as a naturalist, one who has every logical right to make the claims Professor Campos says he cannot consistently make. Those who defend faith need something more than to equivocate between materialism and naturalism, a move with which they would discredit the latter. It won’t wash.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Disingenuous Care for Privacy Rights

Tibor R. Machan

Another nomination hearing is about to unfold before us and we can count on some of the central themes based on previous hearings. Conservatives on the Senate Judiciary Committee will throw a lot of soft balls at the nominee Samuel Alito, hoping that no one will succeed in branding him, well, a conservative. And perhaps in the case of supreme court nominees such labels aren’t what is crucial. What should count most, by all accounts, is how a nominee understands the role of a justice vis-à-vis the US Constitution. How will he or she read its various provisions? How expansive will he or she take government’s power to be? Will her or she see certain issues as properly federal and others as state or local so that the Tenth Amendment will be honored or will the nominee regard such concerns obsolete, even archaic?

But perhaps the most controversial matter that will once again surface during the hearings is whether the US Constitution contains the right to privacy, a right supposedly implicit in it, as modern liberals and some others read that document—for example, via the Ninth Amendment (which refers to unenumerated rights, thus intimating quite unambiguously that besides rights listed explicitly in the Bill of Rights, human beings have others, as well). It was on the basis of finding such a right that the famous decision was made that struck down the law banning the sale of contraceptives in Connecticut back in 1965. In that case, Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court held there is a general constitutional right to privacy so Connecticut may not institute the ban. In particular, Justice William O. Douglas identified a “zone of privacy” based on several amendments to the U.S. Constitution which supposedly guaranteed protection against governmental invasion of the homes and intrusion into the lives of citizens.

What is interesting to me about the concern with this right to privacy is how it has become the mantra of the American Left. And it is the American Right, lead on the Court by Justice Antonin Scalia, that has strong objections to it. Does this not strike anyone as paradoxical?

American conservatives have been identified as individualists, especially when it comes to their economic views. They used to champion capitalism and the right to private property. This right they identified in the US Constitution, especially the Fifth Amendment. When recently the Court ran roughshod over this right in its New London, CT v. Kelo ruling, the American Right still voice some protest. Indeed, their greatest hero on the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas, was in the outspoken minority wishing to uphold that right.

As to the right to privacy, we now have an American Left—which is notoriously anti-individualist and persistently demeans the right to private property—declaring fidelity to it and insisting that it is part of the fabric of the US Constitution. In political philosophy circles, for example, the American Left is constantly stressing that individualism is false, that people are not really individuals at all, that they are all social beings. Following Karl Marx, who declared that “the human essence is the true collectivity of man,” they insist (in the words of one of their foremost political thinkers, the Canadian Charles Taylor) that we actually “belong to our communities.”

Well, how then does the Left come off insisting on the right to privacy? I suppose the same way as it insists on the right to freedom of choice in the abortion rights debate—if it happens to suit its purpose, then let’s pretend to champion a principle. But don’t anybody dare apply the principle elsewhere—say the rights to privacy and freedom of choice in the economic spheres of our lives.

Sadly, with the conservatives seeming to have abandoned any loyalty to the philosophy of the American Founders, you aren’t likely to hear any of them on the Senate Judiciary Committee pointing out these glaring cases of hypocrisy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Serfdom, Taxation and Individualism

Tibor R. Machan

For some this issue may appear to be moot—taxation, like death, is unavoidable, is what many believe. And many others would like us all to fall for this because then they would have gained the upper hand about political economy.

For those who don’t much like the free society and its economic system, free market capitalism, it’s vital to show that taxation is just. That’s because taxation means government owns everything, we merely rent some space and time from it for which we have to pay a bundle. That is how it used to be in the era of feudalism—the monarch owned it all and for our use of some of it collected a hefty tax. (This is what Robin Hood protested, by the way—he didn’t take from the rich but from thieves!) Not only did all property belong to the king—the government—but everyone’s labor did too. That’s what serfdom means—you and your labor belong to the government.

There are those today, in prestigious universities, who insist that this old system is correct and none of us owns anything. “The myth of ownership” is what two such scholars call it, Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel of New York University, as well as quite a few others. They insist that everything that you and I may regard as our own property is, in fact, the property of the government or the public. We get the government’s permission to use it but only at a high price.

Now this idea makes sense when you accept that government is God here on earth. Just as everything belongs to God, so such folks believe everything belongs to government. You may think that the money taxed from us is ours but these folks claim it isn’t. The reason is that such folks do not even believe there is a you and me and the rest of us, as separate individuals, in this world. They are anti-individualists and believe, as the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor argued, that we all belong to our communities. We do not even own our own lives—the right to life is a myth, too, just as the right to private property.

