Friday, February 18, 2005

Column on Duplicitous Drug Offender Prosecutor

Who Regulates the Regulators?

Tibor R. Machan

This is not some original question from me but I must ask it again. Did
you read about the ?zealous prosecutor of drug criminals? who has turned
out to be, you guessed it, a drug criminal himself? He is Richard James
Roach of the Texas Panhandle, a Republican district attorney, who is
reportedly notorious for his lambaste of drug offenders and his vigorous
pursuit of them in court. Alas, et tu Brute!

When Rush Limbaugh?the poor righteous soul, who had, despite his repeated
bashing of big government (well, big government when Liberals support it,
not so much when the Republicans do) backed the war on drugs?got caught
gobbling down pain killers to which he became ?addicted,? many made fun of
him for his hypocrisy. Perhaps he really couldn?t help himself?such things
have been known to happen to some people, even though this idea is mostly
a ploy by defense attorneys when nothing else works to get off their
clients. In any case, we have here a far more important case of hypocrisy.
On several levels, actually.

There is, first of all, the man himself, who seems to have carried out
his vendetta against drug offenders while doing exactly as they have been
doing. I must say, it baffles me how one brings this off. Maybe I am
naïve?after all, con men (or is it now con persons?) abound in history and
I have run into a few twofaced folks myself in my life. But still, just as
with vandalism?like scratching car doors or bending antennas?I just don?t
get it. Peculiar mentalities, these, I must say.

But in my book the more interesting hypocrisy is this: Unlike when Enron
executives perpetrated their criminal conduct and the liberal Left was
hollering for re-regulating various aspects of business that they claim
weren?t sufficiently regulated to prevent those guys from pulling off
their evil deeds (which, by the way, they were caught doing without the
extra regulation), in this case I have heard nothing about more vigorous
regulation of criminal prosecutors.

Oh, you say, this is just one case?there are many, many decent criminal
prosecutors, so one shouldn?t jump the gun. Yet that is exactly what holds
true about the Enron people?they were a bunch of individuals gone wrong
and nothing at all follows about needing to re-regulate the industry in
which they did their bad deeds. So why, then, the discrepancy?

Mainly because those who love regulation have a prejudice against
business. You can read it on Op Ed pages everywhere?especially The New
York Times. Commerce is bad?too many choices, people cannot handle them,
let?s, therefore, limit them. Commerce?it makes people treat one another
as objects (as commodities), so let?s restrict it. Commerce?it gives big
companies too much power, so people are duped into buying things they
don?t want or need just so this big corporations become rich. And the
refrain continues without end.

But when a criminal prosecutor?whose specialty is victimless crimes and
who has sent hundreds up people up the river for dozens and dozens of
years for hurting no one at all?gets caught breaking the same unjust laws
he so enthusiastically used to hurt people and clearly turns out to be
duplicitous, there is no cry to ?regulate? criminal prosecutors. Well, of
course, that?s because there is no one left to do the regulating?criminal
prosecutors are, after all, the end of the line of government regulation.

This is just what ought to teach folks a vital lesson: regulating
people?s lives to prevent their doing harm to themselves is futile. It
ought to be stopped. Let the law handle cases where someone violates
another?s rights, period. That?s not regulation?it is prohibition, based
on the fact that we all have unalienable rights none may violate and all
should get punished if they do violate them. The rest is not the law?s

Ah, but this would put a big dent into the sacred faith that government?s
are the solution to all of our problems. And such a faith seems to have a
life of its own, whatever the facts show.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Column on being involved with the state

On Involvements with the State

Tibor R. Machan

In an article published in The New York Times back in August, 2003, one
of the previous owners of the company for which I work as Advisor on
Libertarian Issues was reported to have complained that the company had
strayed from its ideals. That?s because it owns and operates TV stations
which are federally regulated.

