Column on Friends & Politics

Friends & Politics

Tibor R. Machan

Yes, most of my friends have similar political convictions to mine. Actually, not just political but also more general philosophical ones, bearing on the theory of being, knowledge, the human good and even the nature of art. But not all. I do have some genuine friends who disagree with me on important matters, including politics. How is that possible for someone who takes politics as seriously as I do?

Well, for lovers of human liberty an implication of their outlook is not to push people too heard about their convictions. Yes, one can try to argue them into holding different ideas from those they do hold, although it rarely pays off and even when it does, it takes years. Serious folks, which doesn’t mean morose or ornery ones, do hold on to their convictions more vigilantly than others, partly because they came about holding them through hard work, elaborate reflection, experimentation, study and so forth. To just change would be unlikely.

Even the few people I know of, both in the history of human thought and among ordinary folks, who have gone through major changes, there is something that remains pretty steadfast. I know one famous English thinker who moved politically from out and out classical liberal to radical Leftist. He would seem to contradict the idea of not changing one’s mind about important matters. And indeed at a certainly level of thinking he hasn’t changed, ever. He has always been a radical skeptic, someone who believed that people really cannot know the world well enough to be sure about it. So he has found it easier to change his mind on particular matters because what he believed didn’t amount to something he actually thought he knew to be true, only an opinion (and he thought everyone else, too, only had such rather flexible opinions even when they thought otherwise).

Anyway, I have some friends who actually believe of themselves that they are out and out socialists while I am of course a firm capitalist or libertarian. In certain cases the reason we can be friends is that on many other fronts we see eye to eye, like about raising children, being responsible in one’s personal affairs instead of dumping on others, keeping one’s word and so forth. But, yes, in matters of politics these friends reject what I embrace–and they vote that way, support politicians and legislation accordingly. We then tend to stay away from these topics or when we just no longer can do so, we deal with them gingerly, delicately, in very civil terms. But most of the time we agree to disagree and our friendship rests on other things, like our personalities, tastes and preferences in sports and our equal devotion to our families.

I have even maintained pretty solid ties with people who are deeply religious, while I am totally tone deaf to religion, cannot ultimately fathom what it is about. Yet life has so many facets to it that can be kept within their own compartments that our friendship, though wobbly at times, can continue.

About certain old friends, whom I have known and loved since we were teens, who call themselves socialists there is something else that makes it not too difficult to keep up our friendship. In my view they misunderstand socialism and think it means something like being kind and considerate toward those in dire straits, people who have been unlucky and need a helping hand. This attitude of kindness and compassion is often, in my view quite mistakenly, associated with the politics of the Left. But that is really a mistake.

The bulk of the political Left isn’t so much kind, generous, compassionate, and helpful but supports the kind of public policies we have been hearing about a lot lately, namely, coercive, state enforced wealth redistribution. Robbing Peter to help out Paul isn’t being generous, although it may appear so if one focuses only on motivation, since often the robbing comes initially from wanting to lend a hand. People then tend to overlook the robbery and concentrate only on the benign intentions, often forgetting that if anyone they knew actually went about committing burglaries or robberies in their neighborhoods with the excuse that they will give away the loot to the needy, they would probably not approve of this. (It is useful to remember here that even Robin Hood didn’t rob the rich but those who ripped off the poor, indeed, that tax takers!)

Still, the association of socialism with kindness will probably continue because it is so easy to judge things by appearances alone without going into the details. In this case the detail is that while one usually reaches out to help others from one’s own resources, including one’s time and skills, under socialism it is powerful politicians who forcibly dip into other people’s pockets to carry out their helpful policies.

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