Peddling the Corruption of Liberty
Tibor R. Machan
Ever since the idea of individual liberty has achieved some measure of
credibility over the world, those who would be unseated by its limited
triumph had to find some way to discredit it or trump it somehow. One way
was to re-christen servitude, to make it appear like an even more
important kind of liberty than what individual liberty, properly
understood, amounts to.
When a human being is free in the most important, political sense, he or
she is sovereign. This means he or she governs his or her own life?others
must refrain from intruding on this life, plain and simple. That life may
be fortunate or not, rich or not, beautiful or not, and many other things
or not, but what matters is that that life is no one else?s to mess with.
One gets to run it, no one else does.
Now this is a very uncomfortable idea for all those folks who see all
kinds of benefits from running other people?s lives. But they cannot
champion this now in so many words, what with individual liberty having
gained some solid standing, so the only way to remedy matters for them is
to claim that their oppression brings even greater freedom to people than
the respect and protection of individual liberty.
So, we have the kind of ?freedoms? propounded by Franklin D. Roosevelt,
the freedoms now dubbed ?positive.? These freedoms do not fend off those
who would use you, interfere with you, invade your life, rob, kill, or
assault you but promise, to the contrary, to take good care of you without
your having to do much, by invading others, by violating their individual
liberties. These are the entitlement "rights" offered up by proponents of
the welfare state, all those who claim that government is best when it is
"generous," when it becomes the Nanny State?meaning, when it enslaves
Peter to serve Paul and vice versa.
I am not sure about what exactly motivates this ruse?some of it is surely
the thirst for power. When you want to enslave people, promise them a
special kind of liberty. Castro managed to win over millions of Cubans
this way, as did other Marxists in Eastern Europe and in Latin America, as
do politicians nearly everywhere.
Maybe a few folks actually honestly believed that this kind of political
alternative is best for us all, but it is difficult to imagine what would
persuade them of such a fraudulent notion. Giving people this positive
freedom must always involve depriving other people of their individual
liberty, their ?negative? freedom, which is to say, their sovereignty and
their freedom from having others interfere with their lives, from
depriving them of their resources and labor and regulating them to the
Now, there is little that can be done about this in the short run?when
people put their minds to such deceptions, the only ultimate defense is
clear thinking and vigilance, which is unfortunately always in short
supply and needs to be slowly cultivated. Too many people are tempted by
the promise of effortless living, of getting all their problems solved at
the point of a gun turned on others who will be coerced to come up with
the solutions. This is such an addictive notion to those who are lazy, who
feel left out, or who believe that they are entitled to everything all
those who are better off already have going for them, so the power-hungry
have a good marketing ploy here. Then there is envy, too, and all the
bogus political ideologies promoted by those who just must step in to
govern the world as they see fit?as I say, I am not sure what kind of
mental acrobatics manages to allow people to live with themselves in peace
who perpetrate such fraud.
Despite the fact that there is little one can do at once in response,
other than to keep spelling out just what a ruse it all is, perhaps now
and then institutional barriers can also be built. Yet, since they too
depend upon ideas, ideas that are so easily corrupted, the only real
answer is the old one about eternal vigilance. I say, it?s worth it, so
let?s go for it.