Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Artificial Controversies

Tibor R. Machan

Enemies of the free society are prone to find something that will render the very idea of it not just odd but insidious. So we have one Gerry Stoker, writing in the January 2006 (issue #118) of Prospect Magazine that “Politics has been infected by one of the dominant myths of our time: that the goal of life is self-actualization. Politics as an exercise in collective decision-making has been unable to withstand the assault of a na├»ve individualism” (

As you might expect, Mr. Stoker gives no example of any thinker who advances the so called myth he sets out to deconstruct. In fact there have been very few if any individualists who have argued that individual self-actualization and politics are incompatible. And, in any case, individualism in any of its forms is far from dominant today.

However, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous Democracy in America, did grapple with the possible questionable influence of a certain type of individualism, speculating that unless it is clarified, it may lead people not to care about the legal infrastructure of their societies. But it is mostly critics of the free society who have produced caricatures of individualism so as to besmirch the thing good and hard.

Stoker appears to be among this latter group. It is a tactic that appeals to some—make individualism look something awful; then persuade us that collectivism is right; then anoint yourself as the voice of the collective, the royal we, and have your way with us all.

For there really is no collective humanity or society or nation or any such thing. That really is a myth. Individuals make up all these groups, as they do the tribe, family, corporation, team, orchestra, band, or what have you. What sometimes makes it appear that there is some new entity afoot with such groups is that their members do often embark upon purposes they have in common. But that doesn’t create some new being that stands above the individual members, not by a long shot.

Now what about this supposed divide between individual self-actualization and politics? It’s all concocted. In a proper understanding of the individual human being, one’s self-actualization includes the political dimension of one’s life. Just as one’s marriage, family, fraternity, and company all include one’s self-actualization as a human individual, so as a human individual one also needs to fulfill political values, needs, objectives.

It is only when one works with the caricature version of the human individual that one finds no harmony between oneself and one’s fellows. Maybe there are such individuals—hermits—for whom “self” means nothing but what amounts to one’s physical dimensions, what is found inside one’s skin. But this is an aberration. Normal people have projects that very much involve others, their welfare, their concerns, their foibles and so forth. The human self is a robust entity, reaching out all around itself to many others.

What is important about individualism is that it recognizes that the starting point is the individual, at least once one becomes an adult. One’s decisions, choices, values, aspirations, and so forth are the base from which the self-actualization processes commences, but never to the exclusion of the input from one’s loved ones and many others.

This is a vast issue and I am only trying to warn about those who try to create some kind of artificial bifurcation between oneself and others, including the society in which one makes something of one’s life. Watch out—what these folks are after is to rest the decision-making power from you and me and have it transferred to them, all in the name of some supposedly higher being, the public, society, humanity, or polity. There is no such higher being apart from the individuals who are its constituents.

Sadly the trick has worked all too often, ever since Plato’s Socrates introduced the idea that it isn’t you and I who are important but the ideal form of the human being, humanity! Since that time many have perpetrated the ruse of gaining power by claiming they speak for this higher entity—in Hitler’s words, Das Volk, in Stalin’s the proletariat, etc.

Mr. Stoker should be rebuffed good and hard by reminding him that individuals can actualize themselves best when they gain a clear understanding of what politics is about, namely, the establishment of standards that keep the peace among them all.
Limiting Outsourcing is Wrong and Harmful

Tibor R. Machan

Former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan is still at it—he wants to do something about the global competition that is making it tough for America’s Big Three automakers to keep up. When the Big Three were flying high, the rest of the world hadn’t yet discovered free markets, especially in labor. But now they have and millions of people abroad are trading their labor for much less money than are people used to trading it in America. Ergo, cars made abroad—and, incidentally, in American regions that aren’t controlled by unions—cost less than those made at the plants of the Big Three. So Big Three and all those working for them need to make painful adjustments. Mr. Buchanan and other foes of global capitalism are calling for ways to combat these developments.

But what is to be done? If my kid has been mowing your lawn for $5 an hour and he has gotten used to this, when some other kid offers to mow it for $3 an hour, my kid will be upset. He will have been outbid! The alternative of putting the competitor and the customer in chains isn’t acceptable. It’s flat out morally wrong. The only thing my own kid can do is either find some other job where he can make his $5 an hour or lower his price and keep the job at $3 an hour or less.

Now if I had given the mowing job to my child and got a better offer and took it, I could be faulted for my insensitivity as a parent. But most of us aren’t related to those who work at the Big Three, so we do not owe them special considerations that trump commerce. Indeed, we would be quite unjust in turning down the better offer since that would mean we no longer play by the rules of free trade, of going by economic factors rather than something else unrelated to economics. This would be like changing the rules in some sport because the referee is a personal buddy of some players.

But that’s not all. As far as helping American workers and firms is concerned, introducing special measures such as protectionism, high tariffs or duties, or anything else that restrains free trade cannot really work in their favor. Yes, for a little while, perhaps, a tariff on imported cars or steel may reduce their sale and increase the sale of domestic ones, although these days, when cars and their parts are made all over the globe, even this isn’t likely. In time, however, because the Big Three will be charging more than what the market would require customers to pay, customers will be using more of their income for cars and less for other merchandise. This, in turn, will reduce the income of those making all that other merchandise being bought in smaller amounts, making it difficult for them to buy cars and whatever else they would want. That, in turn, will reduce the demand for the cars made by the Big Three and the benefits coming to their employees will still dry up.

In fact, ultimately to try to circumvent market forces would require a police state—watching everyone’s buying and selling practices, controlling it all, sending in the cops wherever someone is dodging the officials who now run the show instead of market agents. And that is just what happens in a planned economy, leading, in the end, to drops in production, sales, employment, and economic growth.

The way that Mr. Buchanan and his pals want to help American workers ultimately results in far greater harm to them than anything that the global economy would produce. Indeed, global capitalism rarely produces long term harms. Sure, one needs to adjust to new technologies and new competitors but this comes about relatively gradually and people can make the adjustment much easier than what would be necessary if the entirely system was to experience the impact of the inevitable bad judgments of planners, namely, economic collapse.

The measures urged by Mr. Buchanan, namely, protectionism and restraint of trade, are like so many efforts to take shortcuts by means of violating the principles of the free market. They create hardships unheard of in free economies wherein changes are expected and people can prepare for them.
Roe & Privacy

Tibor R. Machan

One reason that Roe v. Wade is still with us is that legal scholars and jurists are arguing about the wrong issue. The question isn’t whether the US Constitution contains any reference to a right to privacy. Let’s assume it does. Let’s assume that the Ninth Amendment, as argued in Griswold v. Connecticut and some other cases, implicitly refers to the right to privacy every human beings has. Why would this be relevant?

Some might argue that if one has the right to privacy, a woman who has an abortion is doing something private, something no one else has the authority to regulate or ban. But this simply will not do.

If a pregnant woman is carrying a child—as pro-life folks call it, “an unborn child”—she has no authority to have a procedure that will kill this child. Wherever one locates a human being, inside the pregnant woman or in a crib or at some hotel, unless he has threatened to attack someone, no one is justified killing him. Only self-defense justifies killing another human being, period. (I leave aside the death penalty for now—some argue that it, too, is simply the extension of self-defense, though I doubt this.)

But one might say, the pregnant woman’s womb is certainly as private a place as you can find. Well, yes, provided it hasn’t been made the home of this “unborn baby.” If the “unborn baby” is indeed a new, budding human being from the moment of conception or thereabouts, the pregnant woman’s womb is not private any longer. The body is now being shared—some of it is occupied by this new human being, some by the woman’s insides.

Privacy, then, is really quite irrelevant to the debate surrounding Roe v. Wade. The relevant question to be answered is, “Is the being to be killed in an abortion a human being or is it human only potentially?” If the former, then abortions are killings, unless they amount to self-defense—say the “unborn baby” poses a fatal hazard to the pregnant woman. And such killings are a form of murder—infanticide.

But if in the early stages of pregnancy the woman is carrying a potential human being, then abortions performed in those stages are not infanticide because they are not homicide. They do not amount to the unjustified killing of a human being.

The debate here is not unlike that about the very sick and incapacitated at the end of life. Without a brain that can function as those of normal human beings do—without its capacity to think, to have ideas, to imagine, to envision and so forth which human beings as such are distinctive for in the living world—arguably no human being exists any longer. So removing life supports and similar acts that terminate life do not constitute homicide.

Exactly when that point comes about is where the debate needs to focus in the end-of-life discussion, while when a human being comes into existence is the point that needs to be debated in the abortion issue.

