Friday, December 01, 2006

Promoting Freedom Close to Home

Tibor R. Machan

Over the several decades that I have championed the fully free society, one that basically conforms to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, I have had the good fortune to be able to address many people about this topic. Much of this consists of writing books, articles, letters to editors, scholarly papers and columns, of course. But aside from writing, I have also been privileged to be invited to talk to a great many and highly varied groups of people, with such organizations as the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, and the like all over America and indeed the globe. Quite recently, for example, I gave a series of lectures in the Republic of Georgia as well as in Santiago, Chile.

One persistent question I have faced all these years is what an individual person can do to promote advances toward a free society. And, naturally, there are nearly as many answers to this as there are individuals asking the question. So, quite often I have to remind people that while I can give some general ideas, based on my work and experience, they are the ones who are in the best position to answer the question about what to do to advance liberty. Yet, there are a few specific ideas that will help nearly anyone concerned with promoting liberty in their own communities. One, in particular, is very worthwhile to keep in mind. It can guide one to do things that may really bear fruit.

I have in mind advocating the decoupling of government from the innumerable projects that it’s now involved with everywhere. Governments are now supporting, through public funds acquired by way of taxation, innumerable projects in every community across the world and if one is dedicated to advancing liberty an important step in that direction is to promote removing government from all these "community" endeavors.

If some convention center is widely desired, or a baseball park or football stadium, or some other recreation or athletic facility, it is imperative that these be supported voluntarily and those who want these facilities go about soliciting the support instead of relying on the extortionist approach of taxation. Champions of liberty should vigorously advocate that!

After all, it is not difficult for most people to appreciate that those uninterested in football should be free to devote their own resources to some purpose of their own choosing instead of having these resources taken from them against their will and put to use for what they do not want, a football stadium. This is very simple to convey in letters, conversations, on talk programs, etc. One can always make mention of the fact that this is supposed to be a free country where people have the right to pursue their own happiness and not to be conscripted to help in the pursuit of others’.

Also, this is a country with a reasonably strong individualist tradition, which can also be deployed in defense of having those who want something go about securing support for their projects, leaving others to do so in support of what they want. We all have ideals, goals, dreams, purposes of our own, often not unlike those of some others but rarely those of all others.

And that’s an excellent reason why the various community projects people now tend habitually to expect governments to support should actually be supported privately, voluntarily. Sure, there are some projects where this idea would be too radical to promote—airports, roads, and schools should be funded voluntarily but the governmental habit is too powerful here and it will take a while before advances toward privatization can be made about those. But swimming pools? Ice skating rinks? Volley ball and tennis courts? Even football stadiums, while quite large projects, have no business being built with funds extorted from people who care not a whit about football.

I believe that this particular idea, so closely related to what a free society is about—namely, people being free to pursue their own objectives so long as they do not violated anyone’s rights—holds out considerable promise of gaining ascent from one’s neighbors. Even if it will not fly immediately, it can become a focus of discussion, of editorializing, of local talk programs and so forth.

So what can you do to promote liberty? One thing among others is to advocate getting government—the governing right in your own back yard, your city or county—out of the task of supporting special interest projects pretending to serve everyone’s interest. Let those who want these often very worthy goals (to some) get up the support from them and let the rest support what they value.

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