Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Genesis of Tyranny (corrected)

Tibor R. Machan

One of my neighbors has built a small shed next to her home, maybe 8x8X8, if that much. Its not connected to her house. Indeed, it is nearly invisible from the outside--you must actually be snooping in order to get a decent look at it. The purpose of it, I have been told, is to store a stroller and some other objects associated with her young children. It couldn't possible be a hazard to anyone near or far.

Nonetheless a neighbor of hers down the street, roughly 120 yards from her on the other side, snitched on her, calling the local county authorities and reporting that not everything about the shed is in full compliance with what the planners like. By doing this our nasty neighbor will have imposed several thousand dollars worth of totally useless expense on the family that built the shed.

When I found out about this I asked what on earth might have motivated the snitch and was told that it was politics--the folks who built the shed are conservative-libertarians and the snitch is a statist through and through (which I could confirm from the bumper stickers on her vehicles, including a nifty BMW SUV). I believe, though do not know it for sure, that this snitch works at a local community college which is why one of her bumper stickers lamented that education doesn't receive enough funding form the government (a self-dealing complaint for sure).

This episode in my little community goes to illustrate several aspects of political philosophy. One is the utter utopianism of that currently prominent doctrine called communitarianism. It is this doctrine today that has replaced the utopianism of communism--indeed it amounts to small scale communism. It worships at the altar of community harmony, fraternity, promoting the notion that unlike in capitalist markets, under communitarianism people will share and support one another without rivalry, without hostility. Give me a break.

Another element of this episode is just how in the absence of strictly protected individual--especially private property--rights, citizens lack protection against the prejudices and ill will of their fellows. I recall back in communist Hungary--as well as in Nazi Germany--wherein the idea of social solidarity ruled, all kinds of assaults on people were carried out by folks who didn't like their politics or religions or just their style of life, all in the name of community solidarity, of having to follow some kind of pseudo-common good that the powerful members of society laid down for everyone. The suspicions this reaped within the population of various communities was felt by everyone--is my next move going to provoke someone to turn me into the government? Will someone report my private actions, even thoughts, to the authorities who will then intrude on my and my intimates' lives good and hard?

So much for communitarianism, so much for the false ideal of harmony within all neighborhoods! This is just what a system within which privacy--individual rights to life, liberty and property--is respected and protected is meant to avoid. No one can do away with nosy neighbors, with their gossip and ill thoughts but their attempt to impose their ideas on others will have no legal standing in a society wherein such rights are respected and protected. This false ideal of community is based on a misunderstanding or at least total lack of appreciation of human individuality. It fails to recognize and respect genuine human diversity, so that, for example, my or my neighbor's small shed in our front or back yards may be built even if others frown upon its style or purpose.

Another lesson from this episode in my neck of the woods is that it's not always politicians or bureaucrats who champion arm-twisting--many citizens do, as well, so long as it serves their hostile purposes, so long as it serve to impose on others what they prefer, even if only to express their prejudices and dislikes of whatever kind, including political. This is, after all, one way that one can get back at those in one's community who refuse to bend to one's will!

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