Friday, March 04, 2005

Column on Ad Hominem attacks on freedom

When Elites Use Ad Hominems

Tibor R. Machan

A book came to my attention with a promising title, so I bought and began
to read it. The author is William M. Sullivan, a senior scholar at the
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the book is Work
and Integrity, The Crisis and Promise of Professionalism in America (2005).

With such a title I was hoping for, though admittedly not quite
expecting, a non-politicized discussion of the ethics of work and
professionalism. Alas, there is some of this in the book, but much of it
is also devoted to putting down anyone who thinks these matters can be
handled without involving a massive government?especially, licensing and

OK, but this would not be so bad if our distinguished author went about
arguing for his support of these measures, ones that have been on the
books for ages and yet have spawned a situation that has prompted the
author himself to lament endlessly the unprofessional conduct of
professionals. Instead, when it comes to the issue of whether the private
sector could deal with professional credentialing, we get no argument at
all, only name calling. Mr. Sullivan does not hesitate at all to deploy
one of the least civil of rhetorical devices in discussing issues, namely,
ad hominems.

It may be recalled by some that the Nobel Laureate economist Milton
Friedman wrote a book, Capitalism and Freedom (1962) in which he
argues?yes, he actually argues?against professional licensing, making the
case that a free society does not deserve to be burdened by such demeaning
public measures, ones that treat professionals as requiring the
supervision of a bunch of force-wielding bureaucrats. A free society can
have its own watchdog agencies, ones, however, that do not have the status
of the monarch but simply one among many service agencies like the Good
Housekeeping Seal of Approval folks.

So what does Mr. Sullivan offer in rebuttal to this line of argument
Friedman goes to great pains to develop? Nothing, not unless you consider
calling Milton Friedman a ?market fundamentalist,? someone among ?those
who allow their enthusiasm for the ideals of markets performance to
develop into fanaticism,? an argument. Sullivan says that Friedman is
wrong because he fails to make any room for non-market institutions doing
something to enhance professionalism, whereas, of course, Friedman does
nothing of the sort. He simply wants to exclude coercive measures, which
in Sullivan?s view makes him a fanatic.

Now being a fanatic about liberty hasn?t ever seemed to me such a
dangerous thing. As when Barry Goldwater said, ?extremism in the defense
of liberty is no vice,? so neither is fanaticism in defense of it so
awful. Abolitionist were fanatics, as were anti-Vietnam War demonstrators,
and civil rights activists?meaning they were really, seriously opposed to
what they deemed to be unjust. Calling them ?civil rights fundamentalists?
wouldn?t suffice to take issue with their position. Arguments, however,
might?as we have seen when prominent law professors have taken issue with
those activists.

But cheer up. When prominent scholars from very prestigious organizations
lash out at various ideas with venom, you know those ideas are making an
impact. And they should. Free market fundamentalism, like Criminal justice
fundamentalism (a la the ACLU) or human rights fundamentalism (as per
Amnesty International) can indeed be a wonderful thing and attacking it in
such uncivil ways may give it something of a boost.

Licensing of professionals is, in fact, a form of prior restraint and is
not tolerable where human beings are supposed to be left free until they
have been proven guilty of a crime. People doing work in the various
professions need to be credentialed without violating this ideal and a
little fanaticism in support of that will do us a lot of good.

Maybe we ought to thank the likes of Mr. Sullivan for showing how
impoverished have become defenders of all the myriad government measures
that treat people as if they were beholden to the state, not to their own
conscience and the expectations of their free customers and clients.

Column on ADA "abuse"

ADA is Easily Abused

Tibor R. Machan

Some 18 years ago the Feds made a law that compels all kinds of business
establishments to accommodate disabled people. This law is often abused,
of course, as, for example, when people want jobs despite lacking
elementary skills to do them or when they demand that restaurants make
accommodation for their disability even if they are able to cope with just
a little extra effort.

