I’m finally responding to Larry’s comment. I love reasoned debate, but it’s downside is that it’s far less flashy. Hopefully, some obnoxious dingbat will find his or her way here soon so that I can show off how well I can rip into them. But if that doesn’t happen, my next two posts will be useful examples of rhetoric. In the meanwhile, back to plain and boring respect:
“All things being equal, shouldn’t we follow the course of less compulsion?”
Why? Seriously. Why? Why shouldn’t greater compulsion, why shouldn’t the ability to compel, be the standard for deciding otherwise-unanswered questions?
The “course of less compulsion” derives directly from the I principle (I am what I am). I am neither inferior nor superior to you and therefore have no right to make you do what I want. I could spend hours on end describing why I believe in I, but for brevity’s sake I’ll leave it at that for now.
If you want to lay down “follow[ing] the course of less compulsion” as a baseline moral or ethical principle, you surely can; indeed all moral and ethical standards, when pushed far enough, eventually come to a point of “it’s right just because it is,” but still then you have to present it as such, not as a logical argument.
I’ve just “present[ed]” I “as such” and derived “‘the course of less compulsion’ as a baseline moral or ethical principle'” for a government, but not for an individual or society. Recognizing and respecting individual autonomy is merely a starting point. Our moral objectives, which are no less important, I describe as G (which I’ve touched on in other posts and on which I’ll elaborate more later).
But if it’s not to be a baseline, if it’s to be a conclusion, an argument from underlying principles, then how do you show that less compulsion is better than, more ethical than (recall the word “should” implies some sort of ethical judgment), more complusion without simply assuming it is?
Although it would take forever and a day to prove I and support it against every imaginable objection, it’s results can be aptly demonstrated. Government is an agent of force, and force by nature opposes individual autonomy.
My third axiomatic principle is A (A is A), and a sub-principle of A is that people are people. Human nature is such that Man wants power. Sometimes he wants it for his own ends, sometimes he’s more altruistic, but even the most rudimentary study of history indicates that he will subvert others to his own ends when given the chance (sometimes even for their own good).
If government allows any other principle to supersede I, I will be consumed by it. I requires force on its side to preserve itself. Any legitimate agent of force, if not dedicated to I‘s preservation, will eventually consume it. Even if somebody’s violating I for ostensibly noble reasons, the precedent set by said violation will eventually result in further violations for less noble ends. An absolute yet benevolent monarch may not be particularly harmful in and of himself (although G must be voluntary), there’s no guarantee his son won’t be the next Pol Pot, or that the absolute power he uses won’t attract some other guy to try to take his power from him. Only a government dedicated to I can mitigate this.
And then there is the phrase that cuts to the heart of things: “unless it’s necessary.”
Necessary to preserve I.
Who decides when force is “necessary,” for what reason it’s necessary, and what level of it is necessary?
This necessitates some fluidity. No government has the right to infringe upon our constitutionally enumerated rights. Some governments (federal, state, or local) will invariably try to do so. I generally favor more local autonomy regarding these decisions, but unlike many other libertarians, I acknowledge that local governments can be incredibly oppressive.
Nevertheless, an oppressive local government in most cases can’t be as oppressive as the federal government in that you’re more likely to have a say in what that government does, and that you can move. If some small town cop in Indiana confiscates your car for a broken taillight, another government needs to come in and stop it. Yes, it’s a bitch to move (especially if your house is underwater), but it’s a hell of a lot harder to renounce your citizenship.
I therefore favor local control but recognize the need for other forces to keep it in check.
Can “necessary” involve the ethical, the for lack of a better term spiritual, or must it be merely the physical (and why or why not)?
For reasons I’ve described above, I don’t think it should, but I again grant local governments more autonomy in this regard. I think Romneycare was idiotic, but a federal government with the power to overturn Romenycare would also have the power to overturn other state laws I do like. In short, the more removed from the individual (the feds, followed by the state, etc.), the more that government should stick to a stricter interpretation of I. I acknowledge that we will never strick a perfect balance, but if I is duly recognized, at least we’ve got a shot.
Could not, to put that in more direct terms, a society decide that there is a moral necessity to see to it that none in that society lack adequate nutrition and then decide that taxation to finance the needed aid is “the course of least compulsion” toward that end, a means preferable to sending armed guards to your house to rifle through your cabinets and just take some of your food for redistribution? If not, why not? (Note that appeals to private charity do not answer the question since such a society would by the very premise have already determined that private charity is inadequate to the necessary end. The question here is who gets to decide what’s “necessary.”)
Your final parenthetical is the kicker. If a society has decided that “private charity is inadequate to the necessary end” and elects a government to follow this directive, it has by nature violated I. However, the more local the government in question, the less of a problem I have with it. The closer a government is to the problem at hand, the more responsive and flexible it can be, so it’s more likely to be effective and it’s not as much of a violation of your sovereignty in that it’s easier to remove yourself from the necessary compulsion.
However, yes, a taxation system would be less of a violation than the National Guard rummaging through your cupboards.
The reason I frame these questions through the ugly prism of force isn’t that I don’t think a government ever will or should violate our I, it’s that if we frame it that way, we’re likely to violate I far less often. There are infrastructure needs, plagues, and other emergencies that unfortunately require limitations on certain liberties. However, if we’re constantly weighing whatever benefit we might derive from some action against the knowledge that we’re messing with somebody’s rights, we won’t do it as much.
The private sector can’t do absolutely everything, but it should be given the benefit of the doubt. Today, nearly every time we confront a problem, our knee-jerk reaction is to start some new program. Not only do these programs violate I, they rarely solve the problems they were set out to solve and instead set up new interest groups that have a vested interest in keeping the “solution” going.
Big government doesn’t just violate I, it violates A as well. People like getting stuff for free. Make hiring people more expensive and fewer people will have jobs. Incentives usually trump morality, so if you pay people based on their need, people are more likely to have more needs. Likewise, “from each according to his abilities” means that people are just going to hide their abilities.
Furthermore, when we outsource our morality to the State, our hearts are even less set on G. Despite all their government “help”, there’s still homelessness in Europe, and Europeans are a hell of a lot less likely to give to charities to help the homeless. In Mexico, there’s almost no Social Security to speak of, but families and communities care for an honor their elderly (much like we used to). In France, the government “takes care” of its elderly and they abandoned thousands of their parents and grandparents to die in a heat wave.
I’d rather grow old in Mexico any day. I know that private charity often fails. However, when government fails, it quashes our love for one another in the process.