Maybe the following rough analogy will help here: If you invite someone into your home for dinner, you are not authorized to kill him. Doing so, unless he attacks you, would be murder. Sure, your home is your private sphere but you invited the guest, he didn’t break in and threaten your life. So you do not get to kill him, never mind your right to privacy. If, however, you bring home something that could, in time, become a human being but you don’t wait and annihilate it, you haven’t killed anyone. And none of this has anything to do with whether your home is within your private sphere.

Of course, discussing abortion in terms of when a human life comes into existence raises very tough issues—What is it to be a human being? What attributes or faculties or capacities must something possess to be such a being? Is it human at the beginning of its life or at some later point when certain faculties have emerged? Is there anything like a precise enough point during pregnancy that this occurs? Could it be conception, at which point no single entity exists that will become the baby but several might? Could it be when the cerebral cortex develops where thinking is made possible?

But at the edges of the law there will always be difficulties. Who is an adult? Who is still a child or juvenile? Similar ones can be found throughout human affairs.

Still, to pretend that the issue isn’t about when human beings comes into being but about the right to privacy is to confuse matters and postpone a reasonable solution.
Post-Modernism and Science

Tibor R. Machan

The main tenet of post-modernist philosophy is that reality is constructed, non-objective. (A good description of the movement is at [ ] and in Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism at In America the main representative is the philosopher Richard Rorty, also referred to as a radical pragmatist, who is very big on denying the very possibility, not to mention desirability, of objective truth. Which is to say, Rorty holds that human beings are unable to know the world as it really is, independently of various prejudices, preconceptions, influences from their particular communities and so forth.

Now I won’t revisit Hicks’ book here but it bears some reflection that the post-modernist outlook is simply at odds with the bulk of modern science. Some dispute this because of a few epistemological puzzles that surround contemporary subatomic physics but apart from that, the bulk of what scientists do flatly contradicts the notion that human beings cannot know the world other than as a construct of their own minds.

Take, for example, a recent story out of one of my favorites magazines, Science News. In the January 7, 2006, issues one can read the page 3 story, “Stone Age Footwork,” which opens with the following unabashedly objective claim: “Researchers working near the shore of a dried-up lake basin in southwestern Australia have taken a giant leap backward in time. They’ve uncovered the largest known collection of Stone Age human footprints.”

The particulars of this report may only interest anthropologist and archaeologists—it is detailed in a paper in the January 2006 issue of the Journal of Human Evolution—but anyone will appreciate just how unapologetically, even unselfconsciously objectivist the story is reported. Of course, no one doubts that what the researchers have found is a matter of the facts of the world—albeit a world way back in time. The prints—which were discovered by an aboriginal woman back in 2000 who was helping with an archeological survey in the region—are evidently well confirmed in terms of the standards of the relevant science—“the team shone a laser light on sand grains from sediments just above and below the footprint-bearing soil layer.” The measurements were made from the emitted light based on “accumulated radioactivity, from which the group calculated the sediments’ ages.”

Of course, it is one thing to proceed in science without giving any credibility to or worrying about post-modernist ideas. There’d be little of modern medicine and technology if those practicing in these fields sat around trifling about whether the world really exists or whether their understanding of it is a matter of inescapable mental intervention rather than apprehension. Philosophers, on the other hand, are committed to check out such bizarre notions—they are in the business of taking nothing much for granted, including that our thinking gets us what we ordinarily believe it does, namely, understanding of what’s what.

This process has been going on for ages. No sooner do some philosophers come up with a good account of how competent the human mind can be that some colleagues will puncture the account full of holes and send everyone back to the drawing board.

Yet, in certain times along the way the skeptics—now called “post-modernists”—get too much of a foothold and spawn a host of really crazy views, which themselves take over various disciplines (especially in the humanities and social sciences). Notions like multiculturalism come to spread, as does cultural relativism, subjectivism, constructivism, and what have you, all calling into question that anyone has managed to come to know things better than anyone else, that there really is reliable knowledge we have accumulated about the world. Part of this skeptical movement then starts having a serious and even devastating influence in schools, from the elementary to the post-graduate levels, and unsuspecting folks do not just have the skeptical ideas taught as one of several ways people think but as the best way to think. Yes, yes, this is especially paradoxical for post-modernists to put out there but there you have it, they do.

Perhaps the most insidious result is that education itself begins to reflect what post-modernism contends, namely, that there is no hope of getting anything right at all and the whole process of learning is but that of trying to acquire power, to impose one of the many views on us all, never mind truth, objectivity, or reality.

One way this comes out in, say, colleges is that certain young, enthusiastic imaginative post-modernist professors abandon the traditional pedagogical approach of presenting different schools of thought from which students are expected to find the best. Instead these professors simply preach their own preferred position to their students, a captive audience in most cases, beating back any questions as reactionary and putting down all students who don’t yield to their message. Without the possibility of truth, of actual knowledge, you see, all’s that’s left is who can triumph over all the rest in being most intensely promoted!

In the quest for understanding, then, it is crucial not to give in to the post-modernist stance. It only makes the very idea of obtaining understanding impossible and substitutes the notion of different inventions battling it out on the basis of how many in some discipline buy into one of it.
Looking Back at Kelo and More

Tibor R. Machan

Since back when the Supreme Court ruled on Kelo v. City of New London, CT—in favor of the city’s use of eminent domain measures against private owners with viable property so as to obtain more taxes from the development other private parties may initiate—there has been much consternation about just what went wrong here. Most people who prize liberty were outraged and are convinced this was yet another blow against the institution of private property rights in America. But a few have argued that actually the ruling is a victory for state’s rights because it follows the 10th Amendment which bars the federal government from making laws for states.

Well, had there been any evidence of serious concern for state’s rights by the US Supreme Court during the last several decades, I might go along with this rather legalistic, technical reasoning. However, given how little the US Supreme Court has been interested in upholding the US Constitution and its several crucial amendments, the argument cannot reasonably be taken to characterize what the court was doing. Instead, the court was doing what it has been doing a great deal of late, namely, imposing its majority’s idea of desirable public policy on the nation.

Accordingly, in Kelo the best explanation is exactly what comes first to mind. This is that the justices had no serious respect for private property rights and favored government power over individual rights. That this has been the trend ever since FDR tried to pack the court and failed (but found that he didn’t really need to pack it since those on the court would accommodate his grab for power) is indisputable. The court, in other words, has become nearly fully politicized and as far as the constitution is concerned, few on it give a damn. They are so few, in fact, that it is reasonable to say that the US Supreme court cares not a whit about the US Constitution any more.

While we are on the subject of the US Constitution, it is worth noting that a great many conservatives have been bellyaching about how Roe v. Wade was decided very badly because, well, there is simply no place in the US Constitution where one can find a right to abortion. This right, they claim, is pure invention, as is the right to privacy that served to guide some justices in Griswold v. Connecticut and in the Texas sodomy case, which many conservatives also find very bad law.

However, all this ignores the Ninth Amendment according to which people retain all kinds of rights not enumerated in the US Constitution. So, in fact, it is by constitutional authority that justices may look for rights outside the constitution itself. And if there is no enumerated power of the federal government to regulate or ban something, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that the constitution, via the Ninth, affirms many, many rights not listed therein and bars government—including one supported by the majority—from meddling.

What should be the focus of those who are upset about Roe v. Wade is not whether the constitution contains explicit reference to a right to abortion—it does not need to. But if in fact prior to the 24th to 27th weeks of pregnancy a human being exists in a pregnant woman’s womb, then there cannot be a right to abortion. That’s because there cannot be a right that contradicts another right. In another words, either the pregnant woman has the right to choose to either continue or terminate the pregnancy, or there is a human being inside her that has the right to life. One or the other, period. And that is what’s troubling about Roe v. Wade, not any supposed absence of an explicitly mentioned right to abortion in the US Constitution. (There is no explicitly mentioned right in the US Constitution to sing, or dance, or write novels, or travel or to do umpteen millions of other things that human beings do indeed have the right to do and government has absolutely no constitutional authority to regulate or ban!)

It is often thought and said that these issues are too complex for ordinary folks to grasp, so let’s leave them to legal scholars, jurists, constitutional experts, and so forth. That’s wrong. The US Constitution was crafter for us all, not just for a few. Just because some people are appointed to deal with it full time does not disqualify the rest of us from considering the debates surrounding the document.