The founder of the company, R. C. Hoiles, had once divested his firm of a
radio station on the grounds that it was under federal government
regulation. Indeed, both TV and radio signals travel on government
confiscated property, the electromagnetic spectrum. (The confiscation
happened in 1927, on the floor of the United States Senate.) Did he do so
because he had a distaste for owning a heavily regulated business or
because he thought such ownership would violate his principles?

I do not know. The question raises a point that?s worth making over and
over again: It does not violate libertarian principles to do business in a
regulated industry. Owning and operating a business that's government
regulated does not, in fact, amount to betrayal or straying from the
principles libertarianism.

Consider, first, that given how newspapers use public roads to deliver
their products, or the US mails for sending and receiving mail, or for
receiving special deals from the US Postal Service, and given that these
all involve the company in dealing with government regulation and
ownership, the claim that a newspaper company is straying from its
principles by owning and operating radio or TV stations is curious. Such
a company could not even exist in our sadly heavily regulated society if
this were the case. (Nor could libertarian scholars work at government
universities and free market think tanks be affiliated with them.)

The bottom line is that so long as one is engaged in a business or
any activity that would be perfectly legal in a free society but, sadly,
has been invaded by the state, one is not straying from libertarian
principles (although needing to work this way may amount to a very
discouraging and displeasing development for anyone). If, however, the
owners and managers of a company or other organization make every
reasonable effort to decouple the state from that business (for example,
editorializing repeatedly and insistently in support of such decoupling),
they aren?t consenting to any betrayal of straying from libertarian

These days nearly every profession?apart from journalism and the
ministry?is rather thoroughly invaded by the government in the US and most
other countries. So it is simply impossible to get away from the state
without discontinuing living in a modern country. For example, one is
forced to obtain business licenses to operate and one must comply with
innumerable HR regulations even in businesses and organizations that are
protected by the First Amendment. For media firms, for instance, one must
get permits of all kinds to keep in business. One must have building
permits to construct the offices where the company's work is done. This is
so even when churches are being built, despite the separation of church
and state!

So, should one be in business or work in any organization at all? Should
those committed to libertarianism leave the country? And exactly where
could they go so as to avoid this kind of ?straying from principles??

In the early 70s Robert LeFevre?who used to be the libertarian advisor at
the company for which I work in that capacity?and I had an instructive
correspondence on this very issue. I had been writing columns for the
flagship paper of the company as well as attending the graduate philosophy
program at UC Santa Barbara, a state owned and operated university. Mr.
LeFevre wrote to me at one point, saying I was violating libertarian
principles by attending UCSB. We exchanged several letters on this topic,
with me arguing that I was not betraying libertarianism and with him
claiming I was.

At one point we weren't getting anywhere any longer in our exchange and I
recall finally writing him to ask, somewhat in jest, why he is using the
US Postal Service to send me his letters?he could, after all, hire a
helicopter or use a private carrier. That, if I recall correctly, was the
end of the discussion, yet we remained friendly and he indeed continued to
publish my essays in Rampart Journal, which he edited, and my columns were
not removed from the paper?s Op Ed page.

It is complicated to live and work in a society that widely and
persistently violates the principles by which one ought to live, but so
long as one is living by and promoting these principles as much as that is
possible, one is not betraying them unless one takes advantage of and
supports the violation of those principles (e.g., advocates protectionism,
urges the Department of Justice to bring anti-trust action against one?s
competitors, or works for the IRS).

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Column on Right Wing Conservatism

Neither Left nor Right Wing

Tibor R. Machan

For over 40 years I have written columns for our local newspaper and for
over that many years I have seen letters to the editor charging this paper
with being Right wing. The charge, however, is way off.

In the context of contemporary American politics, Right wing means
favoring the status quo, mainly, with heavy emphasis on using the power of
the government to regulate people?s morals and their thinking. Left wing,
in turn, tends to mean using government to regulate how we spend our
money, to take it fro us so the government can use it for what politicians
and bureaucrats judge it should be used for.