But it is not abuse that?s the problem. It is the idea that businesses
are to be made the involuntary servants of people whose disabilities they
do not consider profitable or otherwise worthy to accommodate. Yes, this
may sound harsh but it is far harsher to coerce these establishments to
make accommodations. They are not there for the sake of these customers
but for making a living for their owners and investors. And there is no
moral justification in the slightest for being made legally beholden to
anyone, however unfortunate the person may be.

To some extent nearly everyone has special needs?which is why eye
glasses, canes, hearing aids, and the like are wonderful inventions. Yet,
despite their great value to those who need them, no one has the moral?and
should have the legal?authority to order anyone to produce these
implements. It is up to the inventors to come forth with their
contributions, which then can be used to great benefit by millions of

But the US federal government, with the typical will to power attitude
when it comes to the bulk of the things they now embark upon, believe they
may coerce restaurants, amusement parks and other establishment to render
it simple for disabled people to make use of their facilities. How come?
If no one may force us to invent helpful implements for the disabled, why
may anyone force us to provide them with extra help?

Mind you, it is often decent to make provisions for those who need some
extra assistance. Generosity will often motivate vendors to do just that,
and this is praiseworthy. It is, however, something they themselves must
choose to provide, and to be coerced into doing it is far worse, morally,
than not extending the generous gesture. Not only that?there can be other
perfectly legitimate goals that could well be more important to the
vendors than to help the disabled.

Disability has a devastating impact on many people but, as already noted,
it is part of life. We all have a bit of it. None of us, however, is
morally entitled or authorized to compel others to help us because of our
disability. Indeed, if this were a right thing to do, there certainly are
millions of people around the globe who could just enslave us to serve
them, to provide involuntary servitude for their benefit.

A particularly egregious case of someone with disability harassing
various businesses has finally come under legal scrutiny in California. As
reported at, on February 18, 2005, ?A federal judge last
week accused a San Francisco law firm of ?plainly unethical? conduct in
its representation of a wheelchair-bound man who has filed some 400
lawsuits against California businesses since 1998 for alleged violations
of the Americans With Disabilities Act.? The man is 34 year old Jarek
Molski who in 1988 had a motorcycle ?accident??of which I would like to
know more, since that doesn?t tell us who was at fault?and has been going
about the state harassing various establishments if they do not
accommodate him. He has been especially vigilant in suing various small
wineries in the San Louis Obispo area.

The judge who finally put a stop to this called Moski ?a vexatious
litigant,? one who perpetrates a "scheme of systematic extortion designed
to harass and intimidate business owners into agreeing to cash
settlements." The law group going to bat for this man, The Frankovich
Group of San Francisco, is protesting the judge?s ruling, as is to be
expected, and who knows how the case will end up.

But here is the lesson: Once a bad law gets on the books, there is
probably no way to nail anyone for abusing it since one can only abuse
what is generally good. The ADA law is generally bad, not because disabled
people do not often deserve a break?although, again, this may not include
people who go out of their way to engage in risky conduct or, especially,
those who act recklessly. It is bad because it is coercive, conscripting
vendors to benefit the disabled, something no one deserves, not even for
the sake of providing such help.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Column on Million Dollar Baby

Ethics vs. Politics in Million Dollar Baby

Tibor R. Machan

Who has a right to one?s life? The individual whose life it is, that?s
who. And what does that entail? That it is up to that individual whether
to strive to continue to be alive, to thrive, or to discontinue living, to
stop thriving and discontinue living.

But having a natural (and justly protected legal) right to end one?s life
doesn?t make the act itself morally right. One has rights to do what is
wrong?just think of the right to freedom of speech, how often when it is
legitimately exercised what comes out is wrong! The right to be wrong is,
however, a right, nonetheless.

And it is also true that sometimes ending one?s life can be the right
thing to do, although there is probably no general account of when that
would be. Living in constant, unrelenting extreme pain could qualify?no
one is obligated to carry on in such a state unless there is a decent
prospect of recovery. One may also risk one?s life for various purposes
that merit such a risk, such as protecting the freedom of one?s country or
the safety of one?s loved ones or, for some folks, even going mountain

In the Clint Eastwood directed movie, Million Dollar Baby, this issue
comes up quietly, as it did in Whose Life is it Anyway, which starred
Richard Dreyfuss some years ago and explored the topic head on. Whether
the answer reached is the right one is, of course, one of the vital
questions in morality and also of medical ethics. But there is first the
question of whether anyone has the right to end his or her own life, with
or without assistance from someone else.