In my own travels and talks to hundreds of people around the country I have found many who are very well versed and reflect very sensibly on this subject and I want to encourage even more people to do so. Constitutional government is endangered because of the politicization of courts by people who really do not like the US Constitution at all. These people aren’t only dissatisfied with one or another matter but they hate having government’s hands tied at all. This must be firmly resisted and that resistance must come from the citizenry now, since most of the experts are in fact in favor of all this governmental power grab.
Modern Liberalism’s Central Flaw

Tibor R. Machan

On many issues I am actually in agreement with modern liberalism but I reject its central contention. For example, I fully agree that racism is vile; I agree there is no justification for criticizing homosexuality per se; nor do I think there is much to reject when it comes to the concern many modern liberals show for the environment—green is a nice color (almost as nice as red orange, my own favorite). I am also convinced that many of the people modern liberals wish to protect from ostracism by others deserve that protection—in the work place, at schools, in clubs, and so forth. I also share the care they profess for the poor among us and support remedying poverty as much as possible.

These are areas where I strongly differ from conservatives who often border on being racists (as when they refuse to accept that, yes, what blacks have experienced as a rule throughout much of American history is really quite intolerable and should still be looked upon with sympathy and understanding). Conservatives are also really out to lunch on the homosexuality issue—treating homosexuals as some sort of lepers rather than as folks with different orientation, a little like left-handed or color blind people. I could go on but that’s not my main point.

Modern liberals sadly cling to their most grievous flaw and that is what makes them, even if at times only inadvertently, fundamentally misanthropic. They believe that advancing their objectives, even those that are perfectly valid, ought to be done by using coercion against those whose cooperation they seek. This major, colossal error on their part makes it even difficult to join them in their various campaigns to help those they wish to help, to argue against those whom they rightly oppose.

As a recent example, consider the war in Iraq. Most modern liberals oppose this war but do so on grounds that are frankly blatantly hypocritical. They claim to oppose it because it involved preemption. Yet, of course, modern liberals are notoriously preemptive concerning every other hazards they suspect surrounds us—their notorious precautionary principles in the area of environmental and other regulatory law are perfect examples. Forget due process, forget individual rights, forget that no one has done any harm to anyone—we need to be careful to the point of totalitarian regimentation because something might go wrong! This is outrageously disrespectful of individual human rights, due process, the very liberal idea of live and let live.

In short, modern liberals are congenital bullies. Despite their attempt to smear the religious Right and other conservatives with the charge that they are moralizers and intolerant, modern liberals are the most intolerant of them all. Instead of deploying persuasion, ostracism, and other peaceful means by which to further their own moral objectives—and don’t please make any mistake about this, they are full of very black and white moralism, these supposedly open-minded people—they resort mostly to legislation and coercion. They have no compunction about imposing their values, family or otherwise, on everyone around them—just watch their eager support of such laws as the Americans for Disability Act, which coerces us all to care for those with impediments, unhesitatingly enslaves us to them rather than do the hard work of convincing us all that it is right to be generous to folks in special need.

With this stubborn belief in using coercive force to get things otherwise worthwhile done, modern liberals—social or economic democrats or whatever term one uses to designate them—even create enemies for their very causes they claim to champion. If you use coercion to promote a valuable goal, what a great many people will focus on is your barbaric, uncivilized method, never mind the worthy objective. If you support environmental care and prudence but use a gun to impose it on others, those others rightfully will condemn you and often your goals as well. Even if you had something of a chance to bring them around to see things your correct way, the use of coercion will have killed it in too many cases.

Modern liberals don’t get it—it is a sign of colossal lack of civility to deal with those with whom one disagrees as if they were beasts, mindless brutes to be caged and tamed by force. But that is exactly what most of them do as they confront adversaries. And that is worse than most of what those adversaries wrongfully champion.
Tyranny Taught at Yale Law School

Tibor R. Machan

Yale Law Professor Kenji Yoshino wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine, “The Pressure to Cover” [01/15/06], that’s a frightening diatribe in favor of a police state. Its ideas pretty much match the worst portions of the Right Wing’s Patriot Act—another piece of evidence that Left and Right are mostly two sides of the same coin.

This man proposes that everyone who is dissatisfied with any condition in his or her life has the civil right to seek relief—e.g., be accepted by others on his or her terms. This idea is to completely abolish the right to free association so all those whom some do not like will be forced to be embraced by all those who do not wish to be with them.

This, of course, is the logical implication of those elements of the civil rights legislation of the early 60s that went beyond freeing people from official government segregation and discrimination. When those laws began to force people to hire others whom they didn’t want to hire—for whatever reasons, from whatever motives be those decent or vile—the dice was cast in the direction of making people associate with each other whether they choose to do so. And Professor Yoshino is all too eager to take it all to its logical end: make society conform to his conception of human harmonious co-existence. (I am surprised he isn’t actually proposing to force people to go on dates or even marry people they aren’t attracted to because, well, wouldn’t it be great for them if those they want would want them, too.)

Yoshino is upset about the fact that some people have to cover their own habits, likes, styles of attire or hair, dislikes and so forth in order to accommodate others with whom they wish to association in various endeavors, including various organizations (especially with employers, schools, teams, clubs, etc.). When American Airlines was forced to hire or keep on flight attendants whose hairstyle management considered—right or wrongly—objectionable, undesirable, the courts paved the way for Yoshino’s radical police state. Now he can argue, by way of the familiar approach of the law, namely, precedent, that all those who object to others for whatever reason should be forced to shut up about it, put up with everything they dislike, because acceptance on terms others may well abhor is one’s new civil right.

This, of course, is just what most of those who were condemned for supposedly fostering discrimination, even racism and sexism, by objecting to forced integration feared all along. Many of them had no objection to associating with people of different races, sexual preferences, etc., and so forth—they did, however, see the writing on the wall, the writing that spelled “Professor Yoshino’s Hell on Earth.” It is the hell in which one’s choices of who will be acceptable fellows, who won’t, do not matter at all. What matters is what the likes of Professor Yoshino think constitutes a proper—and forced—union among people.

In his piece, which is chuck full of equivocations and verbal slights of hand, Professor Yoshino says “it is now time for us as a nation to shift the emphasis away from equality and toward liberty in our debate about identity politics....” But by “liberty” Yoshino means that one is entitled to impose oneself on others—at work, in clubs, at schools, etc.—regardless whether these others want to associate with one. Yoshino hopes that “People confronted with demands to cover [meaning to hide or disguise the traits to which others with whom they wish to associate object] should feel emboldened to seek reason for that demand, even if the law does not reach the actors making the demand or recognize the group burdened by it.” That is to say, even if there are no laws yet forcing others to associate with you—say, no law forces you to admit into your home people whose grooming or race or music or whatever you disapprove of, whether rationally or not—you should be emboldened to demand that these folks provide justification for their exclusion of you from their midst.

Oh yeah? Why must I give anyone such justification? Well, Yoshino seems to believe, because they have a civil right to it from you. But does he not see that such a policy makes me their involuntary servant, one who must report to them with my reasons even if I would rather do something else or not tell them anything at all. In Professor Yoshino’s world we are all to be coerced into explaining ourselves to others and, the next step, if we refuse to do this, we will receive sanctions, at first from some pressure groups but in time from the law itself.

Fact is, free men and women should not be subject to such coercive impositions. If they have irrational objections to others, they must be reached without coercion, by education, social pressure, boycotts, or ostracism—but left alone if they refuse. The nightmare of a harmonious world in which everyone will accept, even love everyone else, in which all differences of tastes and preferences are erased, is a world of coerced conformity—kind of like North Korea!

It is instructive that Yoshino’s essay in The Times Magazine is followed by one in which new laws around the country coercing employers to pay people a “living wage” is championed. The Times seems to be intent on leading the way to a police state in various areas of our lives, while it keeps complaining of President Bush’s efforts to make this happen in others.

We are not in good shape, sadly, and we better watch out because both these forces are undermining our right to individual liberty, the bona fide kind.
The New York Times on Alito’s Advance

Tibor R. Machan

The New York Times made much of the fact [01/15/06] that Democrats couldn’t trip up Judge Samuel Alito during the recent hearings at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Times fretted a lot about how Democrats felt outflanked both by Alito and by the Republicans.

One point, though, that The Times proposed seems to me to be patently wrong. You may recall that at one point in the questioning of Judge Alito his wife began to weep and this was caught on camera and shown throughout the major media. About this the Times writes:

That evening senior Democratic senate aides convened at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, stunned at the realization that the pictures of a weeping Mrs. Alito were being broadcast across the nation—as opposed to, for example, images of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, pressing Judge Alito about his membership in an alumni club that resisted affirmative action efforts.

What? Do The Times writers really believe that showing the lady shed a few tears at the grilling her husband received made such a big impact? Or that it would have been very different had the media focused on Senator Ted Kenney’s questioning?