The line is not a clear cut one because in our time, for example, often
those on the Left do not hesitate to use government to dictate to us about
our use of language?that?s what political correctness is mostly about. And
the Right wing is now well into taking our money and spending it for
us?that?s what prescription drug programs and farm subsidies are about.
Still, the rough distinction is between those who want to control our
souls, namely, the Right wing, and those who want to control our bodies,
the Left wing. Neither is into promoting individual liberty, that?s for

Now, as a matter of proven record, the paper for which I do most of my
writing simply does not fit either of these characterizations. That is one
reason why, when I had a collection of my columns published in 2004, I
entitle the book Neither Left nor Right (Hoover Institution Press). But
still, just the other day a reader wrote about the alleged daily
?poisonous wails and barbs of the angry right wing in the Opinion
section.? What, I thought, must be going on? Whereof such complete

Well, one answer is that many people who have opinions about the paper do
not actually read it. I had this confirmed recently when I went for coffee
with someone who had a very firm view about the paper?s editorial stance
but hadn?t read a single issue, ever. She thought it was a Right wing
conservative editorial position. I asked her, ?Is opposing the war on
drugs a Right wing conservative position?? She said ?No.? I went on, ?Is
opposing the war in Iraq a right wing conservative position?? Once again
she said, ?No.? How about criticizing big corporations for urging cities
to use eminent domain measures against small businesses to gain entry into
markets? Once gain the answer was ?No.?

Well, then, where does this blind charge of ?poisonous wails and barbs of
the angry right wing in the Opinion section? come from? I guess I would
have to write much of it off as pure, unadulterated ignorance?the charge
emanates from folks who just don?t read the paper. Or it comes from some
who want to smear it with some simplistic label. But it could also come
from some who are just confused. The first two really cannot be helped
much. But the last might be.

In the United States of America ?Right wing? often means ?conservative,?
and what conservatism used to mean here, in part, is to preserve the
institutions and principles associated with the American founding. Mostly
this means principles in the Declaration of Independence and sometimes
those in the better parts of the original constitution.

So, unlike conservatives in other ports of the globe, American
conservatives are to some extent loyal to the principles of a fully free
society, one in which all citizens have their basic, unalienable rights to
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness protected by their government,
a government that gains its just powers from the consent of those being
governed. However, over the two centuries plus of this country?s
existence, these principles have been both widely violated and pretty much
abandoned even as ideals to aspire to. And as that has occurred,
conservatives have changed their tune.

Today President George W. Bush?a big spending, big government Republican
who cares nothing for limiting the scope of government, who embraces the
Hamiltonian, not Jeffersonian, idea that ?The job of a president is to see
problems, confront problems and solve problems? (never mind where they
are, whose problems they are, or whether his job description includes the
task of solving them)?is regarded as a Right wing conservative.

Let me assure you, that is not the editorial philosophy that the paper
and other outlets for which I am permitted to write champion, not by a
long shot.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Essay on Libertarianism: Revisiting the Basics

Libertarianism: Revisiting the Basics

Tibor R. Machan

Libertarianism emerged from the classical liberal tradition, as a
purified or more consistent?or radical?version of its pedigree. Figures
such as John Locke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill of the classical
period and Ayn Rand, Murray N. Rothbard, Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek,
John Hospers, and Robert Nozick from recent times spring to mind as major
influences of the position as it is now understood and discussed. Others,
such as Douglas B. Rasmussen, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Anthony De Jasay, Jan
Narveson, Loren Lomasky, Eric Mack, Aeon Skoble, Roderick Long and myself
have been closely associated with discussions and defenses of this
political outlook.

The focus of libertarianism is on the political priority of individual
(negative) liberty (i.e., being free from others? intrusiveness,
invasiveness, aggression, trespass, and so forth). In the libertarian
view the basic rights of every (adult) individual to life, liberty and
property are the central normative claims underlying the political, legal,
economic and social system most suitable for human community life.
Libertarianism stresses the legal fundamentality of the right to private
property (where property includes land, inventions, poems, factories, or
herds of cattle) since it is by reference to what can be owned that
concrete borders?and thus spheres of authority or sovereignty?between
individuals can be clearly enough identified. Everyone has the right to
seek to obtain and hold, if obtained without rights violations, whatever
can be owned.

