Tibor R. Machan
Ever since the idea of individual liberty has achieved some measure of credibility over the world, those who would be unseated by its limited triumph had to find some way to discredit it or trump it somehow. One way was to re-christen servitude, to make it appear like an even more important kind of liberty than what individual liberty, properly understood, amounts to.
When a human being is free in the most important, political sense, he or she is sovereign. This means that one governs one’s own life—others must refrain from intruding on this life, plain and simple. That life may be fortunate or not, rich or not, beautiful or not, and many other things or not, but what matters is that that life is no one else’s to mess with. One gets to run it, no one else does.
Now this is a very uncomfortable idea for all those folks who see all kinds of benefits from running other people’s lives. But they cannot champion this now in so many words, what with individual liberty having gained solid enough standing, so the only way to remedy matters for them is to claim that their oppression brings even greater freedom to people than the respect and protection of individual liberty.
So, we have the kind of “freedoms” propounded by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the freedoms now dubbed “positive.” These freedoms do not get rid of those who would use you, interfere with you, invade your life, rob, kill, or assault you but promise, to the contrary, to take good care of you without your having to do much by invading others, by violating their individual liberties. These are the entitlement rights offered up by proponents of the welfare state, all those who claim that government is best when it is generous, when it becomes the Nanny State—meaning, when it enslaves Peter to serve Paul.
I am not sure about what exactly motivates this ruse—some of it is surely the thirst for power. When you want to enslave people, promise them a special kind of liberty. Castro managed to win over millions of Cubans this way, as did other Marxists in Eastern Europe and in Latin America.
Maybe a few folks actually honestly believed that this kind of political alternative is best for us all, but it is difficult to imagine what would persuade them of such a fraudulent notion. Giving people this positive freedom must always involve depriving other people of their individual liberty, their “negative” freedom, which is to say, their sovereignty and their freedom from having others interfere with their lives, from depriving them of their resources and labor and regulating them to the hilt.
Now, there is little that can be done about this in the short run—when people put their minds to such deceptions, the only ultimate defense is clear thinking and vigilance, which is unfortunately always in short supply and needs to be slowly cultivated. Too many people are tempted by the promise of effortless living, of getting all their problems solved at the point of a gun turned on others who will be coerced to come up with the solutions. This is such a sweet notion to those who are lazy, who feel left out, or who believe that they are entitled to everything all those who are better off already have going for them, so the power-hungry have a good marketing ploy here. Envy, maybe, or the bogus political ideologies promoted by those who just must step in to govern the world as they see fit—as I say, I am not sure what kind of mental acrobatics manages to allow people to live with themselves in peace who perpetrate such fraud.
I do know of one prominent one, namely, that those who want to wield control over others believe they are on the side of goodness, virtue and justice. Making people “good” is their goal, they proclaim. Yet this just cannot be since people are only good, morally and ethically, if they choose to be. Otherwise they at most simply behave well, like robots or puppets.
Despite the fact that there is little one can do in response, other than to keep spelling out just how misguided it all is, perhaps now and then institutional barriers can also be built. Yet, since they too depend upon ideas, ideas that are so easily corrupted, the only real answer is the old one about eternal vigilance. I say, it’s worth it, so let’s go for it.