Thursday, June 30, 2005

Column on Promoting RIght Conduct the Right Way

Promoting Right Conduct?the Right Way

Tibor R. Machan

Most of the time people try to justify coercing others to do things on
the grounds that they know what?s right and those others don?t or, in any
case, will not comply. Even the recent 5 to 4 eminent domain ruling by the
US Supreme Court can be viewed along such lines: The city officials
believed they knew what the private property owners ought to do and so
they may make them do it. In that particular case, economic development is
supposed to be right and good, so let?s make those property owners bend to
the will of those who understand this. Ergo, eminent domain which,
although the US Constitution authorizes it only for taking private
property for public use, is now authorized for takings transferred to
private parties who will do ?the right thing? (e.g., develop land and pay
more taxes to the city).

Never mind that most often those claiming such knowledge do not actually
have it. Even if they do, this is just the sort of barbaric approach to
making people do the right thing that was to be stopped by deploying the
principles of the US Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

If you know what the right thing is for someone to do, you may not coerce
him, you need to convince him of it, you need his consent. That?s because
we all have the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness. And having a right means one who has it gets to decide how to
exercise it. And that may not always conform to high standards. (Just
think of the right of the free press?doesn?t mean all journalists produce
the best stuff they could. Indeed it means lots of them produce drivel.)

But if one is not supposed to coerce people to do the right thing, what
is one to do about all the misbehavior that surrounds us? Well, the answer
is one must use civilized means. Eminent domain measures are barbaric
means?taking from people to give to other people without the permission of
the former. Imagine if one took this message of the Court to heart and
proceeded to run around one?s neighborhood bullying everyone who doesn?t
behave up to snuff to do the right thing. That?s what violent gangs
presume to do!

Civilized conduct requires that one promote the right conduct of other
people not by coercion but by persuasion, example, instruction, urging,
imploring, and, at worst, ostracism and boycott. Human beings, in short,
must deal with fellow human beings peacefully even if those others don?t
do the right thing. Unless someone is aggressive towards another, whatever
wrong he or she does must be approached peacefully. That is what amounts
to civil conduct, as distinct from the behavior of brutes in the wild that
subdue one another violently.

But why abstain from such brutishness when it comes to people dealing
with other people? Is that just a quirk or is it required somehow from
human beings?

Most generally, if one makes other people do the right thing without
their consent, these other people are deprived of their chance to earn
moral credit, deprived of their dignity. They are treated as mere puppets,
as little children, not as adults who need to make their own decisions so
as to be morally praiseworthy, commendable. The reason animals may
ordinarily be forced to behave as we want them to behave is that they are
beasts without a moral sense?and even then it is nicer to manage them
gently instead of roughly. But with human beings it is imperative that
they aren?t pushed around, aren?t forcibly made to do the right thing.

Even with kids, as they grow older it is more appropriate to provide them
with good examples of decent behavior instead of browbeating them. That is
how understanding of what?s right is promoted, rather than mere
compliance, mere following orders out of fear (which then tends to produce
rebellion a the first chance anyway). Sending out the cops to have people
do the right thing is the wrong way to act. Making laws and regulations
that must be followed lest one go to jail is not how morality is promoted
among people.

It is one of the most revolutionary aspects of the American political
tradition that this lesson was given official expression by the Founders.
By now, however, America?s political leaders have nearly completely
forgotten it all. Now they resort to the same regimentation of other
people that they had rejected on the part of the likes of King George the
3rd. It is time to regain the momentum the Founders unleashed and promote
right conduct the right way?peacefully.

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