Friday, July 04, 2008

The Common Good Sense of Liberty

Tibor R. Machan

In the sciences a great many initially controversial ideas have reached the status of common sense. Yes, the earth revolves around the sun. No, leaches do not cure all the diseases they had been used to try to cure. The earth is really quite old, unlike what the literal reading of the good book suggests. And, no, women aren’t inferior to men because somehow their emotions render them stupid.

Now as far as I see matters, freedom is superior to any and all forms of servitude, now and ever, however little this had been acknowledged in the past and still is in other parts of the globe. That is now common sense to me. Just as rape is plainly immoral and sexual unions must be voluntary, so all human conduct that’s peaceful must also be undertaken as a matter of choice. Subjugating anyone to another’s will is not much different, no matter what area of human life it involves, from subjugating an unwilling woman to the will of a forceful man.

But for some odd reason that escapes me, really, a great many quite prominent and intellectually prestigious people disagree with me. It seems to all of them quite OK to coerce others to do various things that these others do not agree to doing. Like paying into the social security fund, or following the orders of the Food and Drug Administration or the Drug Enforcement Authority. Thousands of such institutional arrangements, whereby some more or less large group of people get the legal authority to order others around, are approved of by prominent people. The excuse is usually that unless this authority is granted to these folks, some very good things will not get accomplished.

But that is simply a lousy excuse for running roughshod over other people, to limit their liberty and hand over to others the power to run their lives. It is again common sense to me that if you aim to enlist some fellow human beings in a project that is important, valuable, noble or such, you must confine your means to convincing, never to coercing them. How could it be otherwise? I stick with Abraham Lincoln here, who said, famously, that “No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent.” Just seems so obviously true that I find objections to the idea bordering on insanity. I can only have some measure of patience with such objections based on my realization that for centuries and centuries human beings have lived under the yoke of a bunch of pretenders to higher authority and this has warped their good sense.

No, I am not naïve. I realize well enough that dozens and dozens of fancy arguments, theories, motivations and such back the case for subjecting some people who want to go their own way--who want to follow their own choices--to the will of others. In the history of political philosophy and theory hundreds of brilliant figures have advanced interesting, often very sophisticated, arguments defending the divine right of kings, the absolute authority of majorities, and the like. Thousands and thousands of pages have been written to promote the fiction that some men are good enough to coerce others, in the name of various goals, desires, dreams, ideals, or notions of the common good. But none of these, I have come fairly early in my reading to realize, carries the day. Freedom simply--as well as in all its complicated renditions--triumphs over all the more or less oppressive alternatives.

Why then so much resistance to the idea? Well, the governmental habit is one explanation I have discussed often and find still to be a powerful notion. But there is also the fear of liberty--some just believe that unless powerful hands take over the running of human affairs, vital matters will be neglected. Why those powerful hands should manage to escape the same obstacle, namely human folly, to running matters properly that seem to such folks to prevent free man and women doing it beats me. The evidently blind confidence in some magic selection process that will put only wise and virtuous people into the positions of the coercers is baffling.

It is time that the superior regime of freedom becomes an article of common sense, not in constant need of having to be defended, intellectually, politically and physically!

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