The answer to this last question is a clear cut ?Yes.? It is one?s own
life and however wrong it may be, or right, it is up to one to decided
whether to end it. Of course, there are some complications?if one has
obligations to others, say one?s children or creditors, the answer is
different since one has made commitments one must first fulfill. But all
rights can face such complications?I have a right to my property but if I
have used it as collateral for a loan, that changes things. I have a
right to my liberty but if I chose to be married, some of my liberties
have been freely restricted by me.

Still, the fundamental issue is the same: It is the individual who has
the right to decided whether to live or die since it is he or she who has
an unalienable right to life. To defend this idea is itself not so simple,
especially since there are many views contrary to it. Some hold that the
individual belongs to humanity?communists thinks so. Or to
society?socialists believe that. Or the community?communitarians hold that
view. Or to God?which is the view of various religions. Some even believe
that there is no individual at all?some eastern philosophies subscribe to
this idea.

This isn?t the place to work out the issue in full but it is possible to
remind ourselves that at least in the American political tradition,
derived from the philosophical works of classical liberals?most
importantly John Locke?one has an unalienable right to ones? life. One is
sovereign, self-ruling. And that implies that no one else may interfere
with one?s authority to guide one?s life as one will, be this for good or
for ill, so long as no one else?s rights are being violated in the process.

Accordingly, Million Dollar Baby depicts what must be understood as a
sound political or legal doctrine, even if one can take issue with its
morality. Sadly, few make this distinction. Few are now taught in school
that what the Founders meant by all of us having equal unalienable rights
to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, among other things, means
that everyone must accept everyone?s ultimate authority about matters as
controversial as whether one will live or die and whether one will seek
assistance in either task.

Column on Political Rights

What Happened to Political Rights?

Tibor R. Machan

Political rights are the rights of citizens to take part in political
affairs. But that doesn?t tell us much?it depends on what count as
political affairs. Today, unfortunately, nearly anything can become
political. The US Constitution and the constitutions of many nations
around the globe no longer limit the scope of the political. One can
practically vote on anything, lobby for anything, legislate anything, so
long as there are enough or loud enough voices agitating about the matter.

This is why democracy today has become an illiberal device, one by which
liberty itself is imperiled. The result is that democracy is imperiled,
too, since majorities will at times vote to eliminate all opposition, so
the minorities will become disenfranchised.

A movement spreading political rights is afoot, supported by the very
prestigious Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen of Harvard University?s Department
of Economics. It is called the capability movement. Sen advocates the
spread of political rights, which at first sounds the right thing to do.
Surely everyone in a country needs to have his or her right to take part
in the political process protected. This is simply the extension of one?s
right to liberty, the liberty to weigh in on political matters.

Trouble is that by ?politics? Sen and his followers around the globe,
including the United Nations, have in mind any issue that concerns people.
Sen?s comments about democracy make the point clear: ?Democracy can make,
I think, three major contributions to a country. First, since political
freedom is an important freedom, the freedom to participate, to speak and
to vote is part and parcel of human freedom that we have reason to value.
Democratic freedoms have intrinsic importance, no matter what else they
achieve.? He goes on: ?Second, a democratic political system is
instrumentally important, both (1) because it gives the rulers the
incentive to respond to problems and predicaments of the public (the
government has to take note of opposition criticism as well as the
possibility of electoral defeat), and (2) because information becomes more
easily available and shared with democratic practice.? Finally, he adds,
?Third, through allowing and encouraging public discussion, democratic
political systems can help the formation of values. For example, the
importance of gender equality or of protecting minority rights or of
taking note of inequalities in the distribution of economic fortunes or
social benefits can become more fully understood through forceful
democratic dialogue and discussion - but all this can be suppressed if
political freedoms and electoral politics are suspended.?

