Saturday, June 11, 2005

Column on A Terrible Favoritism

Injustice versus Entrenched Legal Favoritism

Tibor R. Machan

Why should journalist and ministers be exempt from government meddling
when the rest of us suffer state intervention on so many fronts? Or to
put it much better, why should the rest of us all suffer government
meddling while those in journalism and the ministry get to be free?

There really is no good reason for such favoritism. Why should the
criminal law, especially when it comes to violent crime, observe the ban
on violations of due process while professionals are being
regimented?subjected to various rules, and fines if they do not comply?by
governments, despite having done nothing wrong at all? Such prior
restrain, such ?precautionary,? pre-emptive policies have no place in a
free society.

No one has the moral authority to restrain another on grounds that the
other may perhaps or could possibly embark upon the violation of another?s
rights. The demonstration of clear and present danger or probable cause is
required for this, under the strict supervision of those appointed to
stand guard against violation of due process, that is to say, of
everyone?s individual rights. That?d be justice!

It is interesting, even outrageous, that in an era of
anti-discrimination?wherein so much emphasis is placed on the evil of
certain kinds of individual prejudices that some people, even in their
personal but especially in their professional, lives practice toward
others?the system of laws under which we live is rife with systematic
unjust discrimination. Those in journalism, the arts, fiction and
non-fiction writing, the ministry, priesthood, and similar fields are
given near total protection from state interference. That is the impact
of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which now trumps all state
constitutions with this protection of the individual liberty of those
fortunately enough to have ended up in these fields of work.

At the same time, in the very same country, other features of the legal
system impose draconian regulations on people whose professions are not
among those protected by the First Amendment. And no one is hollering
about this, no civil rights movements are afoot protesting it all,
registering outrage with the powers that be about the injustice of it all.

One may surmise that perhaps there is some kind of blindness afoot here.
Yet it is so clear, so obvious that there is favoritism going on and that
those outside of journalism and religion are being treated in
systematically prejudicial ways.

Of course, the solution to this massive and widespread injustice would be
pretty simple: set all the professions free, get rid of all the
regulations, licensing laws and paternalistic, pre-emptive supervision
imposed on all people practicing whatever profession and do what the
criminal law requires, namely, interfere with anyone only once there is
demonstrable evidence of wrong doing or at least its high probability. It
would, under such a system, be illegal for the government to make rules of
conduct for anyone in any field of work?only professional (voluntary)
associations could, as could various contracting parties by their free
agreement. The psychiatrists or architects or TV repair people or
pharmacists or doctors could all form organizations that would bind
members who join of their free will to various policies, codes and the

But if someone wanted to stay out of such groups and go it alone in some
profession and could manage to find customers or clients, this would not
be prohibited or impeded by any state authority. If something went amiss
with the service being provided, it would have to be hashed out in
litigation or adjudication, with no resort to the device of pre-emptive

Alas, this idea, which is simply part and parcel of a reasonable theory of
justice, is not getting play in our political arena. Now and then we hear
about how government regulations stymie economic development, restrict
entrepreneurial savvy, cause unemployment and the like. And one also hears
about how government regulatory bodies get captured by the very industries
they are supposed to regulate for the benefit of costumers and clients; so
the government is not just perpetrating massive unjust discrimination but
extending extra-special favors to various firms and professionals in an
area. But these are all details, important as they may be.

What really is outlandish and, indeed, should not be tolerated in a
country aiming for justice for all, is that government meddling in most
professions is preemptory and does violence to due process of law.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Column on Promoting Right Conduct

On Promoting Right Conduct

Tibor R. Machan

On far more occasions than I care to recall I?ve been told that my
politics is altogether too negative??You are a naysayer,? it often goes.
And I must confess that with the bulk of contemporary politics that?s what
I am??stop it,? ?put a halt to it,? ?desist,? ?forget about it,? and on
and on I go.

Beneath this apparent negativism lies, however, a firm commitment to
something entirely positive, the confidence that free men and women solve
problems far better any day than a bunch of regimented folks. So, I say,
?Yes? to people setting about figuring out solutions to and going about
solving their and their various communities? problems, be these simple or
indeed extremely complex.

