Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No, I am not Mean

Tibor R. Machan

The position of someone who defends human liberty, freedom from coercion among people, is sometimes quite irksome. That's because those who want to coerce others mostly give as their reason that they want to be of help. Virtually every government program funded by taxation, money extorted from citizens, is justified by citing the needs and wants of people who will go without government support if the program is discontinued.

So those of us who prize human liberty above every other social condition will seem, on casual inspection, to lack compassion and generosity. We will be saying "no" to numerous public policies proposed as ways to provide for the helpless or needy. In fact the bulk of those in Western societies who advocate coercive policies that expropriate the labor and resources of citizens say that they do so because they want to eliminate poverty, deprivation, ignorance, illness, and other untoward circumstances people face. Opposing such coercive measures then is taken simply to be mean, hardhearted, and ungenerous.

Nearly all the responses I receive to my criticisms of government coercion accuse me of lacking compassion, of wishing that those in need go unaided, unsupported, be left helpless. But the charge is wrong, very wrong indeed.

Suppose one objects to burglaries, robberies or holdups. And suppose those perpetrating these tend, in the main, to use the loot they take for various helpful purposes. They buy food and furniture and medicine with what they have stolen. And maybe without the stolen resources they would find it troublesome to purchase these things for themselves and their families.

Does opposition to burglaries, robberies, and holdups imply even in the slightest that one is opposed to the would be perpetrator of these crimes getting the benefits the stolen wealth could get them? Does opposition to the violent, aggressive, hostile means of obtaining the means for getting those benefits imply that one begrudges the benefits that can be gained with what was stolen? More drastically, does opposition to rape mean being opposed to sexual satisfaction for those who would rape others?

Of course not. Millions of people oppose crimes that involve taking things from people at gunpoint and the like, yet all these millions do not see anything wrong with the beneficiaries gaining what they need and want. In fact, millions of people who oppose such criminal takings voluntarily contribute to charities, emergency funds, such as the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. Indeed, Americans, specifically, are the most giving citizens in the world, as can be observed whenever some people around the globe are struck with natural disasters.

Most of us who champion a fully free society also support voluntary means for giving aid to those who need it. There is no one in the libertarian movement I know of who opposes such means although they all, without fail, oppose the coercive approach the government uses to help people. Many of us also argue that voluntary means for helping those in need of help are more effective and certainly more ethical than government's coercive ways. Some have researched this thoroughly and have concluded that voluntary help is, overall, superior to coercively supplied help not only because coercion is wrong in itself but also because the voluntary approach tends to support a culture of mutual aid throughout a society.

No, I am not mean. I am personally a frequent contributor to voluntary efforts to lend a hand even while my focus in my writings happens to be mostly on eliminating coercion from human interactions. That may be because I personally grew up in a country that was a police state, where coercion of the citizenry was routine, the norm, and to even argue against it could land one in a gulag. But just because my efforts focus on securing or protecting the right to liberty of all it does not follow that I and those like me fail to be generous, compassionate, helpful, and so forth when such conduct is called for. But we oppose efforts to make such conduct legally mandatory! It is clear to us, also, that mandated charity or compassion has no moral worth at all since it isn't done of one's own free will, a basic requirement of all moral or ethical conduct.

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