Tibor R. Machan
Despite all efforts to deny it, by philosophers, natural scientists, and psychologists, there is little doubt that human beings have free will. That is one way they are so different from the rest of the world.
The impetus to deny free will is not difficult to appreciate. For many people nothing would be more convenient than to reduce everything in the world to just one kind of stuff. It used to be atoms; then it was matter-in-motion; later some more complicated subatomic stuff took front and center; today the candidate that is getting some traction is strings. But the basic message is always the same: the world is made of just one kind of stuff (like we are all made up of dust).
This idea has its advantages. If it is true, then one need but learn just one science, that of the stuff of which the world is made. No need for different disciplines like chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, ethics and such. Just one principle of motion will do the trick since everything is the same. Differences among things are an illusion. And the same causal principle drives it all, so no need to figure what makes different things tick in, say, chemistry or biology, as if there were different kinds of things making up reality.
The evidence doesn’t support this view. Just check around and see if everything is the same. Major differences are observable between, say, rocks and fish, birds and lions, people and donkeys and so on and so forth. Lumping them all together seems to me the lazy way to study them.
Now if there are genuine, bona fide differences among things in the world, it would not be odd at all that human beings are different in the important respect that they can exercise a unique capacity of free will, to direct their own conduct by their own initiative. Apart from the fact that this is very difficult to deny even as we discuss the issue–how would one explain all the different ways people behave, believe, hope, wish, etc?–it also makes sense of how differently we see the free will issue. What other plant or animal has such a wide variety of opinions, religions, politics, and so on, on some topic? This is best explained by the postulation of human freedom of thought.
Now why is this important just now? Because our free will also makes it understandable that people are able to be good and bad and move along the continuum between those two opposites. And this applies to their politics, not only ethics. We are witnessing it every day as we learn of crimes being committed all around the globe, throughout human history, with no progress in stemming it in any significant measure. Both immorality and illegality testify to the basic human capacity to choose between doing what is right versus what is wrong, whatever the details.
Not only that but this capacity needs to be kept in mind as we understand political ups and downs in various societies.
As a case in point, take socialism. It is a vile political system, a grand one-side-fits all regime, with a few "leaders"–would be tyrants–running the show for all the great variety of individuals who really need to be free to direct their own lives for better or worse. But now, socialists, one group of political criminals, keep attempting to ride rough shod over everyone. (They aren’t the only ones but one of the most active current crop, ruining Greece, France, as well as much of Latin and North America.) They will make some headway, just as often criminals will succeed in violating victims and getting away with it with impunity. In Eastern Europe these criminals lorded it over millions, with catastrophic results, for the better part of the 20th century–both the national and international socialist varieties. Today we have some of them still in full power, in North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, but elsewhere their failure at doing any good at all has become evident. Still, as with criminals, they keep trying again and again.
In the U.S.A. they have not had much success nor, however, have they disappeared, no more so than have ordinary criminals vanished. For now the socialists are back with a vengeance, taking over a larger and larger portion of American culture. And one needs to remember that even criminals are not uniformly evil–some love dogs, some may even be decent parents or fine bowlers, you name it. But in essence they are corrupt human beings and so are socialists, when it comes to political ideas and ideals.
The only remedy is that old standby of eternal vigilance. The human spirit isn’t going to permanently conquer political crime, any more than the other kind. But it may make progress toward justice and liberty in a sort of roller coaster fashion. I am ready for the next upward swing, big time.