Not that I have utopian expectations, not at all. People are likely to
fall down on the job of fixing everything for themselves and their loved
ones, but on average they do much better when they aren?t being pushed
around by politicians, bureaucrats, or the police than if they are treated
as invalids or helpless slobs by others thinking they possess this special
authority derived from God, the General Will, the majority, or the tooth
fairy. No, give me the risky, messy collection of free men and women
anytime and I bet the results will be far better, even more admirable,
than when leaders march us all toward some glorious end we haven?t been
convinced to freely pursue.

But, of course, there will be plenty of recalcitrant individuals among
those free men and women in whom I am and urge the rest of us to place our
confidence, despite the risks that some will fail. If I do not believe in
placing guns to such people?s heads?making laws and regulations to
straighten them all out, as the eager beaver statists among us believe is
proper?what solution can we find to such recalcitrant conduct? Is there
anything else beside the force of laws and regulations that can offer us
the hope to improve others?

Well, to start with, forcing people to be good is entirely pointless. As
a general principle, coerced good conduct brings no merit at all to those
engaging in it. It also wastes the energies of those who do the
coercing?they could be doing something productive instead of ordering and
pushing people around to do the right thing. Then there is the
non-negligible fact that when people are legally empowered to push others
around, they more often than not become corrupted by their morally
unauthorized power. Power over others, even when well intentioned, tends
to reap that result?both history and common sense informs us of this. So
is there nothing to be done?

To start with, there is rational persuasion, approaching those whose
conduct leaves something to be desired with good arguments, with an
effective appeal, the most civilized way to dealing with our fellow human
beings, the way that distinguished how human communities ought to function
and how the rest of the animal world does in fact function. No brute force
but reason must govern among us.

OK, but this is a bit utopian, is it not? Some people just will not
listen to reason?that cliché is one because it is so true. What is to be
done then?

There are peaceful ways of imploring people, of inducing them to do the
right thing, when they aren?t initially inclined and even when reasonable
persuasion does not achieve this goal. Boycotts, well orchestrated
ostracism, rebuke, chiding, and even ridicule are all peaceful and often
quite effective approaches to getting folks to act right. Labor unions had
initially placed their confidence in such methods as they attempted to get
reasonable terms from employers, although in time many of them turned to
governments to achieve this goal and thus became lobbyists for coercion.
(And, of course, too many commercial firms, the employers, also went?and
continue to go?to governments for special privileges against both their
domestic and foreign competitors.)

Sadly, this civilized approach to inducing proper behavior in other
people is not even considered as a live option in our time by most who
complain about people not doing the right thing. Neither the Left nor the
Right embraces such peaceful means but turns, instead, to legislatures,
city councils, state commissions, federal regulators, and vice squads?or
to out and out war?in order to have their edicts adhered to. This lack of
patience with the civilized approach is a sure sign of politics having run
amuck, having reverted to the era of conquests and subjugation.

Yet it does not at all have to be that way and
certainly should not.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Column on Why I'm nearly an anarchist

Confession of a Near-Anarchist

Tibor R. Machan

No, I am not really an anarchist in the sense of believing neither in law
nor in government. I think both are good things, properly conceived,
established, and maintained. That would be pretty much along lines
sketched in the Declaration of Independence, following the idea of John
Locke, developed further by Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Ludwig von
Mises, Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick and a host of other classical liberals and

What has turned me into a practicing anarchist, one who has no respect of
the actual legal order under which he lives?at least not some of the now
salient and dominant elements?is how far the country?s laws?including the
way its Constitution is understood by the Supreme Court? have strayed from
the principles of the Declaration.

The USA has by now become something of a representative tyranny, meaning,
those elected by some of the people?not a whole lot of them, if you do the
math?are imposing their will on us all and, yes, the Supreme Court and the
rest of the courts are backing up this vicious charade. Under the
circumstances I have virtually no respect for the law.

Oh, I still consider it my obligation to obey much of the criminal law,
which basically prohibits direct violations of individual rights. Even if
these violations didn?t comprise the substance of the law, I would abstain
from committing any because they are substantially just. Don?t murder,
anyone, don?t steal from anyone, don?t assault anyone, do not trespass on
other?s property, etc., and so forth?these deserve loyalty.

