Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is the idea of voluntary government utopian

If everyone acted rationally, would we need a government? I think yes. Even rational people can disagree. Rationality does not mean omniscience or infallibility, nor does it exclude the existence of grey areas which must be adjudicated.

But, I do not premise my defense of voluntary funding of government on an expectation that everyone will act rationally. My argument is premised on a particular understanding of human nature which then determines the requirements for living a fully human life, and thus leads further to the conclusion that proper human interactions must exclude the initiation of force.

1. As living organisms, we must act to live.

2. As conscious beings possessing free will, we must choose which actions to take in order to live. Our unique means of deciding entails reason as the means by which we evaluate the world and make our decisions. In other words, reason is the means of our survival, of promoting and preserving our lives.

3. In order for us to put our decisions into action, we must be free to act. To accomplish this in a world shared by other human beings, we must construct rules of social interaction which recognize and protect that freedom of action. Such freedom is not license to do whatever one pleases or freedom for the requirements of nature. Rather, my understanding of freedom is simply freedom from the initiation of force. The principle which guides the limits of these freedoms in a social context is the fact of self ownership which gives rise to a right to one’s own life, and only one’s own life.

Since one’s means of survival, of preserving and promoting one’s life, is reason, a man must be free to use his mind in service of his life. Human beings can interact only in one of two ways: voluntarily through persuasion, or coercively through the use or threat of force. Persuasion leaves each man free to act on his own assessment of reality. the Initiation of force allows one man to impose his views and values upon another thus severing a man’s actions from his judgment ---directly in violation of a man’s right to his own life.

The rights to liberty (freedom to act) and private property (the right to the results of one’s actions) are corollaries to the right to one’s own life. Applied consistently, one man’s rights begin where another man’s rights end.

Reason could not function without free will---they are two sides of the same coin. Along with free will comes fallibility—which means errors in thinking and judgment, irrationality and evasions. Not all people will be rational or respect the rights of others—and that is why we need an institution which acts to protect individual rights. That is the proper function of government.

This is why I disagree that my concept of government is utopian. I am doing my best to advocate for a form of government based on my understanding of human nature and the requirements of human life. From this perspective, it is “utopian” to think you can open the Pandora’s box of accepting the initiation of force as legitimate in some realms and have any basis for eliminating the initiation of force in other realms.

My respect for each individual life demands that I employ only persuasion in my interactions with others (except in the case of self-defense) --even to the extent of how to fund the institution to which I have delegated the job of protecting my life.

From my perspective, it is more naive to believe that we can consistently respect other human beings under a system which justifies the use of non-defense force than to have confidence in a system which strives to deny the initiation of force as a legitimate means of achieving any end.



Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Excellent argument. I don't think I've seen the need for government without the initiation of force put so succinctly and so well. May I link?

HaynesBE said...

Re: linking.

Of course. Anytime. I am honored!

Anonymous said...

I understand your point, Beth, but I don't see how it can work except as a utopian ideal. Help me think through this, and, for argument's sake, let's limit ourselves to the funding of the military. Let's futher use the example of two neighbors, A and B, who farm corn for sustenance in a city-state surrounded by a wall. ANd, to simplify, let's say that A nd B are the only producers capable of funding the military.

I'm sure you would agree that it would be a violation of A's rights for B to forceably take his corn. That would be stealing and police, courts, etc. take care of that. But now let's say that in order for A and B and everyone else in the city-state to continue their lives there needs to be a military. Funding the military to the extent required to protect the city-state costs 1 unit of corn. "B" decides he doesn't want to fund the military, so, A gives up 1 unit of corn to fund it. In effect, B is availing himself of the benefit of 1/2 a unit of A's corn. Given that "B" knows that others will be afraid to call his bluff and let the military disintegrate, i.e., he knows that "A" will foot the bill so he doesn't have to, how is this morally different from him simply taking 1/2 unit of corn from A to begin with? Isn't this a use of psychological force to benefit from A's corn?

Would the city-state not be justified in saying, 'If you want the continued benefit of living in our city-state, "B", you must contribute 1/2 unit of corn to support the military; otherwise you will have to take your belongings and find somewhere else to live.' Is that force, or is that simply articulating the conditions of belonging to the community and letting "B" decide how he wishes to live his life?


HaynesBE said...

Thank you for responding. I hope you are able to be patient. I have some pressing matters to attend to so it will take some time before I can respond--but I will respond. I want to carefully read through all of your answers/questions/responses to understand them as fully as I can as a whole. At first glance, we at the very least need some further clarification of terms.
Thanks again for your thoughts and your time.

Anonymous said...

Beth, have you moved on the oil spill issue in hopes of leaving behind the more fundamental and troubling qustions regarding Objectivism and government?