How to draw a line in the sand
July 15, 2014
I have been disappointed that over the years of contributing to these pages, readers have not seen fit to comment on one of my fundamental points — that it is not the left, not the progressives, not the Democrats who have the moral high ground.
No, that belongs to those who resist the programs of the collectivists and who advocate for individual freedom.
I assert that there is but one basic moral principle which is worthy of establishing a government to enforce, I call it the "Principle of Non-aggression." The rest of what government has come to do is fundamentally immoral in that it involves aggression by the state against its own citizens.
I define aggression, in this context, as including not only outright force and violence but also threats to use violence, extortion, blackmail and any other attempts by one person or entity to realize a desired end at the expense of another. The other characteristic which defines aggression is that it is the product of one who initiates the use of force or threats; one who responds to force or threats is engaged in self-defense, not aggression.
We recognize the wrong inherent in aggression in our penal codes, i.e., by making most uses of force, violence or threats into crimes that we seek to punish or prevent. We also recognize that individuals will always have conflicts of interest, especially over scarce resources, and so we need a mechanism to resolve disputes and to prevent aggression by the parties.
This is what Thomas Hobbes was seeking to prevent in his concept of a social contract, whereby we give up to a supposedly neutral agent our ability to use force in exchange for the peace and order imposed by that agent.
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I submit to you that we are at great risk of failure in the great American experiment of governing ourselves. The reason for this is that we have permitted ourselves to go far beyond the Non-aggression Principle in what we allow government to accomplish. Rather than limiting its functions to restraining aggression (including by foreigners), we have come to look at government as an all-encompassing "force for good" that needs to do all sorts of things to benefit mankind. The Constitution set forth a list of enumerated powers that were to be the only ones that were authorized. We have ignored this, and using a crude rationalization involving the so-called General Welfare clause, have embarked on every kind of program conceivable. The document also marks out certain areas as being off limits for any legislation (the Bill of Rights), yet our judiciary (as well as the other branches) have gradually eroded these strict limits for their own purposes.
Now I recognize that the protection of individuals involves costs, and that some form of revenue is needed. There are perhaps other minimal functions of government that we could agree are among those enumerated, and hence, legitimate. But the costs of these are but a tiny fraction of what we now spend on our Leviathan government.
So, my proposal is this: in order to recapture the essence of American self-government, we need to amend our Constitutionto re-emphasize its original intent, and to draw a line in the sand which says, in effect, we will allow no program or expenditure which is in any way redistributive, i.e., takes by force from one party and gives it, in cash, or as a benefit or subsidy, to another.
It is the height of immorality to legalize this kind of aggression. The whole concept of the "public interest" demands that funds collected be used only for things that provide an actual, or at least potential, benefit equally to every citizen; the military, the court system and police protection are examples of this.
The libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, in his magnum opus, "Anarchy, State and Utopia," sets forth a rigorous argument proving that charging for protection is not redistributive.
Now leftists and progressives always claim that they are the moral ones because they want to help the poor and the downtrodden. And I would be willing to praise that if they were willing to limit their help to what their own resources would provide. But when the essence of their compassion is to use the blunt instrument of government to extort resources from others, claiming that majority rule somehow legitimates this use of force, they sacrifice all claims of moral superiority.
Rob Chrisman lives in Nevada City.