Thursday, August 13, 2009

So Who is Simplistic?

Tibor R. Machan

Having been a loyal champion of the regime of individual liberty for decades on end now, I have met up umpteen times and more with the charge that these ideas are mere ideology and simplistic to boot. The only tune I am told I sing is "Reduce the power and scope of government whenever that's possible." How childish, isn't it? All this freedom stuff, for which millions have lived and died over the centuries.

Well, most people have certain central notions from which they draw their political convictions. Simple some may be but not necessarily simplistic. That's because championing liberty, for example, is in fact championing extensive complexity--when millions of human beings are free to think and act as they choose, the outcome is something totally diverse, a complex society with thousands of elements, features, attributes, processes, goods and services contributing to human flourishing. Freedom isn't just one course of conduct but many, many, and most aren't even predictable. So those who champion it by no means place their trust in just one idea but in the capacity of people to forge millions of them.

In contrast, do the critics of the regime of liberty promote anything comparably complex? No, not actually. Their bottom line is always: "Have governments use additional coercive force!" Rob Peter to serve the needs of Paul. Force Peter to conform to rules and more rules. The one note that such political operatives, including citizens and their "representatives," sing is "Just make people do what they don't want to do." Coercive force is the answer that will save us from every adversity! Be they conservatives or liberals or socialist or Fascists such folks trust in just one policy over all others, namely, to subdue the will of their fellow human beings and bend them to their own.

What could be more simplistic than this? Where is there any complexity, diversity, multifacetedness in such a doctrine? But one may suppose that by dismissing their critics as simplistic adherents to this idea hope that their own simplistic idea will not be too evident. Just insisting that the policy of coercion against innocent human beings is a sophisticated one might put champions of liberty on the defensive and confound those on the sidelines. But what champions of liberty need to realize is that it isn't they who advance simplistic, one-size-fits-all answers to the problems people face in their lives and communities but their opponents who trust nothing more than the deployment of state power--from the mild sort now dubbed "nudging," to the more Draconian one involving vice squads.

Take this to the personal level and consider whether a peaceful individual, unarmed, lives a more complex, diverse, multifaceted life, and interacts with others in highly varied ways or does a bully do this, or a criminal, whose one and only effective method is to deploy coercive force? The answer seems quite evident from just looking around at history and our daily lives. Take terrorists, as a case in point. Do they have many ways of dealing with their fellow human beings? Not at all--what they do is kill and maim them, period.

So when those who chide defenders of the free society for having only one answer to our problems, or for saying "no" to coercion wherever it is found, they have it all wrong. Champions of individual liberty are only starting out toward solving problems by refusing to sanction coercion. Once coercion is prohibited and substantially removed from human associations, all kinds of different peaceful ways of dealing with life's challenges are unleashed. Statists, however, do not trust this. They have confidence in only one thing: coercion or its threat. Anything else seems to leave them utterly nonplussed.

I recommend that no one be intimidated by the thoughtless charge that freedom is a simplistic solution to problems we face in our personal and social lives. It is not. Freedom is what makes possible, indeed encourages, creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, adventure, productivity, friendship, cooperation, and all the rest of what makes for a worthwhile life for people. It is the use or threat of coercive force that ruins all this wherever it is invoked.

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