Freedom and Ethics?Again
Tibor R. Machan
This is a point that just cannot be stressed too often: Human beings both
need to be free to choose and also ought to do the right thing. But to do
the right thing is exactly why they need to be free to choose. If they are
slaves or oppressed, they cannot choose to do the right thing. They lack
sovereignty, self-rule, self-direction.
In many parts of the globe this is not at all clearly understood,
including even in the good old U.S.A. That?s why so many people ask for
laws to force us not to smoke dope, not to engage in unwise trade, not to
deal with people unfairly or to be decent and generous to one another.
They hope to force us to do the right thing but that is exactly what
cannot be done?the right thing must be done as a matter of free choice,
otherwise it?s not something we actually do at all.
There are places around the globe where governments systematically coerce
people to do what some people think is the right thing. As recent reports
tell it, in Afghanistan a man, 41 year old Abdul Rahman, who converted
from Islam to Christianity, is being tried and if convicted, he may be
executed. What a barbaric system that is!
Suppose it is really wrong for a Muslim to convert to another faith. OK,
if so, convince him of this, show him the right way, argue him into doing
the right thing. But to coerce the person achieves nothing at all?even if
others now desist, it will only be out of fear, not honest conviction. And
he will go to his death knowing his rulers are a bunch of fascists. So it
will mean nothing. There will also remain phony Muslims who would rather
be Christians but cannot admit it. What good does that do, even if Islam
is the right faith?
It is exactly the mark of a just and civilized society that such matters
are not regimented, commandeered but left to people?s free decisions. And
even in the U.S.A. it is utterly wrong to attempt by rules and regulations
to make people do what?s right. It shows that those who aim for this
haven?t a clue what it is to deal properly with their fellow human beings.
Only to protect people?s liberty is force ever justified.
This is also what is so clear about what Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton
promised recently, namely, that she will force people to give up their
resources so she can use them to promote the common good. It really isn?t
different from the Afghan law, only somewhat less Draconian. Essentially
it treats people as the pawns of others instead of acknowledging their
right to their lives and liberties.
Yes, people ought to consider all kinds of consequences of their conduct
and act responsibly. And this can also involve their doing things for the
common good?like helping promote the arts, sciences, and a host of other
things that many can benefit from. But these deeds must be their own, not
imposed on them as is the pseudo-loyal behavior of that poor Afghan to
The greatest declaration of the American Founders was that individuals
have unalienable rights to their lives, liberties and ways to pursue
happiness. That is what was so revolutionary about the system they
envisioned, even if they didn?t quite get it fully right when they crafted
the U. S. Constitution (by tolerating slavery). It is this idea that makes
America special and deservedly so and it is this idea that also provokes
so many rulers and their apologists around the globe to hate America.
Sure, the U. S. government does nasty things, some of it nearly as awful
as the worst in human history. But the U. S. system is the only one that?s
on record acknowledging that everyone is equally free to live his or her
own life, without having to yield to the commands of others even when
those commands may be wise and prudent.
As Abraham Lincoln put it, ?No man is good enough to govern another man,
without that other's consent.? Why this is not reiterated over and over
again by America?s intellectuals is a mystery to me?it is, after all, the
most important truth about human community life that has ever been
established and taught anywhere.