Friday, December 4, 2009

The General Welfare and the Sacrifice of One

Wisdom of the Month via Walter Williams' Homepage

"They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare.... [G]iving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please."
-- Thomas Jefferson

When, if ever, does the end justify the means?

How can the "general welfare" justify violating individual rights?

Individual rights are the moral basis for preservation of the general welfare, for what is the general welfare but the welfare of the individuals of which the "general" consists? There can be no "general welfare" apart from the individual rights upon which it rests. An act which violates an individual's right to life, liberty or property destroys that which it claims to be promoting.

The sacrifice of one human being entails the sacrifice of the very principle of the right to life--whether it is done in the name of helping the poor or saving the environment. Both are worthy goals----but remain worthy only if they are accomplished through means which respect as an absolute the right of each man to his own life----and only to his own.



garret seinen said...

Beth, I have a problem with the phrase 'saving the environment'. The concept 'saving' is the opposite of destroying and yet I believe we have to destroy to create. I order to grow wheat, I take a piece of raw land with trees, meadows, and animal habitat, strip it clean of all that particular life and plant something I value more. I don't want to save the existing environment, I want to modify it.
Ensuring that the environment remains able to support life is different from 'saving' it.

Beth said...

RE: saving the environment.
I am sure that what I intend by "saving the environment" is not what is usually meant, so perhaps it is not the best choice of phrases. However, I happen to love the wilderness and pristine open spaces. I also think that freedom and wealth are the best means to preserving natural areas for their beauty and recreational opportunities--and that my love of these values does not justify the violation of individual rights in order to obtain them.
Part of my "environment" that I hope can be preserved is sustainable farmland, and esthetically pleasing cities, and my backyard as I have labored to landscape it.
I will see if I can construct a phrase that captures that deeper meaning.

Harold said...

Are you familiar with this guy? He talks about property rights and land use from an objective perspective.

Beth said...

Thanks for the referral. I took a peak and will need to spend more time there.
Great example of principles in action.