Now notice, first of all, the slip of tongue where Sen says that
democratic systems ?allow? public discussion. In fact, such discussion is
a matter of one?s right, not someone?s permission. More important,
however, is the view that ?through forceful democratic dialogue and
discussion? such issues as ?taking note of inequalities in the
distribution of economic fortunes or social benefits can become more fully
understood.? Just what does this come to?

Simply that democracy in Sen?s mind?which I need to stress is a very
influential mind these days?really has to do with a sort of Hobbesian war
of all factions against all factions for whatever goodies there are to be
distributed and equalized. What this does to democracy is make it into a
war zone where, in the end, some faction can win at the expense of the

Mind you, the intention behind this, especially in the case of Professor
Sen?who has been deeply concerned with poverty, especially famines, all
his career?is decent enough: by making it possible for all to take part in
politics, the least well off will have a chance to obtain what they need.
The problem is, however, that in a limitless democratic polity there will
indeed be ?forceful democratic dialogue? and a lot more, which tends to
favor not the poor but those with savvy, with the expertise to get what
they want from the government.

This is what the theorists of public choice have demonstrated over many
years. Led by another Nobel Laureate, Professor James M. Buchanan of
George Mason University?who, sadly, is not as influential as Sen?they have
show that politicians and bureaucrats know all too well which side of
their bread is well buttered. That is the side that favors the wealthy and
powerful factions of society. In short, a bloated democracy is not only
unstable, unjust, but also bad for those who lack clout.

Instead of such a system, a constitutional democracy, which limits the
scope of politics so that people cannot deploy the system to rob or
conscript Peter for the sake of Paul, is far more desirable. And it is,
most of all, more just. It rests on the idea of basic rights to one?s
life, liberty and property, of which political rights are but a limited
albeit important part.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Column on Further Paradoxes of Full Equality

Further Paradoxes of Full Equality

Tibor R. Machan

The folks who would rob us of our liberty in a pinch never give up. All
you need to witness this is to read a bit?look at the magazines I check
out regularly, The New Republic and The New York Review of Books, or the
Op Ed pages of The New York Times. They keep coming up with different
versions of roughly the same warmed over arguments against the free
society, even though no such society is anywhere in view. But they know
its argumentative force, so they keep recycling every piece of
intellectual ammunition they can think of.

Most recently The Times ran a piece by a professor from London?yes, they
are importing them these days, as do many of our premier academic
institutions (just think of Peter Singer at Princeton, who hails from
Australia, or Alasdair MacIntyre at Notre Dame, who came to these shores
from the UK)?arguing that when a society doesn?t equalize people?s
circumstances, this is a very bad thing indeed. Overall health suffers,
among other things, as does nearly everything else.

Professor Michael Marmot?s example?or journalistic hook?is the Academy
Awards; he claims the winners live longer than the losers and he then
segues into his main point: It would be so fine a thing if everyone could
be made equal everywhere. This would help, of course, those who now end up
at the low end of the totem pole. Never mind that there would be no totem
pole, in this dream.

After a lot of razzmatazz?some of which is rather convoluted but aims to
show that income and related inequality is responsible for all the bad
things in America and indeed the world?Professor Marmot announces that he
will not be looking at the Awards. As he puts it his ?thoughts will be
elsewhere.? We may assume they will be devoted to worrying about why there
aren?t more public policy efforts afoot trying to equalize everything in

I have a suggestion, though, for Professor Marmot?he might consider
reading two classic literary works that address his dream world head one,
George Orwell?s Animal Farm and Kurt Vonnegut's short story, "Harrison
Bergeron." What these wonderful tales teach is something our visiting
professor?visiting, that is, the pages of The New York Times?fails to
consider. This is that the attempt to equalize everything in the world
ushers in the worst of all inequalities, namely, inequality of political

