Friday, December 21, 2012

The Erosion of Our Freedom

The Erosion of Our Freedom

Tibor R. Machan

Often when I argue that governments must not violate our rights--they are supposed to be unalienable, after all--statists have a ready retort:  Government is already violating them, good and hard, all over the place.  

Recently I pointed out that imposing fines and constraints on gun owners who haven’t been shown to have committed a crime, not even close, is a case of prior restraint, of unjustifiably depriving a citizen of liberty since only convicted and guilty people may be so deprived. In a free country citizens may not be intruded upon by their governments without having been convicted by methods of due process.  Governments, in other words, are supposed to defend the rights of their citizens; that is their proper purpose!

My statist adversaries eagerly point it out to me that government is intruding upon as all over the place: we are forced to obtain a driver’s license, innumerable permits as we go about living in our communities (building our homes, engaging in businesses, practicing professions, etc.).  Nearly everything we do requires a license even though we are legally innocent!  Ergo: prior restraint big time!

Now some of this is accurate enough--citizens in America are indeed subjected to prior restraint left and right, up and down. Most of the time the justification given is that government must protect us against possible malpractice and government regulations and licensing are the best way to do this, never mind that our rights are clearly being violated in the process. Unalienable is a nice idea in a document like the Declaration of Independence, but let’s get real, please!  It is completely impractical in actual life, right?

Wrong.  It is not some kind of romantic, impossible idealism to insist that when anyone intrudes upon another person, this must be properly warranted--as it would be in self-defense, for example.  Just notice how easily this is grasped when it comes to sexual freedom--no amount of “necessity” or “practicality” overturns the prohibition against rape or even plain sexual harassment. Why is that so simple to grasp?  Because it is a form of intrusion that is very close to home, quite direct, not encumbered by fancy-shmancy public policy rhetoric!

Insisting that prior restraint be banned overall is just taking the above line about all uninvited intrusions by some people against others. If the intrusion is indeed invited, no problem--surgeons, dentists, personal trainers and coaches routinely intrude on us but with our permission, so that is unobjectionable.  

However, for centuries this was not so--the royal courts and similar oppressive regimes ran roughshod routinely over their subjects (!) since they were actually deemed as their owners (which is how serfdom and slavery managed to be palatable). In time the idea gained currency that such subjugation lacked justification, amounted to coercive imposition based on various fictions of class superiority, etc.  Once these were demonstrated to be unfounded, slowly but surely it dawned upon millions--as it is still dawning upon them across the globe--that the oppressors were getting away with a ruse and resisting them is just and right.

It is about time that even the more subtle sorts of oppression, involving the prior restraint I was pointing to above, be abolished.  If problems need to be solved, they must be solved without resort to some people coercing others!  Again, think how natural this is when it comes to sexual intercourse! It should be plain across the board of all human relations not confined only to sex.  The law and public policy must be adjusted to the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence, namely, the universality of our basic rights to our lives, liberty and property!  No compromise, however imperative it may appear, must be tolerated.

         When it was pointed out that the price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance, the point of that warning was exactly to alert everyone that various sophistical, phony reasons will be used to erode our liberties.  Just recall for instance what was noted by William Pitt, the elder: “Necessity is the excuse for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of the tyrant and the creed of the slave.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gun Control Obscenities

Gun Control Obscenities

Tibor R. Machan

When the massacre occurred in Connecticut, there was no call for commentary, certainly not from me who lives thousands of miles from where it occurred and knew none of the victims, the culprit or their family.  Silence was probably the right reaction, and some reflections on just how vulnerable people can be in even a quite civilized society.  I could have come up with some ideas on the effects of disarming school teachers and administrators but without knowing details, they would have been unhelpful.

What did start to prompt foul reactions from me is the politicians’ beginning to sound off.  How they took advantage of the grief surrounding the event was not only predictable but disgusting.  Promising to reenact the old and by all accounts quite ineffective federal assault weapons ban is difficult to explain as anything more than an empty political--in the worst sense of the term--gesture.  

And of course all the venom was directed not at the perpetrator, by then himself deceased--and good riddance--but at opponents of gun control legislation.  Scapegoating is what the politicians who chimed in did so diligently.  Not a single gun control opponent could be faulted for the horrors inflicted upon the victims, not a one, yet they were under moral indictment by the politicians, including President Obama, more so than the culprit.  

Just let us remember that a good many who oppose federal and other gun control laws do so on grounds that they do not want the federales to be the only armed people in the realm.  Rightly or wrongly, they are concerned that disarming the citizenry who have done nothing to deserve that is a pointless and mindless self-indulgence, nothing at all useful or helpful.  In a considerably free country people will always be able to engage in murderous conduct.  It happens day in and day out across America and elsewhere.  It is one part of the price of liberty, namely, that citizens are not shackled and bound and thus are able to carry out not just all the praiseworthy but also many vile acts.  For such acts they would best be severely punished--something, by the way, that most gun control advocates are notoriously silent about!  (I watched quite a few talks shows and read a bunch of pundits during the last several days and those lamenting the lack of police state like gun prohibition--which have been and are still favored by tyrannies and dictatorships throughout history and the globe--have expressed zero hostility toward the people who carry out massacres like the one in Connecticut.  It is, instead, always society or culture or America or some such nebulous culprit that’s being blamed, with the actual perps mostly suffering from alienation, mental disease, etc.  Among these folks the idea of human evil appears not to have any reality to it!)

Another reaction from the political class, you know which I have in mind, that’s really pathetic is the promises made not to allow such a thing to happen, ever again!  And just how is that going to be done?  Even if every school in the world will have a squadron of cops marching up and down its corridors, how will it be assured that among them there will not be some vile sadists who will take advantage of their privileged position and carry out a similar deed?  How will Mr. Obama make sure that that will never happen?  So because this is nonsense, and because Mr. Obama is certainly not ignorant about it, what we must be witnessing is rank demagoguery.

Sometimes the best response to what happens in the world is outrage, especially with those who carry out vicious deeds.  Human beings are, after all, the one known animal that is responsible for its behavior, driven not by instincts but by conscious choices.  When those choices are irresponsible ones and vile, they are the ones whose guilt should be our focus.  

As we learn from Shakespeare--from Cassius in Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2--"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves.” Indeed, the kid who carried out the murders in Connecticut is very likely the responsible party.  Let’s get that right and then we might embark on some useful understanding of such deeds.