As far as I am concerned, seeing a wife get a bit misty eyed when a husband is hassled couldn’t make much of a difference. It is just routine. Do these writers have such a low estimate of American citizens that they think such a scene is going to determine their thinking on the matter of who is qualified for the US Supreme Court? A few people, perhaps, but I would guess most of us make note of the tears and then move on to the relevant issues.

But perhaps even more interestingly, do The Times’ writers believe that showing Senator Ted Kennedy question Judge Alito would score big points against the Judge? Kennedy? He is practically a buffoon for most of us and survives in Massachusetts mainly because of his connections and how this enables him to bring home the bacon. Kennedy’s has no credibility as a serious judicial mind. He is viewed by millions as a nitpicker and a showman, barely managing to pose as a grand statesman.

Moreover, the issue of the “alumni club that resisted affirmative action efforts” surely isn’t a slam dunk against Alito since millions of Americans who haven’t a smattering of racism in their hearts or minds also oppose affirmative action, including quite a few blacks among them. If all that this club did is to oppose affirmative action, grilling Alito about it would probably have been seen by most people as a trivial pursuit. Whether affirmative action is a sound policy is itself quite debatable among all those who reject racism, racial exclusion, or any such policy. (I am not privy to what exactly this club stood for and why but judging by The Times’ story, its stance wouldn’t shake up many people, not, especially, given that it turned out to be Ted Kennedy’s hobby horse.)

Yes, Judge Alito managed to dodge nearly all the bullets fired at him by the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee but that’s because these bullets themselves were mostly, well, blanks. There wasn’t very much the Democrats could bring up of which they couldn’t be accused over the last several decades—such as favoring strong presidential powers (when, for example, Lyndon Johnson was president, or Bill Clinton).

Most informed citizens are aware that all that’s going on in Washington nowadays is a turf fight about who is to have the power of the growing and ever more powerful government, the Left or the Right. Neither side is much interested in principles, neither is interested in restraining government either in its scope or in its size, so what’s the fuss about who gets on the Court?

Yes, some special interests will get bent out of shape if one side gains the upper hand, but others will get upset if the other side does, because it is, after all, about power, not about adherence to the principles of the US Constitution. Where the Democrats claim to care about the right to privacy (in very limited areas, mind you), the Republicans may care about the right of the unborn (and few other rights). These are all special issues and not really about constitutional principles—like what does the Ninth Amendment mean, like what has happened to the principle of private property rights referred to explicitly in the Fifth Amendment, and like where have the constitutional protections against search a seizure gone now that the “war on terror,” as in the past “the war on drugs,” have made these nearly moot?

But of course The New York Times wouldn’t know anything about these matters—they are part of the turf fight, nothing more.
Writer vs. Reviewer: Sunstein’s Bifurcation

Tibor R. Machan

The University of Chicago Law School’s Cass Sunstein is now nearly as prominent a modern liberal—Leftists—legal scholar as is Harvard Law School’s Lawrence Tribe—just the other day I heard someone mention him as the equivalent on the Left to Samuel Alito on the Right, someone who might be nominated for the Supreme Court by a Democratic President.

In a detailed review he wrote for The New Republic (1/10/06) of UC Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo’s The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11 (Chicago, 2006), Sunstein argues pretty effectively against Yoo’s idea that as far as the Founders, Framers, and the Constitution are concerned, the President has all the legitimate power to make war without a Congressional declaration.

A part of Yoo’s argument is that the British model guiding the Founders, et al., endorses this position and Sunstein not only shows, with several good quotes, that the Founders, et al., were not agreeing with this position but observes, rightly I think, that “there is specific evidence that the British model was rejected.” Of course, what else was the revolution about anyway? It was to burst the myth of the king. So it is no good going to the king now to legitimize George Bush’s or any other president’s unilateral war-waging. (I have argued often that when Ralph Nader endorses the “creature of the state” case for government regulation of the economy, he, too, forgets that there was a revolution and government no longer gets to create corporations; the people do that in a free country.)

Sunstein, then, is correct to complain that Yoo ignores good evidence as he tries to make his case—acting more like a trial lawyer than a political or even legal theorist. And he is also right to point out that America is not a monarchy, so the president is just that, a presiding officer, not a king.

Alas, Sunstein’s own work concerning a somewhat different issue would fare badly if he deployed his own critical standards against himself. In his The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need it More Than Ever (Basic Books, 2004), Sunstein sets out to square the circle by attempting to show that what FDR wanted—a full blown welfare state with its plethora of new “rights,” the positive sort, namely, entitlements—lines up nicely with the American political and even constitutional tradition.

Never mind how this dream of expanding the welfare state much farther than even FDR wanted to cannot jive with economic realities—or common sense. Getting blood out of a turnip just will not cut it. But in order to defend the bloated welfare state as a proper American system, Sunstein himself has to ignore some important documents, not the least of which is the Declaration of Independence. By what we read therein, no welfare rights or entitlements can exist since if everyone has unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, any protection of positive welfare “rights” must necessarily violate them.

There is more, as reviewer Michael DeBow notes in the December, 2005, issue of The Freeman. Sunstein discusses the Great Depression as if no one ever disagreed with the claim that it was caused by laissez-faire. He “ignores the recent revisionist scholarship of Robert Higgs, Jim Powell, William Shughart, Gene Smiley,” not to mention several earlier works by the likes of Murray N. Rothbard. These folks seem not to exist as far as Sunstein is concerned, which is a clear case of scholarly malpractice, akin to what he claims Yoo has perpetrated.

So, in short, Sunstein is guilty of exactly what he claims Yoo is guilty of, namely, ignoring evidence and failing to understand the American political tradition. That, of course, is the price of attempting to be a champion of civil libertarianism while failing to appreciate that libertarianism cannot be bifurcated. If you are going to set out to defend civil liberties, you need to give equal consideration to economic liberties. One’s life, in other words, cannot be kept under monarchical rule respecting one’s body—one’s labor and property—but liberated as far as one’s mind and soul are concerned—one’s thought and speech.

Alas, this bifurcation has plagued not only many of America’s intellectuals, including legal scholars such as Sunstein, Ronald Dworkin, and many others, but intellectuals throughout the world and human history. Dualistic thinkers will try for this all the time but reality will invariably bite them in the rear end.
What Does “Unalienable” Mean?

Tibor R. Machan

It would really be extremely valuable for today’s children to understand what is meant for a right to be unalienable. But it isn’t likely they will be taught about this much in today’s school—from elementary to graduate ones, in fact. That’s because if they realized that the American Founders understood every individual to have unalienable rights to, among other things, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they would begin to wonder, well, how is it that their city, country, state, or federal governments fail to heed this fact.

For a right to be unalienable means it cannot be lost by a human being, not unless his or her humanity itself has been lost. So, for example, if a person no longer can be conscious as a rational being—is brain dead—that would suffice to alienate his or her rights, but short of that nothing will do.

The implication of this is extremely important and would disturb most of those who teach about government—in publicly funded schools! For to expropriate the funds, the right to property, even to one’s life or liberty, needs to be alienated unless one freely chooses to provide the needed funds. “Unalienable” means, however, that one’s rights to life, liberty, property and whatever else qualifies as a basic right may never be violated—by no one at all, certainly not by one’s government, not even if it has full democratic support.

The idea of the American Founder was to make clear that governments exist so as to secure these rights and not even in doing that job may they be violated. That’s why cops are bound by due process even as they deal with a suspect in a very serious crime. That is why there is so much fuss about eavesdropping on unsuspecting citizens, or in detaining human beings without due process. Those concerns are the faint echoes today of the idea that everyone, by virtue of being a human being, has unalienable rights.

Some would retort that, surely, once a majority has decided we must all pay for innumerable public projects—which are rarely public, by the way, but rather serve the interest of some sizable private group—those rights no longer bar government from interfering with our lives, liberties, property, and so forth. But that is dead wrong—the point of observing that the basic rights are unalienable is to make it clear that no one, not even some huge majority, may violate them.

Perhaps not even the American Founders fully understood the radical implication of affirming the fact that we all have these unalienable rights. I confess to be mystified that they didn’t see clearly that some of the powers they conferred upon government contradict, flat out, the fact that our rights are unalienable. Government, for example, may not rob us of our liberty, our life, by means of depriving us of the fruits of these in taxes or other takings. Your right to your life and liberty cannot mean anything if you can be conscripted to serve others, if the fruits of your work may be taken from you by force, without your permission.

