Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Column on not coercing generosity

Coerced Altruism?s Ruinous Popularity

Tibor R. Machan

You might say I wrote the book on generosity?one of mine had this as its
topic and its title, as well, back in 1998. So when in response to a
recent column, in which I reaffirmed the propriety of freely chosen as
against coerced generosity, I received dozens of really nasty letters,
claiming that I was advocating cruelty and meanness, I had to shake my
head in dismay. Will they never get it?

A bill like the Americans with Disabilities Act, long with many others
that make it a crime not to help those who are in more or less serious
need, is clearly in violation of an elementary principle of morality, one
that is captured in a slogan from the famous German philosopher, Immanuel
Kant. ?Ought? implies ?can,? said Kant?who is otherwise not my favorite
(because he continued to support a very destructive idea, namely, dualism,
the notion that reality is divided into two incompatible, the factual and
the mental, realms). In this, however, he pointed his finger at something
we all can easily accept, if we but think about it a little: If one is to
do the right thing, it must be done freely, un-coerced, voluntarily.
Otherwise we are simply behaving as we are forced to by others, something
for which no moral credit could accrue to us, something that does not make
us decent people and does not make the action morally worthwhile.

In a truly free human community, what measure of generosity, charity,
philanthropy is to be forthcoming from people may not be forced upon them
and the beneficiaries may not use the force of laws and regulations to
elicit what they need and want from others. This is true in the case of
all so called civil rights laws, too, be it for the benefit of members of
any type of minorities, be they of some race, gender or disabled group.

For instance, when immigrants come to a free society, they, unlike those
who come to certain states of the United States of America, are not
entitled to be provided by laws and regulation with special language
assistance in their schools or places of work. They need to do the
catch-up work with freely given support, not support gotten at the point
of the gun. And that goes, also, for all disabled persons, however much
this may seem to them unfair or even unjust. It is far more unjust to
initiate force against people so as to help one?a point that should be
easy to appreciate in simple personal relations in which it is plain
common sense that morally no one may coerce another to be helpful, even in
cases of dire straits.

In the community in which I live a disaster struck a merciless blow upon
a family, killing a teen and destroying their home recently in a wild yet
well populated canyon during heavy rains. In at least partial response,
thousands from the neighborhood, including about 75 business
establishments from near and far, gathered for a commemorative feast and
raised quite a bit of support for the survivors of the disaster,
voluntarily, with no one rounding them up to provide the support. This is
the way help is secured in a civilized, decent, and free society, not via
threats to put people in jail or of fining them if they are not willing to
give of their own free will. That is a central difference between how free
men and women live in one another?s company and how barbarians do, who
extract what they need and want by actual or threatened brute force.

Yet, in response to my recalling what would seem an obvious
point?especially in a country that put on record (and the government of
which makes a big deal of advocating for all) the conditions by which free
people live together, as wall is in the spirit of George Orwell?s
admonition that "Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the
restatement of the obvious" (http://oaks.nvg.org/wm4ra8.html)?I got an
inordinate amount of flack. No, I am not complaining?I merely lament this
fact and make note of it as a disturbing sign of how fragile the idea of
liberty is in the very country in which the Founders considered each
citizen as having the unalienable right to acting freely and one that had
a tragic Civil War fought in large measure so as to abolish slavery,
involuntary servitude.

No comments: