Column on the Common Good Sense of Liberty

The Common Good Sense of Liberty
Tibor R. Machan
In the sciences a great many initially controversial ideas have reached
the status of common sense. Yes, the earth revolves around the sun. No,
leaches do not cure all the diseases they had been used to try to cure.
The earth is really quite old, unlike what the literal reading of the good
book suggests. And, no, women aren’t inferior to men because somehow their
emotions render them stupid.
Now as far as I see matters, freedom is superior to any and all forms of
servitude, now and ever, however little this had been acknowledged in the
past and still is in other parts of the globe. That is now common sense to
me. Just as rape is plainly immoral and sexual unions must be voluntary,
so all human conduct that’s peaceful must also be undertaken as a matter
of choice. Subjugating anyone to another’s will is not much different, no
matter what area of human life it involves, from subjugating an unwilling
woman to the will of a forceful man.
But for some odd reason that escapes me, really, a great many quite
prominent and intellectually prestigious people disagree with me. It seems
to all of them quite OK to coerce others to do various things that these
others do not agree to doing. Like paying into the social security fund,
or following the orders of the Food and Drug Administration or the Drug
Enforcement Authority. Thousands of such institutional arrangements,
whereby some more or less large group of people get the legal authority to
order others around, are approved of by prominent people. The excuse is
usually that unless this authority is granted to these folks, some very
good things will not get accomplished.
But that is simply a lousy excuse for running roughshod over other people,
to limit their liberty and hand over to others the power to run their
lives. It is again common sense to me that if you aim to enlist some
fellow human beings in a project that is important, valuable, noble or
such, you must confine your means to convincing, never to coercing them.
How could it be otherwise? I stick with Abraham Lincoln here, who said,
famously, that “No man is good enough to govern another man, without that
other’s consent.” Just seems so obviously true that I find objections to
the idea bordering on insanity. I can only have some measure of patience
with such objections based on my realization that for centuries and
centuries human beings have lived under the yoke of a bunch of pretenders
to higher authority and this has warped their good sense.
No, I am not naïve. I realize well enough that dozens and dozens of fancy
arguments, theories, motivations and such back the case for subjecting
some people who want to go their own way–who want to follow their own
choices–to the will of others. In the history of political philosophy and
theory hundreds of brilliant figures have advanced interesting, often very
sophisticated, arguments defending the divine right of kings, the absolute
authority of majorities, and the like. Thousands and thousands of pages
have been written to promote the fiction that some men are good enough to
coerce others, in the name of various goals, desires, dreams, ideals, or
notions of the common good. But none of these, I have come fairly early in
my reading to realize, carries the day. Freedom simply–as well as in all
its complicated renditions–triumphs over all the more or less oppressive
Why then so much resistance to the idea? Well, the governmental habit is
one explanation I have discussed often and find still to be a powerful
notion. But there is also the fear of liberty–some just believe that
unless powerful hands take over the running of human affairs, vital
matters will be neglected. Why those powerful hands should manage to
escape the same obstacle, namely human folly, to running matters properly
that seem to such folks to prevent free man and women doing it beats me.
The evidently blind confidence in some magic selection process that will
put only wise and virtuous people into the positions of the coercers is
It is time that the superior regime of freedom becomes an article of
common sense, not in constant need of having to be defended,
intellectually, politically and physically!

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