It was the thesis of the American founders, learned from the English philosopher John Locke, that individual rights are natural—the very nature of a human being makes these rights imperative as part of our social existence. They were individualists, not collectivists like these new theorists are and the pre-Lockean thinkers were. In opposition to Karl Marx, they regarded each person not as but a cell of the most important individual, namely society (or humanity) but as an individual with an independent will. Each of us has an individual identity, we are not all simply part of some larger being and subservient to it.

But if anti-individualism is a crock, which in my book it certainly is, then not only is serfdom a vile mistake but so is taxation. Ultimately some other means of paying for the few proper services of government must be found because taxation is in fact extortion—“You pay or we put you to jail,” so we are told, but in fact no one has this authority, no one at all. Just as no one has the authority to enslave anyone, or to make anyone into a serf, none has the just authority to extort from another as little as a penny.

Because an alternative way to pay for legal services hasn’t been widely discussed—although there are such ways—the anomaly of taxation in a free society is accepted and now those who don’t much like the free society at all are happy to use it as a way to reintroduce the system in which individuals had no rights, indeed, didn’t exist as such.

With government’s growth by leaps and bounds and no opposition found to this in mainstream politics, there is a serious danger that the anti-individualist crowd will succeed. The courts are almost completely under their sway (wiping out private property rights right and left), as are legislatures.

I say let’s stand up for our rights, including private property rights, and condemn taxation as Mafia style extortion and insist that it be gotten rid of just like serfdom has been. That would be taking the American Founders’ idea to its logical conclusion.
Europe Clings to Old Ways

Tibor R. Machan

Valparaiso, Chile. I do not wear a sign saying “I am a champion of human liberty.” Yet I often run into other frequent travelers on the road who share my concerns about the lack of appreciation for freedom around the globe.

This time I had taken a bus trip from Santiago, Chile, to Valparaiso just for the fun of it. When we finally stopped for a bit of lunch at a very pleasant restaurant overlooking the ancient port, I sat across from a Polish businessman who was similarly mixing business with pleasure. He represents a multinational company that trades in various energy products and services. He speaks excellent English, so conversation between us began to flow very easily.

He confirmed to me something I had heard before, namely, that one great obstacle to progress toward freedom in Poland as well as other former Soviet bloc countries comes from former Soviet bloc bureaucrats and politicians. Having rechristened themselves so as to hide their true convictions, members of the deposed ruling class are doing whatever they can to sabotage any advances toward a free society.

Unfortunately, as new my Polish acquaintance pointed out, the bulk of Europe still embraces old time vices. Too many are rediscovering the charms of ethnic pride, for example, thus giving support not to liberal political parties but to nationalist leaders, along with all the hoary economic nonsense with which such sentiments are usually coupled—protectionism, tariffs that repel foreign competition, and laws that serve as impediments to investment from abroad.

The worse thing, however, that people trying to do business in Poland and elsewhere face is the widely entrenched tradition of layers and layers of bureaucracy creating so many needless rules that only the most vigilant will enter the market and seek to flourish in their midst. Into the middle of this, then, steps the clever organized criminal who has no compunction about using strong-arm means with which to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles and who will, for a price, help you do so as well. The temptation to get into bed with such dubious characters is enormous since for what they charge, it pays to have the tedious rules circumvented. Sure, one is walking on eggs getting into bed with these people but often legitimate entrepreneurs see no other way to stay afloat and get things done. The bribes, my new pal told me, are just the cost of doing business for most folks who are willing to take advantage of such “connections.”

No, this is not only happening in Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary or some other country previously part of the Soviet bloc. It’s on the increase throughout Europe now because one result of this wonderful constructivist monster, the European Union, is the volumes of regulations placed before business people preventing them from getting useful work done.

At one time, my Polish friend noted, it was possible to point to the United States of America which at least promoted the idea of a free market system, of reducing government regulations and so on—say back in the Reagan era which although failing to do much about the heaps and heaps of rules at least talked a good game in favor of free markets. But, he noted, these days America’s credibility as a leader of the free world is very wobbly and at least when it comes to advancing the ideas of economic freedom, open competition, the free flow of labor and capital, George W. Bush & his team are not the leaders to look to.

Of course, in the midst of these laments we both thanked our lucky stars for no longer living under the Soviet system, indeed, for the pleasure and advantages of being able to travel freely. So, with such progress having been made, we both concluded on an optimistic note, hoping that liberty will win out after all.
Freedom versus Freedom

Tibor R. Machan

Santiago, Chile. As I was driven to my hotel upon my arrival here, I couldn’t miss all the promotional posters and billboards typical of election seasons in most Western democracies. I had little interest in Chilean politics other than to wonder whether anyone running was promoting greater liberty in the country than it was enjoying now.