There are several strains of libertarianism but the differences concern
mainly the supporting philosophical argument. Two major versions have
emerged as prominent: a more or less positivist (or social scientific)
line of argument and one that involves mainly normative (or moral)

Positivists focus on the common human objective of prosperity or wealth,
something preeminently likely in a society wherein private property rights
are respected and protected. Prosperity, along these lines, is identified
subjectively?that is, by reference to how citizens perceive themselves to
be satisfied, enriched, fulfilled, successful, etc.

The normative libertarian takes value judgments to be objective, albeit
most often agent-relative (i.e., depending upon many individual, social,
and other aspects of the individuals involved). Among these is the
central condition?to be secured for everyone within a community?of
individual self-determination, personal sovereignty or autonomy. This
value, as others, is established by reference to what and who an
individual is?in this case by reference to everyone?s essential moral

Because the morally successful individual must take the initiative to do
the right thing?to act ethically?the condition of liberty (spelled out by
the set of basic individual rights) is indispensable for everyone?s moral
development. Private property is the concrete condition of moral autonomy
and political sovereignty making individual choice possible, for better or

Individualism?or either psychological or ethical egoism?is crucial in
libertarianism, as a step in the argument for it. Some version? not
necessarily that referred to (by critics) as atomistic?is closely linked
to libertarianism. Personal determination of and responsibility for one?s
own action?so that the individual person is decisively (though not
exclusively) involved in initiating judgment and shaping conduct?is vital.
Yet sociability as an essential component of human life?provided it is
not coercively imposed?is also compatible with the libertarian vision.

Whether arising from positivism or a normative approach, the concrete
socio-economic result in libertarianism is a polity stressing the supreme
significance of the right to individual liberty. Such notions as
?justice,? ?equality,? ?order,? ?welfare,? etc. also have a role in the
development of the libertarian?s basic legal framework or constitution,
albeit never superseding the right to individual liberty. Government is
thus limited, if it is admitted as proper at all.

Libertarian justice consists of a legal system?s primary focus upon the
standards of due process that bans involuntary servitude, regardless how
worthy the objective might be (e.g., fighting crime or terrorism,
defending the country, fostering the arts, sciences, health care,
education, recreation, etc.). Such objectives needn?t lack widespread
acceptance or even objective value. Yet, having to reach them without the
violation of individual rights (for example, without taxation, universal
conscription, state transfer or redistribution of wealth) is the central
prerequisite of justice. In a system of libertarian justice democracy has
limited scope, mainly involving the election of officers of the law,
legislators and such whose task is to administer the system in line with
the basic libertarian constitution.

Equality, too, is understood by reference to the mutual condition of
liberty that every citizen must enjoy?that is, everyone is equal in
respect of having the right to life, liberty and property, regardless of
whether equality prevails in natural assets, good fortune, health,
well-being, sexual appeal, etc. Thus libertarianism tolerates various
types of so called ?social? injustice?for example, personal betrayal,
economic exploitation, and racial discrimination?so long as no coercive
force or fraud is involved. Furthermore, while it is egalitarian at the
political and legal levels of community life, there is no insistence here
upon the political priority of equality in economic, educational,
athletic, or similar opportunities, let alone equality of conditions or
results, level playing fields, etc.

Libertarianism is concerned with political?not social or economic or
racial or ethnic?justice and equality. While the latter are not, by at
least some libertarian lights, incapable of being identified and sought
out, they must be pursued without recourse to the violation of individual
rights to life, liberty and property. Order, progress, cultural
diversity, ethnic, racial and gender harmony are similarly regarded as
possibly valid but never primary values for a good political community. As
F. A. Hayek put the point,

That freedom is the matrix required for the growth of moral values?indeed
not merely one value among many but the source of all values?is almost
self-evident. It is only where the individual has choice, and its
inherent responsibility, that he has occasion to affirm existing values,
to contribute to their further growth, and they earn moral merit.