It is true that by becoming or being a citizen of a country one commits oneself to, say, taking part in the pursuit of justice—so giving testimony where it is the only way justice can be served is something one implicitly consents to do. But this is no alienation of one’s rights, anymore than when one weds one’s mate and says “I do,” it is an alienation of one’s rights for one’s mate to insist that one doesn’t fool around with others. But that minimum commitment that is entailed by citizenship does not imply that rights may be alienated. Indeed, the commitment is itself an exercise of one’s right to liberty—one freely becomes or remains a citizen and that has certain consequences.

Ultimately, of course, much that most citizens in contemporary America take for grated, all the public works and entitlements, rest on denying that we have unalienable rights. Which is probably one reason this part of the Declaration of Independence receives scant attention in schools or in most discussions of public affairs. Yet that is precisely what made the Declaration such a revolutionary statement: it rejected the idea that we can be owned by anyone else but ourselves. Our lives, our labors, our properties belong to us and to obtain it we must be asked and give our consent.
Private Property and Freedom of the Press

Tibor R. Machan

Ownership confers control, as everyone associated with a church, a magazine, a newspaper or a publishing company should know. Even the most left wing publications—among them those typical "independent" newspapers that parade as forums of free thought—have a viewpoint which they champion good and hard. Indeed, most of the latter make no distinction between news coverage and editorial opinion. Most mainstream media tend to uphold some kind of distinction between out and out editorializing and relatively non-partisan news reporting.

In any case, in a free society private individuals and groups of them—such as corporations, partnerships and so forth—own the organs of opinion. And they tend to operate it in a way that reflects their values. This includes championing causes of their own choosing.

The famous left wing magazines, The Progressive and The Nation, behave exactly accordingly, as do The Economist and National Review. The LA Weekly and The OC Weekly do just exactly what the LA Times and The OC Register do - they attempt in their editorials (and even elsewhere) to influence their readers to think more like they do rather than their intellectuals competitors.

In this way, curiously perhaps, all parties to political debate confirm the importance of the right to private property. The Nation would not give over its editorial page to William F. Buckley, Jr., or Steve Forbes any more eagerly than would Buckley or Forbes give their editorial pages to those whose views they find objectionable. Having these magazines and newspapers in private hands, with a fairly secure institution of the right to private property, makes all this possible and gives the reading public its great variety of opinions.

Of course, those who belly ache about the right to private property and how it only favors the rich do not usually acknowledge their complete reliance upon that institution. They would often complain about "censorship" at other publications if someone who is not in line with the owners' point of view is muzzled and sacked.

But they are plainly wrong: Such muzzling or firings are not censorship, not by any stretch of the imagination. They are what amounts to holding editorial control. And not permitting those whose views they reject to pen opinions is exactly what any publication's owners do with folks who express views not favored by them.

A thought experiment will easily confirm this: Imagine The Nation's editorial writers suddenly encountering an argument that convinced them of the superiority of capitalism over socialism. And imagine that they proposed to publish editorials saying so. How long would they last? Not an hour—as long as it takes to clear their desks.

Now, however, imagine the owner of The Nation becoming convinced that capitalism is, after all, superior to socialism. This would pretty much spell doom for The Nation, a consistently socialist periodical, as we know it.

It is ironic that the very institution that so many on the political left detest the most, the right to private property, enables all—including those on the left, the right, the middle or wherever one is politically, philosophically—to spread their ideas without fear of real censorship: of being muzzled by the government for doing so. If only these folks realized that with this institution lie many other of the benefits of civilization! They extend over such areas as religion, economics, art, culture, athletics and the rest, everywhere where there are individual differences and there is need to maintain peace in the face of such differences. As Robert Frost said long ago, "Good fences make good neighbors."

My own personal experience testifies to this. I lived in a country as a boy without the protection of freedom of religion or of the press. If one disagreed with the government and this became known, one faced the very real threat of being deported to Siberia to work in some Gulag. That is the nature of a socialist system—one must conform to "the general will," something mysteriously divined by the government!

In a country that enjoys greater freedom, in contrast, one sees vigorous debate on many issues. Yet there is much unity there of the right kind, namely, among those who freely gather so as to pursue some goals, including spreading certain ideas and ideals in the hope that others will find them agreeable. This is one of the benefits of capitalist private property rights—a genuinely free press which makes it possible even for those who want to destroy the system to carry on.

I have worked for a media organization for eight years, owned by a family that does in fact champion the free market. Since the company buys and sells newspapers, I often go around to explain the principles to newcomers. Some of them, even among editorial writers, have found the consistent, principled embrace of private property rights and the control that comes from it quite curious, even upsetting. They cannot fathom the connection between ownership and control—as if they had never placed a political placard on their own front yard, implicitly affirming that they, not their neighbors, control their own realm.

Alas, this is one reason human life will always remain something of a free for all: one cannot ever guarantee consistency even from the smartest of people! They are all too willing to pull the rug even from under themselves.
Why Coercion Seems to Work

Tibor R. Machan

Despite the fact that hardly anyone now favors out and out dictatorial or totalitarian government—apart from those thriving from being (or associating with) their rulers—lesser types of coercive governments are widely favored. The welfare state is a good case in point. As demonstrated by books such as Chicago Law Professor Cass Sunstein’s Second Bill of Rights: FDR'S Unifinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever (Basic Books, 2004), the belief in the efficacy and justice of the welfare state is akin to the blind faith some lovers have in their infidel mates—no evidence will dissuade them.

But I suspect something else is also at work here. It is that in most cases coercive policies do not do great enough damage because their targets are too smart to succumb. They continue to thrive and make society function quite well. Just consider the tax system of the United States of America. Sure it’s robbing people of nearly 50% of their resources, most of us are also pretty apt at dodging taxes and of recovering from the government what it has extorted from us. Furthermore, most of us also believe that our success with recovering our losses is just around the corner—with the next good CPA we plan to hire, with the newest loophole we can find, and with innumerable other schemes.

Since we do not live in a totalitarian regime, the coercive measures of government are not very effective. Regulators often help the regulated, politicians often send money back to those from whom they stole it. The war on drugs is a joke. Public education is failing on every front where it touches our lives—it isn’t even able to indoctrinate students into the virtues of strict obedience to government’s schemes to subdue our resistance to its coercive policies. No sooner is some law passed making it tough to escape government’s coercion, some other law is passed—or some court case helps—to escape the coercive policy.

Indeed, what makes the welfare state appealing is that it is so hopelessly incapable of doing what it promises. “Why fret over it?” many people ask! The welfare state is like the rules at various schools that initially seem to rob everyone of all the fun they might have but then prove to be so unenforceable, so lame that students find them their object of ridicule.

None of this is very surprising, at least to me. Human beings are notoriously ingenious. They do not invent all those games that test their brain-power for nothing—such challenges excite them, entertain them and keep life interesting. The welfare state is a kind of unserious obstacle course for many citizens and mostly only those it is meant to help suffer from its oppressiveness.

True all this is costly and very irritating to those of us who can easily imagine a very much better system, one what would produce far greater benefits than what the welfare state promises, let alone delivers. But not everyone is so imaginative and cares all that much about having things turn out best. Many are pleased enough with the so-so, the mediocre, the passable, especially when you look around the globe and see what horrible messes have been made of most other places where people are trying to scratch out a living.

Now my idea is that the welfare state isn’t good enough, despite the fact that millions of people can run rings around it and manage to live well in its more or less coercive midst. But how could this idea be made to triumph?

The only approach I know is education but there can be others, I am reasonably confident. Improving gradually on some institutions would discourage people from accepting the welfare state as, well, acceptable enough. But the most promising avenue is to keep pressing the point that something much better is possible to us than the half-way house of the welfare state, what the Europeans call “the third way.” Let’s go for the first way, I say, even where this third way is passable to a lot of us.
Don’t Export America’s Failed War on Poverty

Tibor R. Machan

Only one thing stops poverty. It’s wealth. And there is but one sure fire way to gain wealth. Work.

Yes, some people get it by luck or accident but such a path is quite undependable. So The New York Time’s columnist Nicholas D. Kristof’s wish that “President Bush launched a high-profile Global War on Poverty” is a bad idea.

Contrary to Kristof’s contention, it would not “be one American-backed war that nearly all the world would thunderously applaud.” Most of the world’s development economists would be extremely doubtful about such a “war.” Some, of course, do believe that the way to eradicate poverty, anywhere and anytime, is to forcibly take from those who have wealth and transfer it to those who are poor. This is indeed what President Lyndon B. Johnson’s infamous “war on poverty” consisted of and it is also why it failed to rid America of poverty (as the recent catastrophe in New Orleans made so visibly clear). Indeed, if anything, that ill conceived “war” drove the country further into economic malaise because it penalized the productive for being productive and made provisions for those who are not productive without teaching the vital lesson that productivity is the most reliable way out of poverty.

