Friday, March 02, 2012

Having to Fund Immoral Policies

Tibor R. Machan

At the outset I am talking about what someone considers immoral, not what is objectively immoral. Nonetheless, millions are coerced by governments, backed by other millions, to work and pay for what they consider morally wrong. Is that right? Is it avoidable in a democracy?

Back during the Vietnam war a great many opponents of that disastrous policy wanted to withhold their taxes, or the portion of it that went to fund the war. They were mostly from the Left but that doesn’t matter. The point is that such people argued that it is unjust to make them do this. And there is something to this: why would it be OK to require something to contribute resources he or she has produced and owns to a policy deemed to be morally wrong?

Granted requiring someone to make contributions to anything is objectionable but isn’t it more so if the policy is objected to by the victim of such coercion on moral grounds? Suppose the sources of the moral objection is one’s religion. Wouldn’t that contradict the idea of freedom of religion? You are supposed to be free to choose what faith you accept and practice but then you are forced to give up portions of your life for some other faith! Isn’t that inconsistent? You are both free to choose as well as not free to choose!

Doesn’t democracy amount to such this kind of confusion? Well, not if it’s property limited, as limited government champions have insisted it should be. All this stuff about funding or not funding contraceptives would be off the table, not up for the vote.

Today we have President Obama and his minions insisting that forcing Catholics, their churches and such, provide contraceptives and the like to people who want it from them is just fine. But Roman Catholics consider contraceptives an instrument for evil, like pacifists might guns. Would it be OK to demand that pacifists hand out lethal weapons to people who want it from them?

I proposed that this is no different from forcing people to fund a war in which they do not believe, which they regard unjust. I wrote this in a comment at The New York Times on line where one can contribute comments to columnists’ views and where these comments can be further commented on by others. Well, my comment received a bunch of bizarre follow-up comments claiming that there is a world of difference between wanting to withhold support for a war and wanting to do the same for government distributing contraceptives, a policy some consider unjust. But, in fact, the former is simply a different instance of the latter but it’s exactly the same kind of thing.

It reminds me of when people who often embrace democracy whole hog but then when the vote goes against them, cry foul! But if the democratic method is accepted as a valid approach to settling disputed issue, one has no business protesting the outcome. It is rank duplicity, even hypocrisy.

But here is the rub: Mr. Obama and his ideological cohorts are pragmatists and what is so convenient about pragmatism is that you can insist on some policy here, but reject it there, embrace it one hour and then denounce it the next. Because, you see, at least the type of pragmatism that Mr. Obama has often stated is his philosophy rejects principles from the git go. Yes, there are sophisticated pragmatists who defend their unprincipled viewpoint on grounds that principles are really impossible! Principled thinking is mere ideology, not based on reality, so they hold, since reality is too chaotic, too illogical to yield sound principles that can be used in guiding conduct and criticism. But Mr. Obama hasn’t bothered to provide a defense of his unprincipled stand on a great variety of issues, like undeclared wars, deficit spending, abortion, etc.

But then what is there if reason is passe? What would political campaigns be if candidates could not look for inconsistencies in their opponents? Well, then they would be what they have become, shouting matches, throwing dirt at one another, name calling, besmirching and such, that’s what. Because once logic is abandoned, once consistency is ruled out as a criterion of admissible thought and discourse as proposed by pragmatists, we are back just a step away from the jungle where reason has no place and force rules. As that famous painting of Goya says, “the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.”

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