What would be needed to make everyone equally well/badly off? A police
state, that?s what. The late Harvard political philosopher Robert Nozick
made this point a crucial element of his classic Anarchy, State, and
Utopia (Basic Books, 1974). He postulated the aggressive public policy of
equalization, combined with the measure of liberty no one can reasonably
consider giving up, namely, people spending their left over income?after
the Draconian taxation such equalization would require?as they choose. So,
millions of them would spend a bit on seeing Kobe Bryan play basketball?or
Clint Eastwood direct a movie or Britney Spears perform on stage?which
would immediately create enormous inequalities. To remedy this, what is
needed? Nothing less than a massive police operation that removes the
unequal wealth from these favorites and redistributes it all on a daily

But this is no mere bad dream. Already progressive taxation is rampant in
America and elsewhere but, of course, the editors at The Times want more.
Yet?and here is the hypocrisy involved in all this?The Times wouldn?t
think for a moment allowing someone to weigh in against Professor Marmot
despite his clearly unequal advantage of appearing in its prominent pages,
no. Their unequal advantage in the market place of ideas isn?t going to be
given up for the sake of their very own proclaimed egalitarian treatment
of, for example, those who proselytize for ideas The Times folks do not
like. No dice on that score.

Which is simply to point out that this notion of full equality is
nonsense from the word go. It isn?t only the Academy Awards that puts the
lie to it but the editorial policies of The New York Time, a most vigilant
champion of equality except where it?s editors could actually do something
about it, namely, give a fair representation of competing political ideas.
Just think what they would do if they ever got the power to foist equality
upon us everywhere!

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Column on Conflict of Interest the Other Way

Conflict of Interest the Other Way

Tibor R. Machan
A constant beef of critics of various regulatory panels is that their
members have financial ties to industry. For example, a recent piece in
The New York Times made much of the fact that the FDA panel that didn?t
demand that all anti-pain drugs be pulled off the market had 10 members
who had ?industry ties.? Written by Gardiner Harris and Alex Berenson, in
the February 25th issue of The Times, the article, ?10 Voters on Panel
Backing Pain Pills Had Industry Ties,? lamented the fact that not all the
members of the panel were completely independent of firms in the industry
they were asked to oversee. It is typical of the pro-regulation media to
keep insisting that anyone who has ever done any consulting for an
industry must be biased in favor of that industry. While there can be some
justified concern here, not unless there is evidence of bias is there
warrant for indicting these people for any malfeasance.
Of course, the FDA or any other regulatory agency is going to appoint
people to panels who know their stuff, and such people are bound to have
had some connection with the industry they know. Drug firms, for example,
need expert advice and they get such advice from university professors who
will also likely to be asked by government to oversee the regulatory
process. Does it follow necessarily that such people will blindly favor
the interest of those in the industry that has hired them in the past? Of
course not. But it is always tempting to impugn their integrity by such
association. If they have worked for the industry, they must be biased. It
doesn?t, however, follow by a long shot.
Now what is interesting is that the same media that is jumping all over
the people who have worked for various firms in a certain industry,
claiming these people are basically corrupt, does not ever consider those
in the academic world as being suspect of special interests. Yet, most
people in the academy work for government. Even the most prestigious
private universities, like Harvard or Princeton, get gobs of money from
the feds, to do research, produce papers on this or that topic of ?public
interest,? consult about public policy, etc. These folks are deeply
beholden to government. It is virtually their bread and butter?or at least
their considerable extra pocket change. Without the government
associations they would not be invited to innumerable conferences, asked
to publish in various journals, contribute to encyclopedias, write text
books, do peer reviews, sit on agency panels, and so forth.
In other words, the bulk of so called independent scholars aren?t
independent at all?they owe their soul to the company store, which is the
government of the United States of America or, in many cases, their state
governments. Yet few news organizations call these folks, with evident
links to governments, to task for their conflict of interest. Why?
This is the governmental habit that a few people have managed to write
about. Yet they have also managed to be ignored, to a large extent.
Jonathan R. T. Hughes penned his book, Governmental Habit Redux: Economic
Controls from Colonial Times to the Present (Princeton University Press,
1991), so as to call attention to this fact but, alas, grand media outlets
like The New York Times pay scant attention to their message.
The fact is that innumerable professors throughout the most prestigious
universities of this and many other countries are avid supporters of
government regulation, supervision of the private sector, regulation and
supervision, all of which require their very own professional
?assistance.? They write the scholarly studies that show the need for all
this regulation and supervision. They supply the apologetics for the
expansion of government control of the economy and all the professions,
all the high-sounding rationales about equality, for abating of poverty,
for reduction for injustice via government controls, involving the
expansion of government?s scope in our lives.
Yet where is the mainstream media pointing out this conflict of interest?
Nowhere, that?s where. One may, then, call into question all the
moralistic concern with conflict of interest when it comes to associations
between experts and the industry they are being asked to judge. After all,
government is the biggest of all industries, yet those who judge it,
nearly all of them recipients of government?s largesse, do not get their
integrity called into question by the same media that bellyaches about the
alleged corruption in the private sector.
I say, clean your own house, major media, before you start pointing

