Thursday, October 12, 2006

Politics and Logic

by Tibor R. Machan

When people talk of being logical, they mean consistent, coherent, rational. They aren't talking about the kind of formal or symbolic logic that is studied in logic classes, but rather of the kind that basic reasoning classes discuss. Formal or symbolic logic is so rigid that nothing in the real world, not even subatomic physics, reflects it completely. Logic like that is a closed system, with symbols standing in for ideas and sentences but without the normal openness of the latter.

Still, be it physics, sociology, ethics or politics, it is imperative that when we consider anything we follow the rules or principles of logic. They are the method by which we make sure, first and foremost, whether or not we are talking about reality. Why? Because reality is at its base governed by logic. When, for example, someone violates the rules of logic during testimony in a court of law, we know that something has gone wrong no matter what the issue at hand. It is simply elementary that contradicting one's self discredits what one is saying. One cannot be both at home and not at home at the same time, so saying one was just cannot be right.

Trouble is a lot of folks would like to have things several ways, ways that simply cannot all be at once. A very clear case in point is when they claim they have rights to what others also have rights to. This comes up when people talk of entitlements, especially, to what other people have or produce. Health care "rights" are an excellent example. A doctor and nurse have their basic rights to their lives, their liberty, but if you and I have a right to health care, that means they don't because we have a right to make them work for us. Any citizen has the right to his or her property -- e. g., to their skills and resources -- but if you and I have a right to welfare that requires confiscating these, and that simply cannot be. Maybe people want it but then they want the impossible.

Whenever public policy or law affirms what is impossible, the result is that some people -- bureaucrats, judges and the like -- have gained arbitrary powers. The impossible cannot be achieved, so instead of relying on the law or public policy to guide us impartially, cogently, some bloke will have to decide what goes, in defiance of sense and reason. This comes from making laws and public policies that cannot function as consistent guidelines to how we should conduct ourselves. Someone must, then, step in and make a decision that is independent of objective law, of law that can be predicted to function in the real world. Instead some whimsical choice is substituted.

For example, since both the patient and the doctor cannot have those rights they are said to have -- the patient to health care, the doctor to liberty -- the government steps in and decides, arbitrarily, whose wants will be satisfied and when. Sometimes it will be doctors -- say, when they go on strike and refuse to work for the pay they are offered -- and sometimes it will be patients -- say, when they get to force other people to pay what doctors want for their services. In such cases, and there are zillions of them, logic is violated and the law becomes a matter of some people's arbitrary, irrational decisions.

And that's basically the destruction of the rule of law, the principles which put order into human affairs so that no one gets to call the shots and we all live by consistent rules and principles. If, for example, our rights to life, liberty and property get full protection, that means entitlements must be rejected in law and public policy because enforcing entitlements violate those basic rights. Sadly, violation of that has become routine now, urged on by the likes of FDR and his current followers, champions of so called "positive" rights, rights to other people's works and resources. (Professor Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago is such an FDR epigone.) The expansion of eminent domain is another case in point. If our property belongs to us but also to the city officials who want to take it so as to improve something in the community, the result is arbitrariness, rule not of law but by the whim of officials.

It only seems that logic and life don't mesh well but what in fact does not mesh well is how many of us wish life to be with how it can be. People, sadly, often want it in several incompatible ways and politicians are only too willing to promise they can deliver them this impossible gift. The result is more or less tyrannical rule in society and the abandonment of the rule of law.

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