Saturday, June 30, 2012
My Fourth of July Reflections Tibor R. Machan For some people the Fourth of July is the most important holiday in America. Sadly, not for all, especially not just now when most of the leadership of the country has made it clear that principles do not matter. What matters is what is expedient or practical, which is something very unstable. Sadly there is an element to the Fourth that has always been a liability. It is that principles of politics, economics, ethics or any other practical field have been championed as if they were like principles of geometry, logic or mathematics, namely, timelessly true, certain beyond a shadow of a doubt. Like timeless laws of nature! And no practical principles can be like that since the future can always bring to light facts that could require modifying them. This was something the framers of the American system were well aware of, which is why they included the amendment provision in the constitution. This doesn’t mean principles do not exist only that they are always to be understood within the most up to date context of their subject matter. Because the basic principles that are to be celebrated on the Fourth of July are derived from human nature, which remains stable over centuries on end, they are good guides to the way a human community should be framed or constituted. Human nature hasn’t changed for a very long time and so it can serve as a stable basis for how human communities are to be conceived and governed. Many aspects of human life change but human nature has remained stable, unchanging for centuries and so it can serve as the basis of a legal order, just as the American founders believed, based on their study of some of the great moral and political thinkers in human history. If, however, the possibility of having to make some changes, amendments, alterations, or modifications on those principle is denied, their credibility suffers. No one can reasonably guarantee that those principles will never need some alteration and by promising that they won’t, they become vulnerable to valid skeptical doubts. And those who have not liked the principles of the Declaration and the Bill of Rights, all the statists who live in the country, can take advantage of this and even ridicule the idea of our finding such stable basic principles. By making the mistake of claiming that the principles are everlasting, they are put into jeopardy at the hands of their detractors and enemies. Nor are the principles of the Declaration self-evident! It is made clear in the document itself that they are only held to be such, for purposes of making the declaration. Since they require demonstration and proof, they can only be held to be but are not in fact self-evident! Very few truths are self-evident and the Founders were aware of this--for example, the first principles of logic that Aristotle identified (since they are required to prove anything in need of being proven). Misunderstanding this has also been used by detractors for purposes of discrediting the principles involved in the founding of the country. This despite the fact that the Declaration is quite clear about the matter: “We hold these truths to be self-evident” instead of “These truths are self-evident.” Unfortunately, throughout the educational system of the country, from the elementary to the graduate levels, making this clear is difficult since strictly speaking the principles of the Declaration do not support government run educational institutions. Limited government is what those principles support and permitting government to run the bulk of the educational system expands the scope of government way beyond what it is limited to in the philosophy of the Declaration, the founding document of the country that states clearly that government is instituted so as to secure our individual rights! It would be paradoxical for most educators to take seriously the idea of limited government since they are all complicit in expanding government’s reach into the lives of the citizenry. So the proper study of the meaning of the Declaration and thus the type of country this is supposed to be would invalidate the public or governmental educational system. Which is one reason why there is no general understanding within the population of just what kind of political system the American founders produced. Most of these educators are, in fact statists, through and through, and within that framework they cannot make clear sense of the principles of the Declaration of Independence and, therefore, of what is really to be celebrated on the Fourth of July.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Anticipated Reasoning by the Court Tibor R. Machan A few weeks ago I wrote in one of my columns as follows: “...[T]he discussion of President Obama’s federal policy requiring that everyone obtain health insurance has frequently focused on the fact that either an employer or individual would be forced to obtain private health insurance instead of, as Wikipedia points it out, ‘or in addition to the institution of a national health service of insurance’. And many have suggested that this is a very unusual measure since it mandates specific performance from citizens, contrary to the legal tradition of the country. One may be forced to give up property but never to carry out a task, something that is reminiscent of slavery or involuntary servitude and thus directly in conflict with the idea of a free society....” The court ruled in favor of Mr. Obama’s individual mandate on June 28, 2012, by rejecting the idea that it amounted to forcing citizens to purchase something they don’t choose to purchase and held, instead, that it is indeed a federal requirement “to give up property” (or to tax the citizens) which the federal government may impose to its heart’s content. It is just this power by government that needs now to be challenged since it extend the feudal legacy of extorting people’s resources. The extortion goes as follows: “You get to live in this supposedly free country only if you pay government--previously the monarch--funds demanded from you!” This amounts to the constitutional power to tax! It should not be, of course, since it is a betrayal of the valid, universal principle of the Declaration of Independence and even the Bill of Rights, the right to private property, the right to pursue one’s happiness with one’s work and wealth. But then remember the constitution also made