Monday, August 25, 2008

Is Religious Politics Libertarian?

Tibor R. Machan

In many ways the principles of a fully free society are the most hospitable to the great variety of faithful in a large society. The main reason for this is that in such a free society the right to private property is strictly protected. Even more, the strict protection of the right to private property serves religion well because it establishes a culture of tolerance and non-interference among the different faithful.

Tolerance, of course, isn’t acceptance--I can tolerate your weird jokes or garb without considering them desirable. However, I will not do anything against you because you make such jokes and wear such garb. I’ll leave you be. And in a free society members of a religions order must be tolerate towards those of another even if they disapprove of them so long as they carry on within their sphere, their private domain.

Some object, saying that such tolerance amounts to encouragement but this is really quote wrong. If I tolerate your strange clothes I by no stretch of the imagination encourage you to wear it. What I am doing is respecting your right to your life, liberty, and private property--I refuse to interfere with you. Not at all the same as approving of what you do!

Most religions are relatively uncommitted to the kind of political system under which they can function and be practiced. As long as the government does not ban their rituals, there is no conflict between state and church. Obviously, if a particular faith demanded that every Sunday a young child be sacrificed to God, this would be prohibited in a free society. That’s not religious freedom but religions oppression (unless it is an adult who voluntarily submits to such a sacrifice). But apart from such barbaric religious practices nearly everything adults might choose to do within the domain of their church can co-exist with the principles and citizens of a fully free society.

The few exceptions include religions faiths that demand that aggressive actions must be taken by the faithful toward some who are not among the faithful. Thus if a religious group embarked upon attacks on gays or gamblers or meat-eaters or those who would abort a fetus before it becomes a biological (as distinct from religiously understood) human being (around the 25th week of pregnancy), that group’s practices would be banned. Not because of religious discrimination but because of the fact that everyone has the right to life, liberty, property, etc., and the violation of these rights constitutes illegal conduct in a free society. It is not religions discrimination to prohibit the sacrifice of a child at some holiday! No one may do that!

Also, if a given religion accepts the idea that its faithful must follow an edict from its good book that amounts to the violation of human rights, that religion may not carry out this edict. If a religion holds that God demands that gays or gamblers or divorced people must be penalized, treated badly by the political authorities, in a free society this will not be acceptable.

There are many benefits to religions from living in a free society but one will not be available, namely, to forcibly establish a homogeneous culture that follows that religion’s dictates and none other. Such imperialism is just what some religions--or at least factions of religions--insist upon and they will not get it from citizens of a fully free society. The faithful who insist on such hegemony will simply not be satisfied. If their mission is to coerce everyone to follow their way--not just those of the faithful but everyone else--they will be rebuffed, opposed and if they take action to fulfill their mission, they will become criminals.

The laws of a fully free society are based on human nature, not on particular, sectarian conceptions of human nature. These laws are to govern members of the community as human beings, not as members of some particular religions faith. Of course, those of a religious faith may find this frustrating, just as vegetarians are frustrated by the existence of meat serving eateries and anti-gamblers by Las Vegas or Monte Carlo. But that is no justification for attacking those who do not embrace their edicts for proper living.

Human nature is such that it makes it possible for there to be millions of different proper ways to live, as well as some very improper ones. One needs to figure out which is which and fashion laws and public policy accordingly.
Racial, etc., versus Individual Competition

Tibor R. Machan

What do blacks want? In the late 50s and early 60s the answer to this question was fairly obvious although rarely complete. How could it be? Blacks are not all alike and while on some fronts they shared similar problems and needed similar solutions, on many others they, like the rest of us, had problems related not to race but to just living in the world. Still since they were a hounded group, they had many common problems arising from the injustices to which they were relentlessly subjected.

Some of these injustices were private or social, having little to do with law and government, but many of them dealt with how the government and public policy treated them. That was the main travesty of segregation, the public policies, backed by laws and law enforcement. In some case the private sector was moving away from dealing with blacks in prejudicial, unjustly discriminatory fashion but the law posed an obstacle. Just goes to show that democracy is not always a blessing!

Those days are nearly gone and good riddance. Sure there are pockets of America and groups of Americans who will not let go of their stubborn, nearly ingrained racism; it is now becoming an embarrassment to belong to this segment of American society. Yes, it still poses some serious obstacles to the lives of many black people but these are not all that different from obstacles put before us all by irrational neighbors, relatives, colleagues and the rest. In other words, racism is no longer a focused but more of a dispersed social malignancy. And it certainly doesn’t only impact blacks--Hispanics, native Americans, Arab Americans and even whites are facing it.

Most importantly, though, racism is slowly abating, subsiding and now some of its consequences are more troublesome than it is itself. Having been left behind in school or at one’s job or in one’s neighborhood because of one’s race or ethnic or national background is no doubt a burden many Americans are experiencing, yet these are not all that different from other burdens ordinary socio-economic lives encounter--being overlooked because of one’s accent or looks.

Perhaps the promise of a Barrack Obama presidency suggests that race will subside as an American problem, especially in light of the clear fact that it is a problem nearly everywhere else, including in Africa, between members of different tribes of blacks.

What now appears to be emerging as a related problem is the misguided belief, propagated by so many intellectuals and educators in the social sciences and humanities, that human beings are naturally linked to various others apart from members of their families. The communitarian doctrine that we all belong to some community, that individuality is a myth, that individualism is something insidious, is replacing the idea that race constitutes our primary identity.

Communitarians are wedded to the notion that without others in very close proximity to one’s life, one is basically crippled. An individual cannot be even spiritually, psychologically, let alone economically or professional, self-sufficient--that’s what most social psychologists and sociologists teach at many universities. (I was at a frosh opening assembly recently where this theme was asserted as a virtual necessary truth--by professors who were featured speakers--with no need of defense!) Indeed, individualism was the only position explicitly denigrated, something from which the participating teachers believed students need to warned off.

This is too bad since nearly every major conflict in history and around the globe involves various groups members of which think they together must somehow conquer and rule others in order to be safe, so as to flourish. The best antidote to this is of course individualism whereby people regard it as their major task in life to become excellent at who they are, as individuals, to improve from day to day, to break one’s own recent record. This is not a matter of rivalry or contest or competition since each will be striving to improve on him or herself, not so much on others who are, after all, too different from oneself to make a good, valid comparison.

The American idea--still only a model and no blueprint--that we all need to be the best we can be, in our own terms, and not always compare ourselves to others, this hasn’t made a lasting enough impact. But where it has, in some sports for example, it has reaped good results. Instead of pitting groups against groups, there is more of a face to face contest the result of which do not lend themselves to any generalizations about which country, which race, which gender is the best.