It is really quite elementary, Dr. Watson: wealth is not manna from heaven in most of its manifestations. Even the little manna we do have handed us, by way of sunshine, oil reserves, forests, rain, and other “free goods,” must be carefully managed, harvested, for it to yield useful resources. In the absence of human ingenuity and diligence, there is simply no wealth.

But neither ingenuity nor diligence are cultivated by those willing if its fruits are systematically pocketed by thieves. And the government—any government at any level—that robs Peter of wealth so as to hand it to Paul, deserving or not, is perpetrating theft as sure as would be one’s next door neighbor who came around to steal one’s groceries and cook dinner with it for his family.

There are, no doubt, some folks in dire straits both at home and certainly abroad but the main obstacle to their improving their lot is not the absence of foreign aid from the USA. Decades and decades of foreign aid has simply disappeared, often into the Swiss bank accounts of politicians in the targeted poor countries, while economically ignorant—though in some areas erudite enough—people continue to plead for more.

Instead, what should be done is to teach the poor to produce and to insist that the politicians in their nations enact the proper legal infrastructure—namely, the firm protection of private property rights and the integrity of contracts—within which productivity is encouraged and securely rewarded. This is just the remedy that in time managed to reduce poverty in the USA and in other portions of the globe.

Freedom House and other think tanks, such as the Cato Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and the Canadian Fraser Institute, have provided evidence of these ideas for decades—adding to what experience and common sense teach most of us well enough. Yet some of the most influential people keep encouraging governments to play a phony Robin Hood game—phony because Robin Hood did exactly the opposite, taking from government to return taxes to the poor—and thus waste trillions of dollars and all the ingenuity and diligence that has created it. Kristof, maybe in his eagerness to follow his colleagues at The New York Times, like the editorial writers and the columnists Paul Krugman, and Bob Herbert, refuses to see that the one decent policy decision of the current Bush administration has been its tax cut policy, one that has contributed to the continued growth of American productivity. If only Bush had the same idea about government spending who knows what immense economic growth the country would see and how many jobs might be encouraged at home and exported to regions of the globe where the only things that can help the poor are steady, market-driven entrepreneurship and employment.

Sadly these prominent folks are either economically Neanderthal or blinded by their anti-Bush hatred, so they keep imploring governments to do just exactly what will keep poverty rampant. They will urge robbing some to help others, which helps none, period.

Those, in turn, who do need extra help need to obtain it from voluntary, non-governmental agencies where it is more likely that some serious scrutiny will guide who is to receive the help.
Woody Allen the Subversive

Tibor R. Machan

By now there are actually books about Woody Allen’s philosophical ideas—for example, by my former colleague Professor Aeon Skoble. (Indeed, you might find interesting his single author and edited books about Seinfeld and even The Simpsons.) This isn’t all that surprising to those of us who are fans of Allen, albeit sometimes disappointed ones. His work does often contain fascinating themes, among which the most recent one, explored in his well received movie Match Point, is the phenomenon of luck.

Unfortunately Allen drives home the point so obviously and with so little subtlety that there is nothing much to figure out—it’s just the point he makes, with rather little art to show in the process. Moreover, Match Point is little more than a relocated version of his earlier disturbing original film, Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which a murderer gets away, in a fashion, with his crime. (Or does he?) Match Point, however, wraps this story in the larger and constantly reiterated theme that life hinges primarily on luck—from the first to the last scene the idea is not only illustrated but driven home by several characters—as when it is noted of a newborn baby that of all things luck is what we must have most of in life.

Not only does Allen drive this point home relentlessly in this fictional fare but in a rare TV interview he gave several years ago, one in which he belittled himself and his works repeatedly and in a very serious tone, the same point was repeated over and over again. Allen said he considers himself simply lucky, as far as his career in the movies is concerned, dismissing suggestions that he has artistic talent as either a writer or director, not to mention actor.

Mind you, he may well be right about all of this as far as his own career is concerned. I am no Allen biographer, nor have I studied his accomplishments professionally, so I am not qualified to assess whether he is right about how much luck had to do with it all. I am merely an oft-satisfied member of his audience. But as I listened to the interview, it was my distinct impression that Allen was putting us on albeit in an earnest enough tone. Moreover, he seemed to do it not for any particular reason but merely because he was in a foul mood.

Yet never mind that. What is noteworthy is that he has been peddling the idea of the allegedly all-pervasive impact of luck on all our lives, indeed on everything that happens in human affairs. And this is quite subversive since though it may be true in some cases, it isn’t in most. It doesn’t even seem true where Woody Allen’s career is concerned. He is certainly a diligent worker, disciplined enough to make numerous pretty entertaining movies—write them, act in them, direct them, probably market them as well—and he contributes significantly to some other art forms. He is a regular performer in a Manhattan based Dixieland band in which he plays the clarinet, and his choice of music for his movies’ soundtracks is probably one of his most memorable feats, giving clear evidence of his own full an unwavering appreciation of the work of other artists, none of whom appears to have relied mainly on luck in their own artistic achievements but worked very hard to make the music that has delighted millions over many decades.

So then why does Allen preach this garbage about how luck is all pervasive, all determining in human affairs? Beats me—he is, of course, a comic, has admired all types of comics, and so it is probably best to see his championing of luck as an element of his comedy. Unfortunately, some might take it farther because Allen is pretty good at pressing his point and did so recently in one of his serious works.

I am writing these lines while flying across the country in a jet and all I can say that whether we arrive safely better be more than a matter of luck. Not that luck isn’t some of it but all the work and care, all the close attention to what makes up such a trip, surely have a lot more to do with whether we will make it than mere luck. (And if you are interested in a philosophically serious but very readable discussion of luck, you could do much worse than read the short treatise Luck by Professor Nicholas Rescher. He, at least, isn’t just kidding when he thinks through the topic in his characteristically careful way.)

But there is another matter worth considering--Woody's subversive idea about how it's all about luck is just what the Left likes to propagate about how economic success has nothing to do with achievement, with accomplishment, with virtue, with hard work--I's all just an accident. Bunk.
Slavery & Property—Communal vs. Individual

Tibor R. Machan

Almost all modern liberals—the more or less Leftists—in the world would
declare themselves foes of slavery. They would insist that they are
enemies, as well, of discrimination against any group whereby the rights
of members of that group are systematically violated. In this respect
modern liberals line up with classical liberals and most American
conservatives in their support of individual liberty and rights.

Where modern liberals falter is in their refusal to recognize that
individual liberties and rights are virtually meaningless if one does not
have the right to property, to freely obtain, hold, and trade goods and
services. If another person may not own me, what good is this if my assets
and earnings may be taken from me without my permission? Say I am a very
talented musician and other people value what I might do with this talent.
If they may coerce me into producing music for them, in what sense am I
not a slave? If I do produce my music and earn income from this, but
others may take these earnings from me, again in what sense am I free?

Yet in contemporary academic moral, political, and legal circles there is
a very influential movement arguing exactly this: one’s assets and one’s
earnings belong to society, not to oneself. Such thinkers as Professors
Liam Murphy, Thomas Nagel, Cass Sunstein, Stephen Holmes and many others
believe that when government taxes us, it merely retakes what belongs to
it and we have nothing to complain about. Private property rights do not
exist. (Murphy and Nagel lay all this out in The Myth of Ownership, a book
prominently published by Oxford University Press in 2002, and Sunstein and
Holmes advance their similar idea in The Cost of Rights, published in 1999
by another prestigious house, W. W. Norton. And the very famous late
Harvard philosophy professor John Rawls argued, in his A Theory of Justice
[Harvard University Press, 1971], that since one does not always deserve
one’s assets and belongings, these may be redistributed to others with
moral and legal impunity!)

That this is a rank reactionary idea should be very
clear to anyone who has some notion of the political theory of feudalism
which had maintained that the king owns everything, even most of the
people, within the realm he rules. It is also the thesis of Communism,
whereby the people as a whole own everything—one reason why East German
border guards saw nothing wrong with murdering citizens of that country
who tried to escape by climbing over the Berlin Wall; after all, they were
thieves who were stealing the labor power of the society!

Given how enthusiastic modern Liberals are about raising taxation so they
can distribute the resulting revenue as they deem proper, why do they get
away with the ruse of being fierce opponents of slavery, of unjust
discrimination? How did these people manage to intimidate their political
opponents and much of the public with their holier than thou attitude, as
if it those who resist taxation, who want to give the money taken from
people back to those people, as the bad guys?