slavery legal and it remained so until it was finally amended. The 13th Amendment did this when it stated “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2 says: Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” But this came later! So originally American law tolerated slavery, involuntary servitude. Well, we now see that it still does. If your resources, property, may be confiscated by politicians then one’s life is not one’s own. The first natural right, namely, to life, is still contradicted in American federal law as it has been from the start. The schizophrenia between the Declaration, which stated the most fundamental principles on which the country was supposed to have been founded, and the U. S. Constitution, the legal order by which the country was supposed to be governed, remains fully intact. This is the part of the revolution that needs to be completed, namely, the abolition of taxation. The 13th Amendment abolished serfdom, another central element of the old regime; now another needs to be, one that will abolish the forcible taking of one’s property via the feudal power of taxation. So here is a wonderful opportunity for the current crop of Republicans, with Mitt Romney leading them in the next few months, to mount a bona fide, no holds barred revolution that will complete the first one. Ron Paul might have been counted upon to lead it but one may doubt that Mitt Romney is going to go there. Too many leaders of and people within the Republican Party remain statists who believe that the government rules the people instead of serving them. I have argued for decades that what is now required is a truly just approach to funding law maintenance and enforcement. Some way other than taxing citizens must be found and implemented to fund the system that protects individual rights, a way that doesn’t also violate those rights. The contract fee approach would work, I am sure, provided it is firmly combined with a policy of strictly limited government, one that sticks to the task assigned it in the Declaration of Independence where we learn that government is instituted to protect our rights, not to run our lives.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Pragmatism’s Problems* Tibor R. Machan It has now become something of a badge of honor to be a pragmatist, especially in public policy matters. Being pragmatic means promoting policies that work, being practical or even expedient. President Obama has often made mention of his own pragmatism. So have some of his most avid supporters, such as Paul Krugman and Cass Sunstein. But not only those favoring the substantially Keynesian approach to macroeconomic policies swear allegiance to pragmatism. The very prominent jurist Richard Posner, of the University of Chicago School of Law, one of the most prolific and widely respected public philosophers in our time, has been unabashed about his championing of pragmatism. So what makes someone a pragmatist? In these contexts, pragmatic suggests mainly an attitude of realism and flexibility, lack of firm principles or foundations--i.e., eschewing dogmatism or ideology--on which one’s policy recommendations are based. Here is a good sample of the pragmatic approach: “Defenders of Chicago-style law and economics want to be seen not as ideologues, but as realists. [Richard] Posner [put it this way]: ‘We ask not whether the economic approach to law is adequately grounded’ in any particular ethical system, ‘but whether it is the best approach for the contemporary American legal system to follow.’” Peter Coy, “Opening Remarks,” Bloomberg Businessweek, 6/11-6/17, 2012, p. 10. ("And how can one tell what's "the best approach" if it's all purely subjective or relative?) Even more extremely put, Posner has written as follows: "It was right to try the Nazi leaders [at Nuremburg] rather than to shoot them out of hand in a paroxysm of disgust.... But it was not right because a trial could produce proof that the Nazis really were immoralists; they were, but according to our lights, not theirs." “Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory,” 111, Harvard Law Review, 1998, 1644-45. In what is commonly taken as the pragmatic turn, Posner illustrates that when it comes to morals and politics, no truth is available to us. Objectively speaking, neither the Nazis nor those who condemned them could be said to have had it right (nor indeed those proposing that it's all subjective)! According to our lights they were vicious but according to theirs they were not--and there is simply no way to adjudicate between them and us. There is then no truth of the matter. This approach has the fatal problem of being hoisted on its own petard. For it follows from it that saying it is subjective or relative is, well, also subjective or relative; in other words, no truth of the matter in any respect is possible. (It recalls the ancient Greek sophist, Cratylus, who ended up indicating what he meant by wagging his fingers and even that couldn’t do the trick.) Why is any of this significant? For one, pragmatism of this sort gives carte blanche to those who select which policies a government should follow: whichever they prefer, since none is any better than any other, not objectively speaking. It also concedes virtual absolute authority to those who happen to hold power. They need not justify what they want. Just wanting it is enough. No one can do better, so what is the fuss? That is just how fascists view public affairs since the authority of the ruler is decisive and incontestable. See how one day Mr. Obama claims to follow the US Constitution, the next he maintains he may circumvent it, that his judgment rules! In the end all intelligent discussion of how people ought to carry on, in or out of government or public life, is pointless. The only thing that counts is who has the power, a very convenient point of view for those who like to lord it over others without having to be accountable for what they do. Pragmatism has numerous versions and not every version is so outlandish as what we see here, coming from one of the most influential jurists in contemporary America. Just for one example, Professor Susan Haack has been very critical of this kind of pragmatism, which in philosophy is associated with the late Professor Richard Rorty. But sadly in our day it is the most extreme of the pragmatists who wield influence throughout our culture. *You may have received an earlier version of this piece!