There is no room here to consider the innumerable theoretical objections,
let alone aversions, expressed against libertarianism. Put simply,
libertarians take most of them to stem from utopian or idealistic
thinking?the hope that all the ills of human life can be dealt with via
politics, by government policies. Libertarians have address this on
innumerable fronts, including with theories of public choice, the
socialist calculation problem, the tragedy of the commons and similar
ideas showing the impotence of aggressive government policies for purposes
of rectifying personal and social problems.

Indeed, at the level of comparative political thinking the libertarian
may be distinguished by a lack of utopianism. (This is especially true of
the normative libertarian, who does not see human nature conducive to
perfectibility via politics or to any institutional guarantee against
immoral conduct?imprudence, dishonesty, stinginess, greed, sloth.)

Column on Commerce and Society

Commerce is Human

Tibor R. Machan

Sure, you say, what?s with this idea?doesn?t everyone know it already?
Well, actually in many academic institutions you will find professors of
this and that proclaiming just the opposite. They claim commerce is a
dehumanizing institution. It makes people treat one another as objects or,
at most, as means to various ends, not as full persons.

The doctrine is called ?commodification??making people into commodities,
things for nothing other than to be purchased. The charge is that in a
fully capitalist, free market society, the system would encourage everyone
to treat all others as a mere useful product, like one?s chair or
automotive tires. For this reason, the argument goes?and it had got its
biggest boost from Karl Marx, in the 19th Century when he took capitalism
to task very influentially for doing all kinds of nasty things to
people?the free market, with its capitalist economic system, is not really
good for human beings at all.

At first sight this may sound like a credible point to make against
capitalism. When you go to the grocery store, for example, you tend to
treat the cashier or the manager as no more than means to your ends of
walking out of the place with what you need at home. You don?t much
socialize with these people, not at least initially. They are just
functionaries to you. If they were machines and could do what you need
from them, that would be perfectly fine. Or so it can seem, from a
superficial examination of what happens in markets. Your broker, doctor,
auto-mechanic, shoe repairer and the rest, they aren?t your personal
friends. They are instruments used to satisfy important needs of yours but
they could easily be replaced with someone else or some tool. (Nowadays
you can even check out by using auto-scanners, with no need for a person
at all.)

Trouble is that to focus on this element of the market?that it is mostly
impersonal on a certain level?betrays a narrow vision. As if people would
leave it at that, except in the most unusual circumstances?for example,
when they are in a hurry and need to get done with shopping as fast as
possible. But normally that isn?t how it is at all.

As my friend and fellow philosophy professor Neera K. Badhwar argued in a
very well developed, complex paper on the topic, commerce is actually the
institution where much of our intimate social life gets its start. And
anyone can check this out easily enough.

Just consider that wherever you work, you have colleagues with whom you
have perfectly human relationships, good or bad or in between. In fact,
sometimes places of work become nearly homes away from home, where people
not only meet and talk and grow close (to enjoy or be annoyed by each
other), but get involved quite seriously in each other?s lives. Kids are
discussed, as are spouses. Close friendships, or at least palships,
develop frequently. Some colleagues become lovers, even marry in time.
(Contrast this with how it is like to go at the DMV!)

The myth that market transactions are impersonal is just that, a myth,
and it comes from shallow, superficial reflection on what goes on in
markets. It may be no accident that the idea is so popular in the academy,
where there is often a kind of isolation among faculty, with few becoming
close with one another, although there is enough exception to this that it
should raise doubts in the minds of those who spread the myth around about
the market.

