What if people used liberty badly?
Tibor R. Machan
If people are free to choose how to live, how to conduct themselves and
what goals to pursue, they will do commendable as well as contemptible
things. That is what liberty means--there is no justification for
regimenting any adult's life, none. The right to liberty, an unalienable
right to quote the American founders, can be used well or badly.
Why would anyone endorse this? It's risky, of course, since folks often
choose badly. But if they aren't going to choose for themselves, then
others will choose for them and, of course, others, too, can choose well
or badly. And when others don't know about someone they order about, they
will most often judge badly. Even more importantly, the most central fact
about people will be suppressed, namely, their decisive role in living
their own lives. This is crucial about human beings--self-responsibility.
Without it we do not live genuine human lives at all but the ?lives? of
circus or barnyard animals, even puppets.
For those who wish to bring in government to save us from these risks it
needs to be pointed out that there is absolutely no reason to think that
those in governments will do better than those out of government at
managing lives. Indeed, power corrupts, so those who attempt to take over
the lives of others in the hope of making these others live right will
quickly forget that goal and manage others for perverse purposes. They
will rule others to seek their own goals, to gain and keep power to
themselves. The initial helpful intentions will quickly give way to
incompetent bungling and, in time, to nothing more noble than hanging on
to power over others. This is because rulers rarely know enough about
what is best for those they rule and instead of admitting this, they will
keep trying to get it right and fail at it worse and worse.
Defenders of liberty know that free men and women will often go astray.
But that is no justification for trying to take away anyone's liberty, not
unless they try to invade the lives of others who should also be free.
Just think, if you and I and neighbor Jones isn't up to doing reasonably
well at living our lives, why would neighbor Smith be good, on the whole,
at ordering us about successfully? Neighbor Smith isn't some God but yet
another bloke, a bureaucrat or politician, who is no better equipped to do
things right than you and I are.
Government is, in short, not qualified to guide us to do what's right, as
a general rule, so it should stick to its business of keeping the peace.
The police are best employed as peace officers and not as members of the
vice squad. That would just tempt them to become corrupt, to oppress
people, since they really aren't qualified to set us all aright.
The task to straighten out people about right and wrong should not be
left to government but to family, friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners,
teachers, experts who must earn our trust and others who must deal with us
not by means of coercion but by means of persuasion. That is the
foundation of civilization, peaceful interaction among people, not the
deployment of violence to try to make us good.
Sadly, the temptation to resort of coercion is intense. People often get
impatient and think they should take shortcuts and slap us around,
figuratively or literally, rather than reach us through reason. So they
call upon government, the wielder of force in society, to hurry things up.
But that way they undermine not just the humanity of those from whom they
take the power of self-government but also themselves whose ways they have
rendered brutal and uncivilized.
Yes, free men and women can do wild and crazy, even perverse, things but
their lives are their own--that is what having the unalienable right to
life means. And these lives are for their owners to run, however
successfully or ineptly. To help, others can urge, implore, suggest,
advise, propose, even pressure in friendly ways. But no one gets to take
over the direction of these lives, not with any justice on their side, no
matter how perversely those lives may be lived.