Column on "Bogeyman" blabber

Was Communism a Bogeyman?

Tibor R. Machan

Forgive me for my memory but I remember clearly that communism wasn?t a
bogeyman, not in the sense that of an imaginary evil demon parents invoke
to scare kids into doing the right thing. Yet that is what some folks want
us to think about communism and the Soviet Union, the massive state that
promoted it. By viewing communism as a bogeyman, they can then divert
attention from its bona fide evil and focus their gaze on the far less
vicious excesses of some anti-communists, like Joe McCarthy and his pals.
This is just what critics of the late Sidney Hook tried to do and what
some defenders of the recently deceased playwright Arthur Miller?s
selective scolding of anti-communism peddle.

Look, there is no doubt that one can fight an evil in ways that are
themselves wrong. If someone insults me, I can respond in several ways and
some of these will be wrong. Even if someone attacks me physically, I can
respond badly, by, say, attacking his child or friends in turn. So, yes,
some of the ways people tried to repel communism were not admirable.

But they weren?t addressing some bogeyman either and to say so reveals a
moral blindness. It is akin to calling slavery a bogeyman with which
people tried to cope, against which they deployed various strategies, some
better than others. Or racism or other forms of injustice. But to justify
the worst ways of dealing with injustice it is quite wrong to dismiss the
injustice itself as some kind of bogeyman.

Now there is a related approach one can take to belittling the concerns
some of us have with evil. This is the post-modernist tactic of claiming
that there are multiple perspectives for viewing the world, some of which
will construe certain things as evil, but others will see them
differently. You know, ?Your freedom fighters are someone else?s
terrorists.? This is the idea of ?multiple narratives??varied ways of
telling a story about something. So, there is the ante-bellum narrative
about slavery, the white supremacists narrative, or the who cares about
black-and-white morality (pragmatic) narrative. By peddling the idea that
any narrative is as good as any other, one can then pretend that one?s own
dismissing of slavery as evil is just an equally valid narrative.

The very same technique can be deployed for discrediting those who saw
communism as a vile system of politics, or those who saw the Nazis as
racist totalitarians. Post-modernism has provided us with these
approaches to dealing with our adversaries. We do not need to argue with
anyone about the rights and wrongs?the blacks versus the whites, as some
people put the matter?of communism, slavery, Nazism, racism, and the like.
No, we can just say, well it all depends upon your point of view.

Of course, this backfires rather immediately. What about the black versus
white of dealing in black and whites? Is it all black?that is to say, is
it wrong?to invoke firm standards about what is right politically or
morally or is it all a matter of shades of gray? And how do we tell what
the proper shade is that we should focus upon, if there are no blacks and

Truth is those who denounce black vs. white thinking?those who consider
all political or ethical value judgments a matter of creating bogeymen by
which to scare children?are themselves quite wedded to certain blacks and
whites, only they don?t wish to discuss these, to defend their own
standards but merely hurl ad hominems at others to try to discredit their
version of black vs. white.

This ploy will perhaps work in the effort to secure oneself a reputation
of erudition, of being above the fray, of not fitting into a
category?liberal, conservative, libertarian, communist, fascist, and so
forth. But only for a bit.