Even down at the grocery store?or the pet shop or car dealer?customers
and vendors frequently depart from their initial reason for coming
together and start talking about sports, ethnic food, music or family
troubles. And from that now and then full blown, genuine friendships

What the critics don?t appreciate is how well people can multitask in
life, that while they do business they can also do arts, sciences,
education, family affairs and the rest on the side. Karl Marx was
wrong?the free market is by no means only a cash nexus, where everyone
thinks only of the bottom line. That?s because it would be entirely
unnatural for human beings to be that way.

Column on Academic Freedom (sans typo)

Academic Freedom, True and False

Tibor R. Machan

It is nothing new?the controversy about what academic freedom amounts to.
At the University of Colorado a professor, Ward Churchill, wrote an essay
claiming the victims in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center were
little Eichmans, suggesting that WTC professionals were perpetrating
genocide?even if they didn?t overtly intend to do so?by being complicit in
activities that contribute to attacks on certain ethnic groups. I have no
idea which ethnic groups he had in mind, nor how WTC folks were supposed
to bring off this deed. The point is he made this outrageous claim.
University of Colorado officials are now reported to be bent out of shape
about what to do about this person.

In another case the University of New Mexico had to deal with Richard
Berthold, a former history professor, who had told students just after the
9/11 attacks: "Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon has my vote." The
university didn?t fire him as many had urged but conducted some kind of
review and in time issued a letter of reprimand after he had apologized.

We actually have different cases here. In the one involving Ward
Churchill, he wrote an essay, which clearly comes under academic
freedom?the well entrenched and officially proclaimed tradition at most
higher academic institutions in the USA of the liberty of university and
other teachers to produce works that develop and even promote various
ideas, however objectionable these may be. In the case of Richard
Berthold, however, we have someone who ?told students? his highly
contentious opinion and here something else comes to the fore: the ethics
pertaining to a teacher?s professional responsibilities.

There are gray areas, of course, in all human affairs, including academic
freedom vs. academic ethics, which is why we have faculty committees to
look into such cases now and then. One professor at the University of
Nevada, Las Vegas, reportedly got into hot water with his administration
because he gave an example of a gay couple in a discussion of the
economics of savings. He observed that given that gays aren?t so likely to
have kids as heterosexuals, the probability of their saving as diligently
as heterosexuals do is significantly lower. For this observation some
student complained to the administration and he is now under
investigation, possibly getting reprimanded and docked a month of pay.
This professor was addressing his students in his professional capacity
but he wasn?t advocating anything but using an apt example to illustrate a
point in economics, one, however, that made a student uncomfortable.

Had he advocated something to his class about gays being bad people for
failing to save for the future, the matter would raise certain valid
questions: Is he abusing his position by advocating to a captive audience
that is not there to hear his own values, be these right or wrong? Is he
unqualified to judge whether not saving on the part of gays is something
objectionable? In both cases if the answer is in the affirmative, academic
freedom would not apply. However, if he published an essay promoting such
views, that would fall under academic freedom, regardless of how wrong
they may be.

Much of the problem with academic freedom is to distinguish advocacy from
coverage of the discipline?s various topics. One should be free in a
political theory course to explain the Nazi's position; however, one
should not be free to use one?s classroom as a platform for advocating
one?s own views, be it for or against Nazism. This is not a matter of
academic freedom but of professional competence and ethics.

Suppose one decided to tell jokes in class all day long?to take a bit of
an extreme case for illustrative purposes?instead of covering the topic
one is supposed to be teaching. Now if they fire such a person or issue a
reprimand, that's perfectly OK. The matter has nothing to do with academic
freedom. Now suppose one writes a book of jokes under one?s real name, one
that is quite offensive to some people. This an academician ought to be
free to do without any sanctions applied to by one?s academic employer.
That's academic freedom.

However, suppose one writes a book in the field of history and it gets
published and in it one claims that Abraham Lincoln was president of the
United States of America in 1984. This, is gross incompetence and one
should get one?s comeuppance for it?it has nothing to do with academic
freedom. And it need not be so gross, in fact?demonstrably bad historical
scholarship qualifies as incompetence in the field and isn?t protected by
academic freedom.

