Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Not a Club but a Country

It?s A Country, not A Club

Tibor R. Machan

Countries or societies definitely aren?t clubs?they aren?t set up to
serve some (set of) narrow goals like bird watching, bowling, bridge or
tennis playing. The Rotary Club, for examples, has more or less specific
goals and those who join volunteer to support them.

Countries are a different kind of human association. They are a sphere
wherein people get to live according to minimal but indispensable bylaws,
as it were. In a free country, for example, the bylaws amount to no more
than directives to all to respect the rights of all others to their lives,
liberties, property and so forth. Apart from abiding by these bylaws, the
rest of what people do is up to them to figure out. To carry on with their
various projects, they would set out on their own, with a few others, or
with huge groups. In all these instances, however, it is a matter of what
they want to do and out of that come their various associations?clubs,
teams, choirs, orchestras, universities, corporations, partnerships,
neighborhoods, what have you. From each other these one also has the right
to withdraw if one has changed one?s mind as to whether the group serves
one?s goals.

A lot of people unfortunately mistake countries or societies for clubs or
other purposeful groupings. That is not what they are?America, contrary to
what so may fantasize, has no purpose other than to make the pursuit of
millions of various purposes possible for those who become citizens here.
Or that, at least, is the right idea about what it is. It is the wrong
idea to think that America is some purposeful organization in which all
those who are participants pursue some (set of) goals, like the
advancement of the arts, saving of the spotted owl, reforming drug
addicts, or athletic prowess for all. That?s not what civilized countries
are supposed to be about. They are about making it possible for all who
become citizens to go about their lives as they choose, provided they do
not get in the way of others doing this same thing.

If this is firmly kept in mind, the various tribal or special interest
squabbles that keep bogging down the system could be avoided. With the
club idea, however, people are constantly attempting to get everyone else
on board with what their club or special interest group is all about.
Farmers want everyone to join their objectives, as to educators, artists,
scientists, athletes and the rest. Just consider all those efforts to
baseball fans and players to recruit?actually coerce?everyone else to
support the building of their stadiums. Or all those folks in a community
who like to swim and dive trying to get everyone to pitch in to get their
swimming pools built. The environmentalists are most vocal these days
insisting that what they want is what everyone else must?not even just
should but must?want.

This is the insidious syndrome of so many people making of their private
or special purposes a public one. If it were indeed the public interest to
get everyone involved in bowling, bird watching, skiing, wonder about
museums, etc., and so forth, then, of course, it could be argued that we
all must pitch in so as to support all these endeavors. (If you press
environmentalists, even those with all the scientific credentials, about
just what is the genuine common purpose we must all be conscripted to
support, ultimately they don?t know!)

Not that there aren?t some, very few, public purposes. One such is the
promotion of justice, which is to make sure everyone gets to do his or her
own peaceful thing. No one may be used by another for that other?s goals
unless he or she has come to agree to them. That?s what a just human
community promotes, that very limited but absolutely vital public purpose.
Beyond that, however, there are no public purposes because individuals are
unique and share among themselves but one central thing, namely, their
equal requirement to be free agents, sovereign citizens.

This freedom we all need isn?t something to be ?traded for something
else? either. As F. A. Hayek made so abundantly clear,

"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 the earn moral merit."

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