Saturday, November 05, 2005

No Choice, Only An Echo

Tibor R. Machan

Most of my reading consist of novels, books in physics, and magazines on politics and culture. In this latter category fall The New York Review of Books and The Claremont Review of Books.

No, I am not a masochist. However I do need to keep up to snuff on what the erudite folks are thinking on both the American Right and the Left. These two publications provide one with a pretty good sample, although one should dip into The New Republic, The Nation, National Review, Commentary, and some others as well to keep abreast of things—or, rather, what such folks think about things.

The reason I mention masochism above is that reading either the American Right or Left is often painful and scary. What they are completely united on is being hell bent on wanting to control other people. They differ only on what that control ought to accomplish.

With the Right we get what George Will once had as a part of the title of one of his books, namely, soul craft. With the Left we get the desperate wish for controlling people’s wealth, their productive efforts and what results of them. As Ayn Rand, the Russian born American novelist-philosopher once noted, it all depends on your metaphysics: If you think what’s crucial in the world is the operation of matter, that’s what you will want to control; if it is spirit you think makes the most difference, you will want to control it. In either case, the casualty is human individual liberty.

This is nearly completely right, judging by what the erudite folks on the American Right and Left put out. It comes out especially clearly when they review books, often by authors from the other side. One can nearly always predict that, no matter how nuanced and sophisticated a criticism is, the Right complains that there is not more regimentation of our souls, whereas the Left’s beef is that our bodies are not put into the service of the goals they favor.

It is quite amazing how little both sides trust human individuals when it comes to the issue of choosing the right course of conduct for themselves. Whatever that proper course is—and I agree that there is such a course, albeit not usually simple to figure out, especially from remote places like Washington, D.C.—what matters to the Right and the Left is that some bullies take up the job of coercing us all to do it.

Interestingly, in this regard these highly educated, often very skilled wordsmiths, aren’t all that different from the radical Islamists they both claim to dislike. For what the radical Islamists want is to force the world to march to just one drummer, theirs, never mind freedom of choice. George Will again, the conservative pundit, once made this clear when he spoke so derisively of choice! The Left is no less impressed with choice, except when it comes to the abortion debate, somewhat like the Right isn’t too worried about life (for example, loosing it in a completely bizarre war across the globe that has virtually nothing to do with freedom, as they pretend) other than when it comes to that of a human embryo.

This is all very sad. Of course, both sides want to reserve to themselves a monopoly on championing freedom. The Right doesn’t mind some economic freedom—it isn’t essential to the spiritual life, after all. And the Left doesn’t mind some freedom in, say, the arts, which is to many of them a mere epiphenomenona. They are also perfectly willing to call “freedom” what is in fact regimentation—positive freedom, that is, making some people provide others with what will enable them to do what they want and like.

What should be clear to all these highly educated, well read, sober people on both sides—all of whom have their own particular value-agendas, don’t make any mistake about that—is that adult human beings just do not get better when they are pushed around, however well-meaning are the pushers. They may comply, they may even invent a bit to make life easier under the gun, but ultimately all this regimentation impedes genuine improvement of the human condition. Freedom is the answer, the kind of freedom that recognizes and honors every adult person’s sovereignty and attempts to influence people only in the civilized way of persuasion, never coercion.

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