But when it comes to all the powers that the various governments of our
country?federal, state, county, municipal?have managed to accrue to
themselves (with much complicity by a lot of the citizenry), they are
plainly unjust, virtually the opposite of what government ought to be in a
society of free and responsible human beings. We now have a nearly
completely paternalistic state; and the highest court of the land provides
it with transparent rationalizations in case after case, with but a few
decisions falling in line with the basic political ideal set out in the
Declaration (probably by accident). (In that document we find some
enlightening ideas about how such a government may?even ought to?be
overthrown because it has gotten thoroughly corrupted.)

Yes, other places around the globe are often a lot worse, although not in
all respects, when it comes to the quality of their legal order. But
America has become depressingly corrupt in what might be considered its
very own terms?what with all its laws banning this and imposing that on
everyone, punishing citizens mercilessly for perfectly peaceful activities
that various bullies in or out of government (including the courts) wish
to control, regulate, regiment. That is, frankly, an outrage in a country
that started with such marvelous notions as everyone having an unalienable
right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How, given this clear
statement in the founding document, is it tolerable for politicians,
bureaucrats, judges, and justices to sanction subjecting us all to myriads
of absolutely vicious edicts, edicts about conduct that is none of anyone
else?s business but that of the persons who perform it (and perhaps of
their intimates)?

Think of it?this is supposed to be a free country, one in which adult men
and women get to run their own lives, dispose of their own resources, for
better or for worse! But, instead, it is one in which people are
constantly tyrannized?supervised mostly by various ambitious incompetents
when it comes to their commerce, their professional affairs, what they
consume, with whom they associate, and nearly everything else (except, to
some extent, what they say and write, although with government-backed
political correctness running rampant, that, too, is under serious threat).

So then why obey the law at all? Well, for one, they have the weapons to
back up their petty but accelerating tyrannies, let?s not forget about
this. You resist strongly enough, you may be shot, period. Then, also,
there is hope?the hope for improvement, for the eventual recovery and
restoration of the ideals of the Declaration, the abandonment of the mad
dash for the reactionary system of top down government (with the minor
modification that instead of monarchs, we will have committees dictating

Yes, I merely comply with the bulk of the law, I follow it because I
don?t cherish being in jail and being silenced in my admittedly modest
efforts to arrest and reverse these trends so that the ideals of the
Founders get a good chance finally?not because the Founders were angels
but because by all accounts they were right, beyond any reasonable doubt.

Column on Puzzles with Science

Shifting Science or What?

Tibor R. Machan

I am not sure now but I used to think science, at least, managed to hang
together pretty well. There is no Catholic or Jewish or Buddhists
chemistry or biology, only biology. Even economists aspire to this. Thus
Milton Friedman is reported to have said that we?d do well to forget about
Chicago or Austrian or Marxist economics but worry only about good versus
bad economics. Amen to that.

Alas, with sciences getting more and more specialized, discord tends to
strike its ugly head on many fronts. Each week there?s a different report
about whether, for example, Viagra is good or bad for those who take
it?one week it gives one anxiety or heartburn, the other it reduces the
risk of heart attacks or produces some other beneficial side effect (and I
am making this up but only slightly). Frankly, I cannot keep up with what
Bayer aspirin does any longer, or antibiotics or, of course, coffee or
even cigarettes. (Recall Woody Allen?s character in Sleepers, I think it
was, who wakes up a few decades after having been checked into hospital
only to learn that smoking was, after all, good for people!)

I don?t know what drives this mad rush to announce the latest and
invariably inconclusive or tentative findings, although I have a hunch. In
the academy there is nothing more respectable and advantageous than coming
up with something original, whatever is one?s field of study. From the
time one is required to write a doctoral dissertation to the end of one?s
productive career?which for many is when they obtain tenure, and perhaps
understandably so, given all this mad hustle?one is supposed to come up
with original research or scholarship. Never mind that one?s field may
indeed have run out of stuff to discover or figure out, at least for a
while. That?s irrelevant?what matters is that promotions, tenure,
consulting gigs, and the rest all depend upon whether one is doing things
no one else has thought of.

Accordingly, discoveries must fall under neglect and imagination has to
be the driving force. Whatever is, just maybe, possible, is what will get
one an foot in the door of originality, since what actually exists may for
the time being have been pretty much fully explored. And that tend to lead
to artificiality, to made-up novelties, to make-believe subjects of

It now looks like the sciences are falling into line with this, too, so
from one day to the next one cannot be sure of what is true in biology,
medicine, physiology, chemistry, and all of their sub fields. I suppose
there are some folks who are happy about this?the folks who think
scientists are too arrogant and too confident and have a tendency to lord
it over the humanities. Religion, after all, has never managed to get on
the same page with much?the 4200 different ones in the USA alone are all
committed to more or less diverse truths about God, Jesus, angels, sin,
immortality, heaven, hell, guilt, innocence, how to live, how to die, and
the rest.