The reason is that while these “democratic liberals” oppose individual
slavery—an individual master owning slaves—they see nothing wrong with
collective slavery. The community, for most communitarians—led by the
likes of the Canadian Charles Taylor and the American Amitai Etzioni—has
the just authority to confiscated the assets and earnings of its members
and do with them as “the community” will. (This, of course, means that
some individuals in the community will have such authority!) That is to
say, collective slavery is fine with these folks, at least up to some
arbitrary point. Like the East Germany communists, these communitarians
believe that people belong to the community—not in the sense of
voluntarily belonging to a club from which one may withdraw but in the
sense in which my arm belongs to me.

On the way toward defending this collectivist idea of slavery, these
political and legal theorists argue voraciously that individualism is evil
by promoting the pitting of all human beings against one another, and of
pretending that human individuals are able to flourish without their
fellows, without cooperating with others. Of course, no individualist has
ever argued this. What individualists have argued, for the most part, is
that to secure the cooperation of human beings, one must ask for but never
conscript it. Individualists see people as sovereign agents,
self-governors, who do, however, often benefit from the cooperation of
others. They do not believe, however, that these others may be enslaved,
either by other individuals or by the society.

The idea that property should be collectively owned is
in fact the main step toward endorsing slavery. That’s really quite elementary.
Romantic Games and Why We Play Them

Tibor R. Machan

I never read this book but The Rules is supposed to be an instruction
manual guiding women on how to deal effectively with men in the course of
a budding romance. The central idea, not original to this little tract,
is to keep the men coming while not showing them that you want them to. The idea is, of course, pretty familiar to most of us: in order to gain someone’s interest, we need to play hard to get. It is supposed to apply to all of us, not just women aiming to get their man.

But why would such circumspect, devious strategies be needed? Why not just do what we do in commerce, namely, seek something out and then learn what it takes to make
it ours? To put it even more accurately, why not be up front, forthright, rather than play tricks?

In addressing this it bears keeping in mind that a good portion of modern
romantic history and literature focuses on how often love goes unrequited.
All those novels, plays, movies, songs—the blues, especially—operas, and so forth make it clear that there is something serious at issue here—a great many cases of romantic
love involve the element of at least initial rejection and in many others tragic rejection assumes Herculean proportions. Somehow great beauty is associated with it. And in many quite mundane relationships the hard-to-get factor stands out, adding what some take to be a poetic
dimension to them all.

On the other hand, I would guess that many of us also have dreams of
smooth, nearly effortless romantic relationships, ones not involving all
that struggle, heartache, and what might be dubbed virtual bipolarity.
Would it not make most of us much happier to find someone who appeals to
us and to whom we in turn appeal, lay it all out frankly and without
trickery and ease into an enjoyable, vibrant romance? I think I am not
inventing anything when I suggest that that, too, is for most of us one of
our great hopes in our lives.

Why is this nearly always very, very difficult to achieve? I suggest that
one reason for the difficulty is captured in the expression, “We do what we
know.” In this context, the problem is that many children are brought up
misunderstanding the nature of their parents' love for them. Parents too often (a) do not really want their kids, (b) have kids while their lives are in turmoil, (c) bring up their kids by means of very tough love, suited more to training attack dogs than human children, (d)
think what kids need most is to be shown how mean and tough life can be
and to prepare them for it all, and (e) feel that being affectionate to
their kids amounts to making them into sissies. And all this is especially
so when it comes to raising boys who will, after all, have to go and fight
in wars, etc. I would assume that this fits the picture of how boys have
been raised in most cultures throughout human history.

Well, is it any wonder, then, that when these boys grow up they seek out
tough love? The women to whom they are attracted, psychologically and
emotionally, tend to be difficult to reach, impossible ideals who put them off at first, play
hard to get, while the women who want them tend to believe they need to act
hesitant, uninterested, even cold.

Not all relationships involve these rather peculiar if not out and out perverse elements but I suspect a great many do. One thing I learned from all this, aside from figuring it out through my own pretty tormented and mismanaged romantic life, is to make absolutely
sure that my own children routinely received affectionate, even coddling, love. And I think some of this has paid off, since none of the three craves romance from those who tend to hurt them a lot. They seem to have a far calmer attitude about romantic relationships than I had, or
indeed than have most of those whom I know well.

Some of this is no doubt a function of the difficult lives that many have lived throughout human history, lives that did in fact require one to be tough and hardened, personality traits that then slipped into areas where they were of no use and often quite harmful. It is time, I think, we—or perhaps mostly our progeny—become free to experience love of any kind, parental or romantic, without all the discomfort and gamesmanship with which it is all too often associated now.
Misunderstanding Xmas Shopping

Tibor R. Machan

You get it from all sides around this time of the year—"Xmas has become too commercial, too materialistic, lost its spirituality, blah, blah, blah." At the same time,
of course, we also hear a lot of people urging us to be generous, give of
ourselves, give to those who are in need, etc.

As the old sage Aristotle taught, however, there is no way to be generous
unless one owns stuff, unless one refuses to do what governments
like to do, namely first steal from people and then turn a bit of it over
to some other people. Not a pretty picture!

So in order to be generous, to give of ourselves, first we must go out
and buy or otherwise honestly obtain things. That's where shopping comes in. And not
only does shopping provide us with what we can purchase and then give away out of our
generosity but it provides those from whom we do the shopping with enough
wealth to enable them to be generous and to give of themselves. Quite the pretty merry-go-round, don't you think?

So what’s supposed to be so bad about all this? Clearly it is very satisfying to find
just the right gift for those whom we wish to benefit, people we love or
like a lot. We need to learn a bit about them, we need to know what it is
that will please them. Each time of gift-giving faces us with the
challenge of finding something that will in fact please the recipient of
our gifts. And the reward is the joy in their voices and eyes when they
open a thoughtful gift. My own children are masters of this craft, having
for years been very attentive to what it is that pleases me and coming up
with truly apt presents ones that not only please me but prompt me to see
them in a renewed light, as rather ingenious gift finders.

Commerce is not a necessary evil sideshow here but of the essence, what
with the market place’s enormous variety of offerings so all the millions
of diverse needs and wants can in principle be satisfied (provided we do
put in some care about what we set out to find for those to whom we give
gifts). But of course the market-haters don’t care about this. They jump
at the chance of besmirching markets even as they are a vital, necessary
part of generous giving and receiving. Even those who do not give a hoot
about Christmas, who ordinarily scoff at religious holidays, will exploit
the opportunity to belittle the way the holiday is in part being
celebrated, namely, through the exchange of gifts that commerce
facilitates so well.

Who can deny that anything can be corrupted, and there are those who look
upon the whole thing in a way that renders it but some routine
undertaking, even a chore. But that’s not the way to judge the occasion,
by how the lazy people carry on about it. Those who give gifts from mere
habit, put no mind to the task, write cards to a list on which are names
they cannot even recall. However, to focus on such folks is to reveal
one’s basic cynicism. They bring their own misery upon themselves and need
not be bothered with, I beleive.

I do not think it is an accident that so many major religious have
managed to locate some big holidays around Xmas time. I see this as
motivated mainly from the desire to celebrate together, to take part in a common
feeling that has extended over billions across the world, the feeling that
generosity toward those for whom we care is wonderful and it is also
wonderful to know how many other human beings recognize this fact. That
there are commercial elements to it, that generate the ability of more
and more people to take part in the celebration and joy, that’s all to
the good.

So, go away you nay-sayers who want to ruin it for the rest of us by
working so hard to induce guilt in us all with all this finger wagging about our
commercialism and materialism. There is nothing at all wrong with giving and obtaining
material goods, generating all this giving and getting among our family and friends, provided these goods are thoughtfully chosen and bring their providers and recipients pleasure. Moreover, if you think but for a moment you will realize that all those material goods
have, in fact, a great deal of human spirit giving them a great variety of
shapes and forms, so the fact of their being "material" hardly comes to
mind. All those gifts are not only designed with intelligence and ingenuity but come from vital and often profound feelings people have for one another.

The more the merrier—and let’s also celebrate the commercial element that
makes it all possible.
Optimism or Pessimism?

Tibor R. Machan

At year’s end, after columns and commentaries galore lamenting the state of contemporary society with respect to the slow growth and frequent setbacks on the road to individual liberty, it’s worth asking whether an attitude of pessimism or optimism is warranted. These attitudes are, unlike, say, hope or anxiety, capable of being given rational support. Pessimists and optimists can, in principle, debate the respective merits of their stance and reach a conclusion in favor of one or the other.

I my case, I am without apology an cautious optimist. But, for someone so critical of contemporary institutions and official activities as I am, how do I defend this? After all, if one were to add up all the observations and analyses I put on record over the course of a year, one will not easily find much that has happened that I praise or champion, especially in public affairs. Am I, then, deluded, engaged in wishful thinking when I stand up for optimism? More drastically, might I need my head examined?

