Thursday, December 16, 2010

America Divided

Tibor R. Machan

For all its existence America has been torn between two political positions. Originally the two were represented, mostly, by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, although neither was a simple partisan of the positions at issue here.

Hamilton had been a supporter of the revolution but also quite sympathetic to big government, even to monarchy in the British style (not absolute but relatively limited). Jefferson, in contrast, supported the polity implied by the Declaration of Independence (which he largely authored), although he was no libertarian, not even like Thomas Paine who came quite close.

The two positions differ mainly on how much a country should entrust its ideals to government. The Founders general thought that once the king has been deposed, one could live with government comfortably enough, although Jefferson had uttered some sentiments that suggest he was beginning to find government altogether problematic. “That government is best that governs least” shows no enthusiasm for even limited government, the sort one associates with the classical liberal tradition, although the logical implications of the principles Jefferson included in the Declaration, mostly derived from John Locke, were pretty close to the libertarian minarchist theory, the kind of government that is committed to nothing more than the protection of the citizens’ basic rights to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and whatever is consistent with these (mostly the right to do anything that’s peaceful). So this faction of America’s political legacy does not so much support a small as a limited scope type government. (Who can tell ahead of time how large an organization devoted to securing our rights would have to be to get its job done!?)

The second position, which one may fruitfully associate with Hamilton, is far more trusting of government, at least of the democratic or representative kind. In any case, this faction of the American political tradition eventually gave rise to the idea that government must be proactive, support various undertakings that the citizens may not take up themselves. So such institutions as banking would be nearly like they had been in Europe, if not state run than at least heavily supervised and regulated by the state. This is the approach that in time gave rise to central banking, the Federal Reserve Bank. It is also the approach that ended up more generally distrusting the capacity of the citizenry to address many of the problems that arise in a society. Education, for instance, would be entrusted to government, as would the protection of wildlife, to mention only two spheres that have become nearly completely a matter of public administration. And it is also this kind of political economic thinking that would in time lead to the invention of positive rights or entitlements, which is certainly not part of the Lockean view or follow the ideas of the Declaration. (BTW, the general welfare does not imply entitlements, only the need to protect all citizens’ rights to pursue their welfare individually or corporately.)

In our own time this divide has turned into something almost fundamental and more destructive, than even the one about preservation of the union. We now see many politicians and nearly the entire intellectual community--media editors, educators at all levels of school and especially in the social sciences and humanities (excepting economists)--siding with the view that government must have a large scope of influence and authority in the country, with only few features left to the private and personal sphere. Having been supplied with political ideas mainly from Europe for the last 150 years, the influence of the classical liberals began to abate a good deal. As in Europe, so in erudite America, most folks believe government must be a supplier of goods and services, not merely the protector of rights. As if they came to believe that referees at a game should become and more more involved in playing it rather than making sure the players obey the rules.

One matter needs to be kept in mind in order to find a silver lining in these developments. This is that the governmental habit which had been cultivated for centuries nearly everywhere, is difficult to break. But not impossible. In time it may just happen and right now there appears to be some hope on the horizon that many Americans are doing exactly that (though not as consistently as they should).

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Stupid Analogy

Tibor R. Machan

Now that Judge Henry E. Hudson of the Virginia district court ruled that the Obama health care measure violates the U. S. Constitution by forcing people to make purchases they may not want to make, there are innumerable sophists who want to refute the rationale for the ruling. They trot out the “argument” that since people living in states may be required to carry auto insurance, they can also be made to purchase anything the government, including the feds, decides they must.

But this analogy fails because people do not have to drive! Yet under Obamacare by simply being living citizens, they would have to purchase health insurance. Never even mind that the state regulations requiring people to purchases auto insurance aren’t universal across the country and different states have the constitutional authority to handle the issues involved in their own way, with no federal mandate dictating to them what they must do.

Furthermore, one rationale in support of the state requirement that citizens who choose to drive carry insurance is that nearly all driving happens on state roads. There is no requirement to get insurance if one stays off them and confines one’s driving to private thoroughfares. And this is because it is the states that claim legal ownership of roads and they then get to set the standards for what those using the roads need to do for the privilege. (Yes, it is deemed a privilege, not a right, because of the state’s collective ownership of most roads.)

