Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Why Freedom is Rejected

Why Freedom Isn?t Widely Embraced

Tibor R. Machan

Over the years I have worked pretty hard to check out the case for the
fully free society. And I come away each time I check with the conclusion
that opposition to it is indeed very weak. Perhaps the only telling point
raised is that free men and women can make bad judgments and act on these,
so freedom is a risky thing.

However, even this telling point is countered with the realization that
if men and women are subjugated to the rule of other men and women, this
risk does not go away but in fact multiplies. After all, if we are
generally subject to making mistakes, those who would rules us with force
are surely even more vulnerable to such risky conduct. Power corrupts!

Why then do so many people make the mistake of rejecting Abraham
Lincoln?s valid point, ?No man is good enough to govern another man,
without that other's consent?? The fallacy of anointing various folks to
rule other folks is, indeed, committed all over the place and somehow the
most influential people appear to support it?at universities, prominent
magazines and other media, and, of course, politicians and bureaucrats?

I approach answering this puzzle by considering how many people gamble.
Gambling is risky because in overwhelming numbers of cases one loses money
and will not gain it. Yet people continue to gamble, never mind how they
keep losing and losing. Why? Because they have this irrational belief that
in time, with one big win, they will wipe out their losses and make big
gains. Never mind that this isn?t the case for most gamblers, only for a
tiny minority. Still, hope springs eternal in the human heart, overriding
the better judgment of the human mind, at least for sufficiently large
numbers of human beings that gambling is in very good shape indeed, not in
danger of being defeated by our better judgment.

Of course, with gambling the damage tends to be confined to those doing
it. Those who stay clear of that form of entertainment?or, in many cases,
obsession?won?t be hurt. On the other hand, the trouble with millions of
people hoping they will eventually be the beneficiaries of political
power?the power of ruling others and taking from them what one would like
to have?is that while the hope is being indulged in widely, we all suffer.
Politicians promise us they can transfer wealth to us from others,
something that is nearly always useless, but we accept the possibility,
wish for it so strongly that we ruin other people?s lives big time in the

How can this proclivity to take risks at others? expense be withstood,
stemmed somehow? The only antidote I can think of is the teaching of
principles. Principles, if internalized, help us resist the temptation to
try to get something for nothing, to attempt robbing Peter to help
ourselves or someone else, especially when these attempts are rarely if
ever successful, given how politicians and bureaucrats tend to skim so
much off the transferred wealth. Their share, plus the inordinate amount
of bungling, pretty much defeat all efforts to make wealth redistribution
helpful to anyone.

Think about it in terms of simple ethics. If one learns early enough in
life that stealing and lying and bullying are wrong, one won?t be tempted
much to use these means for getting one?s way. And indeed most of us are
quite decent and do not violate these ethical precepts. Nor do we neglect
our lives, given that we have been taught from an early age to be prudent
and avoid recklessness. Nor do we lack courage when our values are

Few of us, mostly those who are out and out criminals, live by counting
on robbing others, subdue them for our ends, conscript them to our tasks,
and so forth. Not because there is absolutely no chance of success with
such policies?they might work now and then and if they do we could gain a
lot?but because we learn that such conduct is indecent, unethical,
wrongful and overall destructive of anyone?s proper pursuits in life.

Would it that it work this way in the political realm! If only people
would internalize the principles of civilized social life and not keep
hoping?and voting accordingly?that in time they and their pals will sit on
top and rule the rest of us to their benefit. Fact is, they shouldn?t
even have such an idea in their minds, let alone try to act on it. Yet
they keep doing so.

I suspect that centuries of human conquest, expropriation, subjugation
and the like have left too many of us thinking that the way to live is to
get on top and rule. Yet, in fact, the best option is to strictly observe
the limits on how to treat others, namely as ends in themselves, and apply
this idea to politics, as well. But just as it is with all bad habits, it
will take time to wean ourselves from this one.

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