Column on No, I am not Mean

No, I am not Mean

Tibor R. Machan

The position of someone who defends human liberty, freedom from
coercion among people, is sometimes quite irksome. That’s because those
who want to coerce others mostly give as their reason that they want to be
of help. Virtually every government program funded by taxation, money
extorted from citizens, is justified by citing the needs and wants of
people who will go without government support if the program is

So those of us who prize human liberty above every other social
condition will seem, on casual inspection, to lack compassion and
generosity. We will be saying "no" to numerous public policies proposed as
ways to provide for the helpless or needy. In fact the bulk of those in
Western societies who advocate coercive policies that expropriate the
labor and resources of citizens say that they do so because they want to
eliminate poverty, deprivation, ignorance, illness, and other untoward
circumstances people face. Opposing such coercive measures then is taken
simply to be mean, hardhearted, and ungenerous.

Nearly all the responses I receive to my criticisms of government
coercion accuse me of lacking compassion, of wishing that those in need go
unaided, unsupported, be left helpless. But the charge is wrong, very
wrong indeed.

Suppose one objects to burglaries, robberies or holdups. And
suppose those perpetrating these tend, in the main, to use the loot they
take for various helpful purposes. They buy food and furniture and
medicine with what they have stolen. And maybe without the stolen
resources they would find it troublesome to purchase these things for
themselves and their families.

Does opposition to burglaries, robberies, and holdups imply even
in the slightest that one is opposed to the would be perpetrator of these
crimes getting the benefits the stolen wealth could get them? Does
opposition to the violent, aggressive, hostile means of obtaining the
means for getting those benefits imply that one begrudges the benefits
that can be gained with what was stolen? More drastically, does opposition
to rape mean being opposed to sexual satisfaction for those who would rape

Of course not. Millions of people oppose crimes that involve
taking things from people at gunpoint and the like, yet all these millions
do not see anything wrong with the beneficiaries gaining what they need
and want. In fact, millions of people who oppose such criminal takings
voluntarily contribute to charities, emergency funds, such as the Red
Cross or the Salvation Army. Indeed, Americans, specifically, are the
most giving citizens in the world, as can be observed whenever some people
around the globe are struck with natural disasters.

Most of us who champion a fully free society also support
voluntary means for giving aid to those who need it. There is no one in
the libertarian movement I know of who opposes such means although they
all, without fail, oppose the coercive approach the government uses to
help people. Many of us also argue that voluntary means for helping those
in need of help are more effective and certainly more ethical than
government’s coercive ways. Some have researched this thoroughly and have
concluded that voluntary help is, overall, superior to coercively supplied
help not only because coercion is wrong in itself but also because the
voluntary approach tends to support a culture of mutual aid throughout a

No, I am not mean. I am personally a frequent contributor to
voluntary efforts to lend a hand even while my focus in my writings
happens to be mostly on eliminating coercion from human interactions.
That may be because I personally grew up in a country that was a police
state, where coercion of the citizenry was routine, the norm, and to even
argue against it could land one in a gulag. But just because my efforts
focus on securing or protecting the right to liberty of all it does not
follow that I and those like me fail to be generous, compassionate,
helpful, and so forth when such conduct is called for. But we oppose
efforts to make such conduct legally mandatory! It is clear to us, also,
that mandated charity or compassion has no moral worth at all since it
isn’t done of one’s own free will, a basic requirement of all moral or
ethical conduct.

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