So the analogy with state requirements to carry driver’s insurance is fallacious. But when that’s pointed out, another tack is put forth, namely, that ill health is contagious like the plague or leprosy. This is desperate since it is blatantly wrong. One can have all sorts of ailments that will not be communicated to anyone near or far. One can contract ill health, injuries, maladies and so forth without the involvement of others. Sometimes it is just misfortune that brings this about, sometimes it is one’s own reckless conduct, sometimes the recklessness of people with whom one freely associates and rarely because of injuries sustained from what others do. In no such cases are those left out implicated and thus no one should be legally required to foot the bill of the health care measures, including insurance, that may be need to fix or treat things.

The sophists who bring up this line of shabby reasoning are capitalizing on the common sense idea that when people emit harm from their private activities--such as manufacture, smoking, reckless driving, and so forth--they ought to shoulder the burden that befalls others in consequences of it all. In short, no one ought to dump on other people the cost and liabilities of one’s own malpractice.

But this doesn’t apply to having to cope with most of one’s illnesses. A viral infection need not have come from someone else, nor a broken leg or nosebleed or upset stomach. When these occur people are supposed to be prepared to deal with it all, including foot the cost of getting them taken care of. Other people should not be placed into involuntary servitude so as to bail one out of either bad luck or misconduct that creates medical problems for one.

It is always a puzzle to me that so many people who are notoriously righteous about the past enslavement of millions of people around the globe, including in America, have no compunction about partially enslaving others so as to get their own agendas fulfilled. But if slavery is wrong, then so is imposing on others the negative consequences of one’s own life, just as it is wrong to deprive people of the positive consequences of the same.

This is the central issue in so many public policy debates not only in our time but from time immemorial. People are not for other people to be used against their will. Never, nohow, under no circumstances. Until this is learned good and hard everywhere, the world will be very far from having become truly civilized.
Coercion Betrays the Vice of Laziness

Tibor R. Machan

So many people who try to justify coercing others to part with their lives, time, resources and so forth claim that the goals to be served justify the coercion. Indeed, one hears it said often that we must realize there are greater goals than our own ones that need to be served by us. Anything else is greedy or selfish or some such thing or other. So don’t fret about your liberty, you selfish monster you. (And by what moral right do slaves and serfs insist that they be set free? Go figure.)

Now I have an observation to offer that should wake up people to just what kind of ruse all this amounts to. If you believe that there are these very important goals that everyone must serve and for the sake of which they may be coerced, how is it that coercion is the chosen approach instead of, say, proselytizing, advocating, crusading, promoting, campaigning and all the other peaceful, non-coercive ways one can go about raising support for what one believes is really worthwhile? Not only is it inhuman to force people to do the right thing--it deprives them of the morally significant choice of whether to do it themselves--but it also shows one’s own laziness or, even worse, hypocrisy. After all, if everyone ought to believe in and support this supposedly superior goal, would it not follow that one who is fully convinced of its great merit would be first in line to actually work for it instead of trying to force others do so? I mean here that they ought really to work and not merely vote for government regulations and rules to force others to comply with the idea.

Only voluntary compliance with good ideas, including moral imperatives, amounts to something praiseworthy. Anything else is morally insignificant--at the point of the gun, morality ends as Ayn Rand once pointed out. But those who would enforce such imperatives should of course be the first out there doing what they preach. And to respect their fellow citizens, they should always use persuasion, never coercion to achieve their goals. Using coercive force on others to get them to do anything, including what is worthwhile when done voluntarily, is treating people as if they were the children of those using the coercion. If adults make use of such means, it is unjustifiable except it amounts to retaliation of the prior use of force, as in self-defense. Who are these adults regimenting fellow adults anyway?

Why then are so many people utilizing coercive force to get others to pursue all those great ideas they believe need service from everyone? Could it be that (a) these people talk a good game but do not at all really believe in putting their money whether their mouths are; and (b) might they just be so damned lazy that they want everyone else to come up with the effort excepting them? After all, if a cause is that worthy, surely one way to serve it is to go out and diligently hustle up support for it. Here is where the traditional peaceful missionaries can serve as a good model--most of them believe and preach instead of using weapons or the threat of them to serve their ideals.

