Without a Proper Plan

A vital difference between champions of the fully free society (or libertarianism) and others who are concerned with political economic matters is that the former really do not approve of imposing any kind of agenda on the lives of others no matter how desirable it would be.  Not even universal education, let alone universal health care, is deemed important enough for libertarians to assume power over other people — e.g., the parents of children, those with ailing elderly in their homes, etc.

Unless there really is negligence involved, such that someone is failing to fulfill a legal obligation to feed his or her children, the government simply has no role. Furthermore, those who really accept the imperative to respect the rights of everyone to live as they choose provided no one's rights are being violated, may not force others to do the right thing in, say, abstaining from racial or gender discrimination at the workplace, just as this is something one may not impose on others in their personal lives.

This full commitment to human liberty is really quite an unusual and often difficult stance to uphold. Yet it is at the heart of the difference between what a free and what an authoritarian or totalitarian society is about. Just as no one may force others to go to a certain church, regardless of how sincerely and devoutly one holds to one's religious faith, neither may these other practices that to many appear to be elementary decency be imposed on other persons. Just as no one may impose on others what they must read, so others must not be forced to do all kinds of things that are deemed to be just and proper. Just as in one's personal life one must be free to choose with whom one will or will not associate, the same holds for one's professional associations. (There are some intricacies here that can make it appear that one isn't free to avoid others with whom one doesn't want to fraternize — as when one joins a club that has a non-discriminatory policy — but those are complications that would need to be discussed elsewhere.)

 

Many decent people recoil in disgust from these elements of a free society while they accept others which are very similar. They do not mind that freedom implies that people can read or write whatever they please, however immoral it may be; yet they refuse to accept that one has a basic — and should have a legal — right to adopt highly objectionable policies at the factory or office that one owns. They see nothing odd about people refusing to accept someone into their family who does not share their religious or even political convictions while they consider it impermissible that they may refuse to hire such people even if this is a fully disclosed condition for employment.

The realm of the private is far broader in a free society than most people realize, so private choices and preferences have a greater scope. Which can be a very benign influence over the society as well as introduce some not very admirable ones. This, however, is the implication of taking the right to liberty really seriously instead of cherry picking liberties that one likes and are uncontroversial.

A truly free country leaves it to its citizens to plan their lives, for better or for worse, and refuses to permit the imposition of plans on them even by the most wise and smart among us. If one has plans for others, regardless how worthy they may be, these must be promoted without coercion, by voluntary means. That is indeed the mark of civilization — human relations must at all level adhere to the principle of free association and avoid treating people as if they may be included in the plans of others without their willing participation. However cumbersome this may appear, it is still the basic imperative of a free society.

Those who understand this and advocate it may themselves find some of the implications very distasteful. That people may indulge their anti-Semitic, racist, male chauvinist and similar objectionable attitudes is not something that is easy to accept. But if one is going to be serious about trying to build a just and free society, accepting it all is simply unavoidable, just as it is in the sphere of free speech or expression wherein extensive materials are deemed legally protected even when they are distasteful, insulting, offensive, and otherwise morally objectionable. Freedom is risky but worth defending in any case. One needs to make clear that when it is defended one is not also defending what it’s used for, just like defending the free press doesn’t imply that everything produced by the press — or by artists, authors, journalists, etc. — is worthwhile. Freedom is a superior value even if acting freely can be morally odious.

 

 


 

Dr. Tibor R. Machan is a Hoover research fellow, Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Auburn University, Alabama, and holds the R. C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University.

 


 

 

 

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3 Responses to “Without a Proper Plan”

  • HitTheFan:

    george,

    Your point 1 is incorrect, a strawman in fact. The author presents a view that complete liberty will lead to outcomes that some will find undesirable.
    He argues that freedom in and of itself is a worthy goal.
    You mention that rights violations of peaceful citizens cannot lead to good outcomes for society at large is but a theory.
    And there’s the problem….mankind is conditioned to be governed. It isn’t a theory, it’s plain fact that government produces disaster upon disaster, over the millennia.
    Maybe one day we will enjoy a peaceful existence free from government, but I sadly don’t it, cursed as we are to be weak and to need leadership.
    Maybe he coming economic and currency crises will be a wake up call.

    • georgew:

      HitTheFan said, “Your point 1 is incorrect, a strawman in fact. The author presents a view that complete liberty will lead to outcomes that some will find undesirable.”

      It appears we all three largely agree. However, based solely on the content of the post above I cannot see how you support your assertion. Are you assuming “how desirable it would be” is implicitly referring to the person with the agenda. If you make that assumption, then we could agree. However, as I suggested, individual liberty is the salient ethical goal, not merely “a worthy goal”. My criticism of the entry was not of the author’s motive, as I stated, but that one cannot argue for individual liberty effectively while introducing value judgement as part of the argument, e.g., “no matter how desirable”, “negligence”, “do the right thing”.

      “You mention that rights violations of peaceful citizens cannot lead to good outcomes for society at large is but a theory.”

      We could debate the problems with utilitarianism if you like, but the above economic theory is very well supported by reason and by historical record. The salient point wasn’t an economic one, but an ethical one. Even if one continuously and perpetually makes irrational choices with their life, they have the absolute right to do so as long as they do not violate the rights of others. This is what individual liberty is about.

      “And there’s the problem….mankind is conditioned to be governed. ”
      As you said, this is a condition and not an axiom of human nature. I assert that once free from that conditioning, and individual liberty is enjoyed for a spell, it would be very difficult to re-introduce that conditioning again.

  • georgew:

    I agree with the author’s motive, but there are some egregious flaws in the exposition.

    1. “..do not approve of imposing any kind of agenda on the lives of others no matter how desirable it would be.”
    This is a misleading statement. The entire philosophy is based on the theory that rights violations of peaceful citizens cannot lead to a “desirable outcome” for society at large!

    2. “Unless there really is negligence involved..”
    This is always a subjective evaluation. One may argue that it is negligent to not pay $10 / hour minimum wage or have a social safety net. There is either an objectively discernible rights violation or there is not!

    3. “may not force others to do the right thing in, say, abstaining from racial or gender discrimination at the workplace”
    Who says this is the right thing? Discrimination is an innate human skill. It can be rational or irrational. There are examples of gender discrimination that are rational as well as irrational.

    4. “This, however, is the implication of taking the right to liberty really seriously instead of cherry picking liberties that one likes and are uncontroversial.”
    That is what I am attempting to do for you here with #1-3 above. I will stop here as I think the point is made!

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