Now it looks like science is falling apart too, even the hardest of them,
physics, which is battling over whether everything is really just one
thing?the latest candidate being something called ?strings??or are there,
perhaps, basically different types of things in the world, each deserving
its own science (which may account for why there are different sciences
such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, etc.).

I am not making some breakthrough point here, only registering some
confusion I believe many share with me. When it comes, at least, to the
practical import of the various sciences, the reports keep getting more
and more volatile, less and less coherent.

Maybe this is due to some basic problem, some possibly philosophical
malady?say, in epistemology, metaphysics (both of which some scientists
have almost casually jettisoned recently). Or maybe it is because of some
journalists, the ones who are always eager to present something allegedly
newsworthy, even if there isn?t such a thing just at the moment. So they
may tend to grab anything the offers a slight hope of a new discovery, or
invention, never mind that these haven?t yet gotten properly sorted out by
the researchers.

In any case, it just goes to show you that one cannot much reply on any
experts and has to do one?s own thinking, however risky that may be.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Column on Linguistic Peccadilloes

A Few Linguistic Peccadilloes

Tibor R. Machan

English is my third language and as a speaker and writer I have always
appreciated receiving editorial help, just in case a faux pa has slipped
into some missive of mine. But even the best editors cannot be relied upon
to follow one?s strictures in some areas of the English language.

For example, I reject ?the reason is because? and insist on ?the reason
is that,? and not just for the sake of old fashioned form. The one?s about
what causes things, the other about what reason one has for thinking
something. They are not the same at all.

Then there is ?different from? instead of the corrupt ?different than.?
Something is different from a thing that isn?t like it, whereas when you
talk of ?than,? as in ?other than,? there need be no difference at all
just that the two things aren?t the same.

And, yes, I don?t at all prefer sentences ending in propositions,
although I realize this is sometimes unavoidable. Still, the fewer the
better, it seems to me.

Perhaps the most egregious mistake?indeed, malpractice?in contemporary
lingo is when people are referred to as ?that,? as in ?the doctors that?
or ?the Germans that,? instead of ?who,? as in ?the doctors who? or ?the
Germans who.? Talk about demeaning human beings! Talking about them as if
they were mere objects surely does that, but one can see how it may play
into the hands of, say, animal ?rights? advocates. Now and then I ever run
across references to groups via ?who,? as in ?the team who played us
tonight.? Not just bad form but politically corrupting, I say.

Of course, there are all those uses of ?lay? instead of ?lie,? as if ?she
lies me down to sleep? meant the same thing as ?she lays me down to
sleep.? This is from the likes of reporters and newscasters, lyricists
writing pop tunes, and public speakers everywhere. It?s really
annoying?the killing of a distinction that does in fact capture an
important difference.

Of course I have ethical and political objections to the widespread use
of ?we? when people talk about decisions they like but do not wish to
admit they alone support?as in ?We have decided to build a stadium in this
city.? No, it wasn?t at all we who did this but some of us, while we all
were made to pay for it through the insidiously misapplied democratic
method. (?We? is the favorite word of communitarians and other
collectivists since they pretend that they are speaking for everyone
within a community. They are not.)

At this point I am brushing up against the problem of essentially
contestable concepts?for example, ?justice,? ?love,? ?liberty,? ?rights,?
and so forth. These are perennially disputed, even if some have a far
better worked out version than the rest. Too much hinges on the meaning
that will be widely accepted, so people are fighting to get their version
into circulation all the time.

Take, as an example, ?public.? It is used innocently enough in such
context as ?there is a public phone over there,? meaning a phone that
anyone willing to pay may use, provided another isn?t using it just then.
But what about ?public? in ?public interest?? In this usage, of course,
corruption is replete because when one can identify something as being in
the public interest, one has prima facie grounds for getting government to
do something about it. Yet I am willing to bet, based on my years of
paying attention to this, that ninety nine percept of such so called
public interests are, in fact, the private or special or vested interests
of some, by no means of us all. (Environmentalists have gotten away with
this ploy forever, but they are by no means the only ones. In fact, the
only bona fide public interest is the respect and protection of individual
rights because those are something we all have in the very same measure
and so we all benefit from having them honored.)