But no, the bulk of those advocating using force really just want other people to do the work that they pretend to be committed to doing, serve the objectives they pretend to cherish so much. Are they then better than ordinary criminals who circumvent the honorable ways of interacting with their fellows and resort, instead, to stealing, lying, cheating, murdering, raping and doing all kinds of other things that do not respect the rights of others? You know the correct answer to this, of course. Please try to make sure everyone else reaches the same insight--these coercers are unabashed bullies.

Those who reject coercion as a means for getting things done have a bit of a disadvantage because they must, if they are to possess any integrity, abide by their own policy of refraining from coercing others even if the objective is morally impeccable. Certainly implementing voluntary relationships among people qualifies as that.
Getting Worked Up

Tibor R. Machan

One might very well be right to consider me an emotional person although this doesn’t mean I lose my mind while I am worked up about something. Indeed, one result of being worked up can be more intense focus on the topic at hand.

In the current political climate, however, my feelings are taxed a good deal. I recall some years ago The New Republic asked whether it was OK to hate George W. Bush and pretty much argued “Yes” in several essays for that issue. I didn’t much approve of hating the then president although I found a great deal to criticize about his positions. I was against the war in Iraq from before it started and Bush’s sop to all the elderly with an entitlement mentality, his policy of providing aid to them for prescription drugs, was a betrayal of whatever modicum of loyalty he might have had toward the principles of a limited government.

Still, I could kind of see that both of these measures had been quite in line with the kind of Republican politics Bush practiced and preached. Nor did I ever see him as a racist or class warfare provocatuer. Now, however, we have in Washington a whole lot of truly despicable politicians and their bureaucratic cadre, people who make no secret of their demagogic contempt for the rich and successful--or their pretense of this in order to get the support of the worst elements within the American political landscape. This now feels every bit like the prevailing official attitude of Soviet bloc countries used to, what with their relentless besmirching of capitalism and capitalists (and anyone with even the slightest sympathies for these).

This then isn’t political debate, disagreement over public policy, etc. This is out and out misanthrope, hatred of the very best features of human society that America has always had to offer the world, namely, hospitality and friendship to those who try to succeed at commerce, those who pursued economic happiness and incidentally keep the wheels of the economy rolling.

This resurrection of the ancient attitudes of envy and resentment of people who do well in life is so unbecoming to anyone involved in American culture and politics that I am not at all ashamed to say that I do in fact hate these people--or at least this aspect of them--with a purple passion. When they offer their nasty soundbites on TV news and talk shows, I am just about ready rush in an blast them with some well chosen sound bites of my own, like, “You commies, go to North Korea where your philosophy will be right at home.” Yes, I have in mind Pelosi and Reed and Sanders and the lot--plus all the Americans who vote for them.

I had reserved this attitude mostly toward people who ruled the Soviet bloc countries and, I have to admit, also Ralph Nader (who epitomized for me the most maniacal proponent of the petty tyrannies of government regulation, thereby implicitly demeaning the American public, saying, in effect, that they must all be treated as children or invalids). (Yet once when I met and debated Nader, back in 1976 I believe it was, at Hillsdale College, in Michigan, he too wasn’t a visible monster, just a terribly misguided man!) These days, however, I am really quite openly angry at the statists in the country, ones who are threatening to bring it down for good unless they are stopped soon.

Of course, the politicians are only the tip of the iceberg. It is their intellectual supporters, writing for sophistic rags like The New York Review of Books, The Progressive, The Nation and the Op Ed pages of several national dailies, who frighten me most. These people, with their polished education but perverse ideas and ideals really need to be stopped in their tracks, refuted with all the ammunition possible to muster against them--with persistent blogging, writing, speaking, voting, and the rest. Otherwise they are going to bring to a sorry end the greatest human political experiment in history, one responsible for improving on human lives more than anything else, a country largely based on the principles of liberty.