After just a little more thought it becomes clear that such folks have
their own categories they fit quite well, namely, the category of people
who lack forthrightness and wish to win by rhetorical savvy rather than by
means of sound reasoning?obscurantists.

Communism is bad and those who saw it as such were right, even if not all
ways of dealing with it were sound, proper. Let?s admit that some ways of
organizing society are bad, very bad, and this is not something to be
obscured with post-modernist mumbo jumbo.

Column on Ownership, True and False

Ownership Society?True & False

Tibor R. Machan

President George W. Bush is about ownership like most defenders of
abortion rights are about choice, highly restrictive and selective. The
only choice these abortion rights activists prize is the choice to
terminate a pregnancy. Everything else they?I have in mind Planned
Parenthood and NOW type people?are eager for government to control,
regulate, or prohibit. So their support of choice is bogus and smacks of a
special agenda, having little to do with an individual?s right to liberty.

Mr. Bush, in turn, seems to believe in ownership of just a tiny portion of
the fruits of one?s work that everyone must hand over to the Social
Security Administration, and even there he doesn?t actually champion
ownership, plain and simple, but highly circumscribed, regulated
?ownership.? (He will not ?permit? anyone to take the money to Las Vegas,
for example. But what kind of ownership is it that the president controls
like that?)

Maybe Mr. Bush needs to have it explained just what ownership means. And I
have just the teacher for him, the famous 20th century philosopher Ludwig
Wittgenstein. Norman Malcolm, one of his students, tells the following
story about him in which ownership is spelled out very instructively:

When in very good spirits he would jest in a delightful manner. This took
the form of deliberately absurd or extravagant remarks uttered in a tone,
and with the mien, of affected seriousness. On one walk he 'gave' me each
tree that we passed, with the reservation that I was not to cut it down or
do anything to it, or prevent the previous owners from doing anything to
it: with those reservations they were henceforth mine. (Norman Malcolm,
Ludwig Wittgenstein, A Memoir [London: Van Nostrand Rinehold Co., 1070],
pp. 31-32.)

In short, when you cannot use or dispose of something as you judge fit and
as its nature allows, it isn?t yours?calling it yours is ?absurd or

George W. Bush, then, isn?t talking about ownership at all. He has in
mind the sort of possession parents make possible for their kids when they
allow them to use the car or have a party at the house: they will remain
in full charge but the kids are allowed some leeway with the thing.

That is the kind of ?ownership? subjects had in feudal monarchies.
Monarchs gave them permission to use some of what they owned, maybe to
encourage them to work harder so they can then be taxed heavier.

True ownership is when one has the right to use and dispose of the owned
items as one sees fit. This is the theory of the right to private property
that John Locke, the grandfather of the American Revolution, spelled out
in his Second Treatise of Civil Government (1764). It is well summarized,
paradoxically enough?but with a misguided emphasis?by Karl Marx: ?the
right of man to property is the right to enjoy his possessions and dispose
of the same arbitrarily, without regard for other men, independently from
society, the right of selfishness.? (Karl Marx, Selected Writings, ed.
David McLellan [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977], p. 53.) Of course,
this right is not just a right of selfishness but also a right of
generosity, charity, gift giving, and free exchange or commerce.
(Aristotle was well aware, way before Marx and Locke, that to be generous,
one needs to own something to be generous with!)

True ownership only exists when one has the unalienable right to obtain,
hold, and allocate property in any way one chooses apart from violating
the equal right of others. This is just the kind of ownership that neither
Mr. Bush nor his adversaries want to acknowledge, let alone secure legal
recognition for. The parties in the current debate don?t want ownership at
all. They are only dickering about how much of the results of their work
will government allow people to control, with all the parties calmly
accepting government as having the role of being able to grant such

This, in fact, is the very idea of government that the American
revolution had been fought to overturn, one whereby it is the sovereign
and the people are its subjects. It is pretty sad that only two and a half
centuries after that vital turning point in human history, the leaders of
the country the revolution spawned completely ignore its essence, namely,
individual sovereignty and the unalienable right to govern one?s life,
labor, and its results without the permission of the king!