I am also hard put to ever use the word ?selfish? in the way many do,
namely, as if it had to mean being cruel or nasty to others. But I
understand that centuries of bad ideas about the nature of the human self
have led to this. I, however, will continue to wage a war or proper
meaning here, because I am convinced that the self that one may be
concerned about is very often very worthy?so, I follow Aristotle in
endorsing self-love by, for example, those who are just.

Anyway, perhaps you too have something you find especially annoying, for
good reason, about how people use the English language. I think that one
need not be pedantic to stand up for using it right.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Column on Religion, Politics & Society

Religion, Politics and Society

Tibor R. Machan

During the Q&A following a recent presentation I made to a Rotary Club
about the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, I was asked whether
I believe what the Pledge of Allegiance states about ?under God.? I do not
usually answer this question because I share the view that when it comes
to religion, that?s just too personal to bandy about in public, especially
when the topic didn?t have much to do with it. But there is an aspect of
this issue that is worth reflecting about.

Of course, a voluntary organization such as Rotary has every right?and
may most reasonably be expected?to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the
start of its meetings. In a culture in which most citizens are monotheists
of one or another type, something like the pledge, with its line about
?One nation, under God,? will be widely and significantly recited. The
interesting issue is whether public institutions, involving the various
levels and branches of government, ought to be making use of the Pledge
with this line figuring so prominently in it.

A government of a country like the United States of America is supposed
to have as its central purposes ?to secure our rights.? And that means the
rights of everyone, not only its monotheistic, atheist, agnostic, or
pantheist citizens. Thus in an important respect the prohibition of the
coupling of any faith or philosophical viewpoint and the government must
apply, and most sensibly so. Government may not champion agnosticism,
pantheism, atheism, or any other form of commitment?or non-commitment?to
religion. The government must only be concerned with something that
pertains to everyone, which happens to be just what the Founders
believed?to secure everyone?s basic individual rights.

However, when government becomes entangled in as many aspects of the
society as ours?and that of most other society?s?has, it is impossible to
insist that it remain divorced from people?s religious or non-religious
convictions. Remember the high school football team whose captain wanted
to say a prayer before a game, with the full consent of his team mates?
Surely that makes perfectly good sense. Or supposed some elementary or
high school in Kansas or New Hampshire has a policy of saying a prayer
before classes commence? That, too, is perfectly understandable?religion
and school are intricate elements of people?s lives and to expect the two
to be kept separate by law is absurd.

Trouble is that with all these aspects of society being treated as if
they were a matter of public policy?namely, something that governments are
involved with?the separation between religious or non-religious
convictions and government is impossible to uphold. In consequence, those
in the various minorities will see their views squelched by those in the
majority, simply because of the nature of public institutions. This would
not occur if the government kept to its proper task, the protection of our
rights. Apart from some pro-forma involvement with religion?such as a
prayer at the opening of Congress?there would be no incursion of
government sponsored religion?or non-religion?in our social lives. Those
who are members of Rotary would be perfectly free to proclaim whatever
their allegiance happens to be for no one would be forced to be part of
the organization. And those going to private schools would be free to
adhere and proclaim whatever beliefs they took to their hearts.

But with government?and government schools?everyone is involved, simply
by being a citizen. That?s precisely one of the reasons government must be
strictly limited to its essential function, to serve us all in the one
capacity this can happen, namely, as the protector of our universal,
unalienable rights. It should not be involved in sports, education,
entertainment, science, and the other myriad aspects of society wherein
folks often wish to give some expression to their deeply held convictions.
Government should not be in the position of having to speak for us all
when, in fact, it can only speak for some of us, as do various
organizations like Rotary.

In the USA religion is part of most people?s lives yet governments are
supposed to be kept separate from it precisely because there are so many
people with widely different religions?or non-religions. And this has
worked quite nicely for the most part?there are no overt religious battles
on US soil, not like in many societies around the globe and throughout
history. But the more the government encroaches on various parts of our
society that?s not any of its proper business, the more difficult it will
be to keep the peace among all those who take their religion?or its
absence?seriously in life.