The biggest problem, of course, is that universities are funded with
money taken in taxes from all citizens, many of whom don?t believe in
granting academic freedom to people with what they regard as highly
objectionable viewpoints. So these victims of such taxation will agitate,
often vigorously, against defending the academic freedom of those
professors and scholars of whom they disapprove. And they are right?not
because academic freedom is a bad idea but because having them fund such
scholars against their will is a bad idea.

Essay from Think on Why Liberty is needed for Morality

Why Liberty is Necessary for Morality*

Tibor R. Machan

It is often taken to be a feature of a free society that it rests on the
belief that no one can tell what is morally right or wrong. That is
supposed to be why people are not imposed upon with strictures the
government forces them to follow. If, however, we could determine what is
right and wrong, then, the idea follows, government could just proceed to
force everyone to behave right.

A sad result of so explaining the merits of a free society is that it
begins to look like liberty is the enemy of morality. And it is just this
way that a good many people have understood the Western tradition of
liberalism. They have come to believe that if you accept the Western idea
of a free society, you must not care about morality at all. Indeed,
arguably a great many enemies of the West hold such a view. Love the
West, reject morality; love morality, reject the West.

Yet this is completely wrong. In point of fact precisely the opposite is
true. The reason the Western idea of a free society makes a great deal of
sense is that unless people make their moral choices and act on them
freely, there cannot be anything morally praiseworthy in what they do.

A person who does the right thing because it is commanded, forced upon
him, isn?t acting morally. Such a person is acting from fear, not the
conviction that what he is doing is morally right. Indeed, it is only in
substantially free societies that men and women can be morally good. If
one is regimented to praise Allah or God or give to the poor or defend
one?s country, there is absolutely nothing praiseworthy about that. One
is then being a mere puppet, certainly not a morally responsible human

Of course, there have been some who have defended the individual?s right
to liberty on the ground that no one can tell what is right or wrong.
Some very famous people have done this. Yet their defense of human
liberty is a weak, ineffectual one. That?s because if one cannot tell
what is right or wrong, one cannot tell whether violating someone?s right
to liberty is right or wrong. So, a moral skeptic simply has no
consistent reason to complain if the right to liberty is violated.

Those, however, who insist that they do know right from wrong have no
justification for opposing the free society. For adult men and women to
be morally praiseworthy ? or, alternatively, blameworthy ? for something
they do, they have to do it freely, of their own initiative, not because
they are coerced to do it.

No one is morally improved by being forced to be generous, just, kind,
courageous, prudent, honest, charitable, moderate, humble or the like.
The paternalistic motivations behind many governmental measures that
ostensibly aim to make people good are hopelessly misguided.

I would even question the motivation of those who promote coercive
governmental measures aimed to reduce vice and increase virtue ? since
coercion kills personal responsibility, and does this very obviously, it
is more likely that advocates of coercively getting people to be good are
power seekers, not promoters of morality at all. They merely use morality
as an excuse to rule other people. In the name of such allegedly good
intentions, they perpetrate the most dehumanizing deed toward people;
namely, they promote robbing them of their liberty to choose.

Of course, the laws of a free society cannot guaranteed that the
citizenry will choose the right way to act. That is something in the
hands of the citizens themselves and their fellow citizens, friends,
community leaders, teachers, writers, and others who urge us all to do
what?s right, not officers of the law whose task is to keep the peace, not
to make people good! But in a free society, where no one is authorized to
dump the results of his or her misdeeds on others' lives, people are more
encouraged to do the right thing than in societies where personal
responsibility is missing because of the lack of individual liberty. So,
critics of the free society who want more emphasis on morality than on
liberty would do better if they first stood up to defend liberty. From
that the prospects for genuine, freely chosen morality are far greater
than they are wherever men and women aren?t free.

*This essay appeared in the Royal Institute of Philosophy publication
Think (Spring 2005).