Not at all. To gain a proper perspective on how the world is, one must keep in mind the bulk of by now quite lengthy human history during which people were ruled mostly by conquest, bullying, brute force, and intimidation. Only over the last several hundred years were those with power made to share it with everyone else. And here the proverbial allusion to taking two steps forward and one or sometimes more back is quite appropriate. With the record of the 20th century and its massive horrors, and not much relief in the initial years of the 21st, maybe pessimism is correct.

But it is only recently that the very idea of a firm ban on using people against their own will has gained prominence. There are traces of that idea from time immemorial but faint ones at the most. But in the last few centuries even some heads of government have acknowledged the possibility that others are just like them, namely, human individuals, and so they should enjoy full sovereignty rather than the perennial status of servitude that most people suffered and still suffer in many places.

The American Founders and Framers were the first group of officials of government who began to see that they are not innately superior to the people whom they were governing, that they are properly not rulers but rather serve the rest of us because we asked them to do so and who gave prominent voice to this notion, a voice that has been heard now throughout the world.

Still, adjustments to these ideas are terribly difficult and thousands across the globe have resisted them. Even Americans haven’t managed to appreciate just how radical, albeit very true, is the idea of individual sovereignty, how seriously it undermines the status quo of thousands of years of human political history. That’s why slavery took decades to end even in Jefferson’s and Madison’s America.

There is also good news about all the innovations of our time, unleashed by the creative energy of mostly free human beings, such as technological inventors and entrepreneurs. The telephone, radio, television and, of course, the Internet have encouraged the careful scrutinizing of all of society’s institutions, especially politics and economics. Today we are beneficiaries of thorough and rapid information dissemination.

Sure, as my own writings and comments attest—and as do the works of others within the community of champions of human liberty everywhere—we are a long way from achieving the fully free society and the journey may never end and will often have to cope with reversals. But progress has clearly been made—just ask those who recently got rid of Soviet fascism, of South African apartheid, and many other forms of oppression around the globe. Sure, vigilance will continue to be required. But major advances are evident in many places. And just because it would be irrational to expect great leaps forward by tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock, it would be even more irrational to abandon the effort, an effort that has already reaped plenty of fruit.

So, please, do not become dejected because of some admitted setbacks. Happy New Year to you all.
Castro in My Dream

Tibor R. Machan

Yes, and I know why! The other day I saw the little movie Rumor Has It and while it was amusing and sweet, it was marred by two pieces of rank political propaganda. But then what do you expect of a flick directed by Rob Reiner!?

First, one of the main characters gave a speech at a charity ball in which he invoked Che Guevara’s name as a great revolutionary. Not Jefferson! Not Thomas Paine, not even Thoreau. Che, a murderous communist. Next this same sympathetic character was shown in a picture hobnobbing with Fidel Castro. The rest of the movie hadn’t a thing to do with politics or economics but there you have it, a little sprinkling of pro-commie sentiments and for me, at least, the night was nearly ruined.

But I got over it, except that after having written a column recently on private property rights and how it could help the environment far more than all the statist measures advocated by environmentalists, I read in THE WEEK a piece chronicling how the Chinese are royally botching up their environment for lack of solid measures against that relentless scourge, dumping. But dumping can only be combated by a legal system that firmly protects private property rights. And that is just what my column was arguing, with China and the USSR as the main examples.

So then last night I had this dream of being at some kind of shindig, kind of like that one in Rumor Has It, where I meet Fidel, of all people. No sooner do I get a chance to say something to him than I launch into a defense of the principle of the tragedy of the commons and how his dream of communism is a total waste, not to mention travesty. And, in this dream, the guy actually listens to me—oh, I knew it was a dream when that scene came up!

But that’s not all. After the ball ended and Fidel returned to Havana, I found his private phone number and called him the next morning. He answered himself and we began a long discussion on how I had experienced his fantasy world back as a kid in Hungary and how he should wise up and see that it is a looser.

I rarely have coherent dreams—snippets of this and that, mostly fantasies, of course. And this one wasn’t different in theme but how it all hung together, moving along in time as reality does, did surprise me. I guess I take this stuff very, very seriously. The idea of an entire Caribbean country suffering from the political insanity of communist fantasy when it is so clear, and has been since the time of Aristotle and Thucydides, that therein lies the ruin of human communities, just eats me up.

So then what do we make of the fact that it continues to entice people, not just in Havana, Cuba, but in Hollywood, USA? These celebrities, who are too stupid to stick to movie making so they chime in with corrupting political notions about how wonderful Che and Fidel are, are really scary to me.

It is when all this comes up that I focus in on the idea of how liberty requires eternal vigilance. Because these fantasies of the perfect, ideal society have managed to dominate so much human political thinking—starting with Socrates’ misguided notion that such a system, or one very close to it, would function as a good political pedagogical device—and stand in the way of real, possible, improvements on the human condition without any letup. And there is little one can do to stop such destructive idealism. It is the aptest example of the prefect being the enemy of the good.

So the only antidote is to keep up the dissent on all possible fronts, perhaps even in one’s most private realm, namely, one’s dreams.
America, the New Switzerland

Tibor R. Machan

Back in the mid-80s I lived a while in Lugano, Switzerland but I had traveled in the country and through it several times before. And while there are innumerable desirable features of the place—the great Alps, the brilliant lakes, the clean neighborhoods everywhere, the efficiency of the train system and the general abundance rarely found elsewhere in Europe even back then—one runs across a few irritants as well. One of them I used to find comical was that in Swiss restaurants one had to pay for everything—well, maybe not the use of the napkins. But if you wanted water, you had to pay for it. The same thing for bread, then butter, and so forth, although if I recall right, there was no charge for using the salt shaker.

One reason all these special charges were so amusing to me was, of course, that in the USA one wasn’t normally charged for the amenities, not at least separately. In hotels, for example, the soap came with the room, the water, bread, and butter came with the meal. That is how it used to be but not so much anymore. At least not everywhere.

No, none of the hotels and motels I have stayed in around the country have charged extra for the TV use in one’s room. Some, in fact, have changed to offering free breakfast, something that most of them have been offering in Europe and elsewhere around the globe. But while in quite a few of the more reasonable establishments there hadn’t been a surcharge for using the phone, increasingly the big hotels do impose it. And while quite a few of the smaller places along highways and in cities throw in Internet connections as well as business center use free of charge, recently I have noticed that it is the big, plush, and expensive hotels, in places like New York, Dallas, and Atlanta, that charge even for toll free telephone calls and a daily fee for Internet hook-up in your room.

I have never placidly accepted the practice of charging for toll free calls and usually protest this at the front desk and get the charges taken off when I check out. If the people there won’t do it, I ask for the manager and usually get it done. I don’t get why the hotel charges for something that is also paid for the companies that one is calling. “Toll free” only means the caller need not but the party being called must pay, which is why one is treated so shabbily at the other end, with endless menus, waiting, and transfers from this department to the next, and with ads being blasted into one’s ears while on hold. Not to mention the usually lame music interspersed with all of this.

The charge of a daily fee of, say, $10.00 for an Internet connection is also difficult to tolerate, given that my own length of use of it on the road is no more than, say, three times 4 minutes over the day. And why, if a Holiday Inn Express in McAllen, Texas, offers the service without an extra charge, must The New York Hilton sock it to you good and hard, given how much more their rooms per day come to? (Maybe there is a good economic answer to this but I am not sure it amounts to anything more than, well, they can, so they do.)

But perhaps what’s at work is something more systematic. Maybe, whereas in the past service establishment in the USA could provide various perks, just like they could offer employees the same (in the way of health and other benefits), with the world emerging out of the dark economic ages and joining into the competitive market system, companies on all fronts have to tighten their belts somewhat. Although American labor unions haven’t accepted the fact that these days there are people abroad who will work for less money and fewer benefits than their membership has become used to over the years, companies cannot ignore it. (That is what the brief strike in New York City recently was about—the refusal to consider that the extension of longevity may also mean the extension of length of service, thus delayed retirement for many employees, especially new ones.)

What used to be amusing about all those Swiss restaurants is no longer so amusing, given how a good many American establishments are changing to those practices nowadays. But it shouldn’t be protested too much, even by me who has been rather successful in the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” department. Just as the American basketball global dominance has subsided as more and more teams have learned the tricks of the game, so the cushy economic times in American may give way to tightened belts, what with the world’s workers having cast off their chains and, paradoxically, come to join the capitalist revolution. Old Karl Marx is probably twisting and turning in his grave.