Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Way Bullies Think

Tibor R. Machan

It is nearly impossible these days to escape the bullies who are set to run everyone's life. I thought I would visit friends on the Central California Coast to get away from it all for a day but no such luck. No sooner did I settle in with my friends to drink a glass or two of some very fine wine from their and some other cellars, I encountered yet another horror story about the demise of private property rights in the United States of America.

This time it isn't the eminent domain bullies who have been popping up everywhere, insisting on misconstruing the Fifth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution as authorizing transfer of private property by government edict to preferred private concerns. (That is what the outrageous Supreme Court Ruling in 2005, Kelo v. City of New London Connecticut sanctioned.) This time the excuse is a legal fiction called "Smart Growth," whereby powerful politicians everywhere are forcibly imposing their vision of how people should live and use their own land.

In San Luis Obispo and Grover Beach two elected blokes, John Shoals and Bruce Gibson, actually laid out their ill conceived idea in an Op Ed piece for the local newspaper. In it they announce that "As elected representatives … we have spent countless hours considering and planning for the future of our communities."

We can just stop here before continuing with this because already the two politicians manage to show their dirty hands. In a free society it isn't elected representatives who plan for the future of any community. (It isn't, by the way, "their" community, although I guess that is how such bullies like to understand matters.) In a free society it is individual citizens, who have unalienable rights to their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness--which includes private property rights--who make those plans, alone or in various voluntary associations. It is those who have honestly acquired land, for example, who decide what happens to the land, barring only such actions that violate others' rights. What gave America its unique character and reputation as a free country is just that politicians here are duty bound to "secure our rights," not to plan how we will exercise them.

Smart planners--which, of course, is a grossly question begging label to being with--do not want to acknowledge the fact that they are would be dictators who aren't concerned about the rights of members of the communities in which they serve as public officials. No, smart planners view the community as theirs to order about, as a playground for their own experiments, following their agenda instead of making it possible, as honest public servants in a free society should, for the citizenry to carry out its highly diverse peaceful objectives.

Misters Shoal and Gibson go on to demonstrate how ignorant they are about the principles of a free society when they say, "We believe that smart growth principles are not just fashionable ideas; they are essential values that we must implement to remain a vital and functional place to live [sic]." It isn't smart growth principles that are essential in a free society but the principles identified and laid out by the American Founders and Framers. Among these is the right to private property which, as the Fifth Amendment makes clear, prohibits the taking of land from individuals except if some bona fide public purpose is involved, such as building a court house or police station or military base.

Carving up other people's property so as to suit the vision of a few "elected representatives" is not among the tasks of politicians in a free society! It is decidedly not a public purposes but one imposed on the public by a few zealots who think they have some divine right to make others conform to their ideas and ideals.

Basically, those who have a vision pertaining to the way land should be used in a community have several peaceful, civilized options in a free country: They are free to buy the land themselves. They can form a corporation with others and purchase the land that way. They can persuade the owners of the land they are interested in fashioning after their own vision.

Of course, choosing any of these options will be more difficult than simply forcibly taking the land from others. But then all criminals think that way, don't they--earning what they are after is troublesome, so coercively taking it from those who own it is their easy path to achieving their objectives.

Sadly these days such legally perpetrated crimes are beginning to be a norm. But this is a vicious undermining of the principles--the true essential ones--of a country in which all citizens are supposed to have their rights safeguarded. And especially so when those sworn to do the safeguarding are the perpetrators of the crimes.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Corrupt Profession

Tibor R. Machan

There are those who believe that business is inherently corrupt--communists would be among those, and socialists. The very idea of striving to make a profit is treated by these people as morally objectionable. Of course, some even think medicine fits the bill, or military service. And there are animal rights advocates who believe the entire meat industry is morally base.

For my money the one profession that has indeed become completely, utterly morally irredeemable is politics. Not that even this is necessarily the case--politics could be an upstanding profession in a genuinely free country where those practicing it did what the American Founders believed should be their task: to secure our rights, period. But that has never been the way most people in government viewed their job. Instead these days politicians are hired extortionists. They run for office by promising voters that they will successfully expropriate resources from others and hand it to voters if they only manage to be elected.

Voters, of course, are fully complicit in this--kind of like people who hire killers to do the murder they want done for them. Voters are mostly bent on sending those people to state and national capitols who promise them to use the power of the police to take the wealth of some and hand it to them. For this they will be paid and be able to wield power. Never mind that in the end the only winners are the politicians and bureaucrats because nearly all voters get their comeuppance by being at the losing end of the extortion process. But, just like all those folks who flock to Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, or other gambling centers, voters keep hoping that they will end up winners instead of the house!

In a free society politicians would be like the sheriff in those fictional Westerns who want the job so they can maintain peace and fight crime. They earn themselves a good resume or CV when they achieve this goal and not by being year-round Santa Clauses to the citizens of their towns. For this they receive payment which is collected from something like user fees, funds the citizens contribute by some sort of peaceful, voluntary fashion. That is how freedom works, namely, by systematically precluding all kinds of aggression--brutality, theft, extortion, coercion--from how society works. Taxation, a relic of feudal times, would be banned just as serfdom is, or slavery, however difficult it may be for a while to live without it. But such are the meaning and implication of taking individual rights seriously, seeing them as genuinely unalienable.

