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The Evil of Statism

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I oftentimes wonder what causes a statist to be a statist. Whatever the reason, one thing is certain: Every generation has its share of statists — people who wish to impose their values on other people, not by persuasion but rather by force.

Consider, for example, the issue of helping the poor with a donation. Suppose a millionaire is asked to donate $100 to the poor. He declines to do so, saying, “I hate the poor and I refuse to help them in any respect whatsoever.”

For libertarians, the moral issue is clear-cut — black and white. The man has the right to make that choice. It’s his money. It’s his life. It’s his decision. What is freedom if it’s not having the unfettered right to make that type of choice?

We might all agree that moral principles dictate helping the poor. We can cite the Bible as evidence that this is what God wants people to do. We can show how the man’s donation would help buy food for the poor. We can beseech him to change his mind.

But the central point remains: Why shouldn’t the millionaire (and everyone else) be free to make that decision for himself?

The statist sees things differently. He has absolutely no problem with forcing the millionaire to do the “right” thing, especially if it can be shown that the force contributes to the well-being of the poor. For the statist, the end — helping the poor — justifies the means — forcing the millionaire to share his money.

Another example: drug laws. For the life of me, I simply cannot understand the statist mindset when it comes to drugs.

Suppose that millionaire decides to spend every day of his life sitting in his house smoking dope, snorting cocaine, or injecting heroin.

For a libertarian, the issue is, once again, clear cut. The man has a right to live his life in this manner. Sure, we can all agree that it’s not a healthy existence, that he’s likely taking himself to an early grave, and that he’s missing out on the fullness of life.

But we libertarians would say: None of that entitles us to force the man to give up his lifestyle. We do not have the right to punish him for his drug choices or to impose our values on him by force.

Not so with statists. They go ballistic when they see someone behaving irresponsibly by ingesting drugs. They want the person prosecuted and incarcerated, with the aim of changing him into a decent, responsible, productive member of society. Statists simply cannot stand the thought that someone isn’t living life in accordance with what the statist considers to be some sort of societal standard of proper conduct.

Or consider the recent flap over federal laws that punish private individuals for discriminating against others on the basis of race. Again, for libertarians the issue is clear cut: A person has the fundamental right to associate with anyone he chooses and on any basis he chooses. He might be the biggest bigot in the world, choosing only to associate with white supremacists, but that’s what freedom is all about — the right to make whatever choices one wants in his life, so long as his conduct is peaceful — i.e., no murder, rape, theft, fraud, or other violent assaults against others.

Not so with the statists. Unable to accept that there will be people who choose to discriminate against others on the basis of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, or any other reason, they wish to impose their values by force on such people, in order to preclude them from living life the way they choose.

What matters for libertarians is the concept of freedom and free will, which necessarily entails choosing peaceful courses of action that entail irresponsible, unpopular, boorish, or offensive conduct. Even if it could be shown that force might bring about positive results, libertarians would still oppose it on moral grounds — that freedom entails the right to make such choices.

What matters for statists is the eradication of irresponsible, unpopular, boorish, and offensive conduct from society, even if they have to use coercion to do it. For them, “freedom” entails the “right” to make only those choices that are popularly considered responsible or correct ones. Thus, for the statist there’s nothing wrong with employing force to prevent people from making the wrong peaceful choices.

The late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, who authored the deeply insightful books The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie, wrote, “I define evil, then, as the exercise of political power — that is, the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion — in order to avoid extending one’s self for the purpose of nurturing spiritual growth.”

I wonder how many statists think about that when imposing their values on others with force, thereby denying people the dignity and respect of making their own peaceful choices in life.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.