Chile is Latin America’s most modern, most economically sound, and certainly cleanest country, both based on my own evidence and what I am told by everyone hereabouts. (It has some of the most striking and gorgeous natural attributes, to boot.) Where Buenos Aires shows the recent Argentine meltdown by way of its rather dilapidated environment—cars going about with dents not fixed, apartment houses going un-repaired, people wearing slightly shabby clothing and the hotel in which I stayed in need for many minor fixes—Santiago looks and feels like, say, Tucson, Arizona, or some other city shooting up in the midst of a southwestern state, only better kept.

I asked what if any issues are being debated in the current election here that suggest some care about liberty? The answer was that there is indeed a debate about the very nature of freedom.

It seems there are those who want the concept to be understood in its classical liberal sense—a person is free if other people do not intrude, if the rights to life, liberty and property are secure. Freedom is negative in the sense that it involves a “Do not enter without permission” sign around every adult person. Many in Chile are relatively loyal to this American model of freedom, often complaining that it is Americans who are losing sight of it these days more than Chileans.

But there are those who want freedom to be understood in its positive sense—people are free if all obstacles facing them, human or other, are removed, if they aren’t held back by various impediments be these the creations of others or of nature itself—ignorance, poverty, disease, and such. This kind of freedom is respected if others who have plenty of it are legally required to share their portion with others who lack it. So respect for individual freedom is in fact often an imposition of burdens so that these could be relieved for others—a kind of redistribution of burdens and benefits to make everyone equally free.

Of course Chile is not the first place where this debate has surfaced. From when the idea began examined seriously, there have been those who objected to “mere bourgeois freedom,” claiming it is shallow and unfair. Marx was among these but by no means the first critic. Those who defended negative freedom believed that human beings could—and most often would—do very well for themselves if only they were not subjected to the will of others, including, especially, their governments. Break their chains, liberate them from captivity and subjugation, and then they would take the steps, sometimes alone but more often with willing others, to be successful in their lives. Human initiative was taken to be a very good prospect, provided everyone’s sovereignty is respected or at least properly protected.

Those who champion the “true freedom” of Marx and his allies maintained, in contrast, that people need to be given support in order to advance in their lives, that merely setting the free from oppression is far too little help for them. Indeed, often so as to improve their lives, it is necessary to secure supports from others, whether voluntarily or by coercive force. Only that will make them free. In the case of Marx, of course, this could only happen at the end of social history, when human nature would be reconstituted and everyone would be motivated primarily by fellow feeling. Neo-Marxists and welfare statists aren’t like that, though, so they wish to impose the ideal of the New Man on their societies right her and now. They take us to be substantially passive or inert and in need of receiving boosts so as to improve our lives, something that requires the redistribution of labor power and other resources guided by either some elite or a democratic discussion. In either case, negative freedom is not only insufficient but often an obstacle to achieving positive freedom for all.

The current embrace of the “European model,” as many here in Latin America call it—in contrast to the US model, as proposed by the American Founders—is based on the widespread belief that a great many people who aren’t doing well in life cannot benefit much from enjoying mere freedom from intrusiveness, oppression, regimentation and so forth but must, instead, undergo a certain measure of proper regimentation by people in the know who have their best interest at heart. Venezuela is, of course, now fully in the grip of this outlook, going even further back, to outright socialist ideas. Bolivia looks like headed in that direction, with its favorite in the upcoming presidential election championing no holds barred socialism and nationalization of vital industries.

Of course, one problem is that the “American model,” as some refer to it, is nothing like what the American Founders outlined in the Declaration of Independence. The USA today is virtually a market socialist system, with government in charge of much of the economy, subsidizing this, regulating that, and protecting yet another thing from the free market. With this kind of leadership of the free world, no wonder its earlier ideal of a free society is faltering among those around the globe who are trying to figure out which way they ought to go as far as their political economic system is concerned.

Ultimately, of course, the debate is about human nature itself and what kind of community best suits it so individual human beings can embark upon a life of dignity and prosperity. For my money, there is little doubt that a free society requires respect for individual rights, not some elite group embarking on forced redistribution and caretaking. The lessons of history and honest human reflection (e.g., public choice theory, the tragedy of the commons, etc.), not to mention plain ordinary morality—that makes freedom from coercion a precondition of any ethically significant conduct—teach this to anyone who would but pay attention.