But that conception of politics is admittedly the best that's possible and doesn't resemble at all what politics has been throughout human history. Things have gotten a bit better, here and there, by the restraint outright thuggery on the part of rulers--the king or queen, Pharaohs, tsar, Caesar, Sheik or whatnot--and making it a matter, mostly, of the rule of the majority. Yet, of course, majorities can be just as ruthless as dictators. And in such democratic countries, ones in which the rule of law and individual rights haven't gained serious respect, representatives of majorities take what they want from disarmed minorities.

The usual excuse given is that, well, the wealthy or lucky need to help the rest but this is completely misguided because political largess isn't help but loot! When you extort other people's resource--which may have come from luck but more often from a life productively lived--and hand this over to others, that is the farthest thing from generosity or compassion. It is the using of some people, against their will, for the sake of others. And that is exactly what must not be done in a free and just human community. That's because people's lives belong to them, they and not others have a right to it unless they themselves chose to share it.

America's greatest holiday, the Fourth of July, will perhaps some day be celebrated with full understanding of what it stands for. Unfortunately it isn't now. All the pomp and noise surrounding the Fourth seems by now to have lost its point, which was to celebrate the revolutionary insight that politicians are supposed to protect the rights of the citizenry. Instead politicians work in a completely corrupted profession by hiring themselves out as thugs in nice garb. In comparison, people in the business world, even in a messy one which is infected with a lot of politics, are heroes.
Ayn Rand's Anthem

Tibor R. Machan

In 2007 there were several celebrations focused on the 50th anniversary of
the publication of Ayn Rand's blockbuster novel, Atlas Shrugged. It is a
monumental work in which Rand shows, dramatically, how vital the active
human mind is for our survival and flourishing and how one crucial
precondition for this is political-economic liberty. A mind must be free
so it can explore and create and thus lead to a productive and happy life.
And in large measure America is evidence of this fact, both in its
achievements and its follies--the most evil thing about slavery is that
human beings are being used by others without their consent, without their
free choices recognized as necessary in their lives.

Another less well known work of Miss Rand, the novella Anthem, has
recently been rendered as a budding stage presentation. This gem
chronicles the life of a man in a totally egalitarian society where human
innovation and initiative are prohibited and everyone is regarded as part
of a huge collective without even a scintilla of personal identity. The
protagonist eventually comes across an abandoned dwelling containing books
and manuscripts from an earlier time which no one is allowed to mention,
let alone study. He summons the courage to check out his discovery and
comes to learn that a most important, fundamental absence is plaguing his
community, namely, the systematic, official denial of human individuality,
of the "I" or "self" or "ego." The climax
of the novella is the protagonist beautiful affirmation of the
"I"--it is a riveting hymn that Rand has forged that honors the
human self. (Later Ayn Rand's major student, Nathaniel Branden, wrote a
book developing this point, titled Honoring the Self.)

There was a showing the other day of this new staging of Anthem and I was
privileged to be among those in the audience. Although still in an early
phase of development, the staging does capture, with great power and
beauty, the theme of the novella and as I saw this unfold it occurred to
me that Anthem is perhaps one of the best celebration of the spirit of the
American Revolution. After all, what that revolution was all about is the
liberation of the human individual from the centuries of oppression by
monarchs and other rulers. That is the meaning of the Declaration of
Independence's focus on everyone's unalienable rights to life, liberty and
pursuit of happiness. Your life is no one else's but your own, the
Founders made clear, and only if you give others permission do they gain
the authority to intervene in it, as when a doctor or coach gains such
permission by a patient or team member, respectively.

Detractors have tried to derail the American Revolution by caricaturing it
as promoting an unrealistic "rugged" individualism, that is to
say, the silly idea that we are separate from everyone and can survive
entirely on our own, self-sufficiently. That is simply not what the
Founders nor Ayn Rand had in mind. Our social nature is granted but it
needs to be freely affirmed by each of us instead of imposed upon us by
various self-anointed thugs or even democratic majorities. Other
detractors are more sophisticated and have advanced the absurd idea that
we do not exist as individuals at all, that "I" is a
fabrication. In a recent issue of Science News--a supposedly scientific
publication--the editors saw fit to highlight in a special sidebar the
views of Douglas Hofstadter, author of I am a Strange Loop, arguing that
"The 'I' we create for each of us is a quintessential example of ...
a perceived or invented reality...." Others, in the field of
neuroscience, have been claiming that human beings have no free
will nor, indeed, a conscious mind. Instead, we function automatically and
only believe, ignorantly, that when we act we do so guided by our
thinking. Instead, they argue, we areentirely pre-programmed to act!

These attacks on the human self are only the latest in the history of
human reflection being put into the service of dictators and other rulers
who want us all to agree that we are inconsequential as individuals and
that only the collective matters, only the "we" is important in
human affairs. Even though a little reflection shows how transparently
misguided is this notion, many are not inclined or equipped to address
the idea and this makes it simpler for those who want to anoint themselves
as the representatives of "we" to lord it over the rest of us.
Because all such "we" talk is, in fact, nothing but the
"I" talk of those who want there to be just a few ruling egos.

One cannot emphasize enough how significant this dispute really is. After
centuries of oppression a larger and larger segment of humanity has
finally begun to realize that what is really important politically, even
ethically, is the human individual. The rest is not unimportant but its
importance is derivative, secondary. If this is denied, the result is that
just a few will rule the rest because there really is no
"society," a "we," other than a great many egos in one
another's company. Once this is acknowledged, those would be rulers will
have lost their phony rationale to rule. So clearly they are not going to
simply give up.

So as to give these points their dramatic impact one could do much worse
than read or reread Ayn Rand's Anthem. It is a riveting celebration of
the individual human spirit.