Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Source of True Benevolence

"Absolute power corrupts even when exercised for humane purposes. The benevolent despot who sees himself as a shepherd of the people still demands from others the submissiveness of sheep. The taint inherent in absolute power is not its inhumanity but its anti-humanity."

-- Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) American author, philosopher, awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom Source: The Ordeal of Change (1963), Chapter 15 (HT Liberty Quotes)

What makes a despot a despot is the initiation of force used in place of persuasion. Despotism can be implemented by an individual (dictator, King, Imam, etc.) an elite minority (aristocracy, Politburo, etc.) or by unlimited majority rule (democracy, democratic socialism, etc.)

The despotism we face today, here in the United States, is that of insufficiently limited majority rule guided by political leaders who have no compunction about using force to achieve their goals. The use of force is justified by the fact they wield it for the sake of the poor, or the planet, or the uninsured, or the foolish investor or a failing business--but it is force none-the-less.

This is not the road to peace and prosperity. There is no compassion in denying a man the right and the ability to freely live his own life for his own sake. Compelling a man to sacrifice his life, or labor, or property for the lives or goals of others breeds resentment and hatred, or slavish submission. Other men become threats and/or burdens to one's own well-being. The use of such force reinforces the use of political power to gain special advantages at the sake of others less powerful.

The antidote is the absolute prohibition of the initiation of force, guided by a proper understanding of the individual rights of life, liberty and property, implemented through a constitutional republic whose sole purpose is the protection of those individual rights. It is only within such a system that true benevolence can be found. When the right of the individual to live for his own sake is jealously and consistently defended, the only permitted interactions are persuasion and voluntary trade. Contracts are upheld by law. Violence is prohibited. Fraud is carefully defined, outlawed and duly punished. Other men become values, potential assets and allies in the preservation and flourishing of one's own life.

Wealth is not the problem--neither its production nor consumption. Selfishly valuing and living one's own life is not the problem.

The problem stems from the failure to banish the initiation of force from the armamentarium of acceptable means for achieving one's goals--either as an individual, or as a community of any size. White-washing force through a political process of voting does not change the essential nature of the act.

The use of such force is an indispensable part of the legislation currently being debated or implemented: bills on energy, climate change, banking, business bailouts, economic "stimulus" programs and on and on. It is also integral to all welfare programs, which by their very nature involve forcibly taking from some to give to others: the new healthcare "reform" proposals, the old Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, government-funded education, government unemployment benefits, and on and on. The desire for everyone to live a full, comfortable and healthy life is laudable, but the listed programs are not benevolent in their means, even if compassionate and well-meaning in their ends.

Kindness, compassion, charity, love---these all can only exist voluntarily. The only truly benevolent stance with regard to another human being is "Convince me, or leave me alone." All else entails force and is inhumane and anti-human, no matter how well intentioned.


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