6. The Non-Initiation of Force
As a corollary to an individualist society, it is necessary that a nation not have the right or power to compel actions, even for its own survival. Were that right allowed, a nation of people would be permitted collectively to identify duties and responsibilities that individuals owed to the common good and then could compel with force if necessary unwilling citizens. To permit that would be inconsistent with the form of individualism in which individual rights actually mean that no human authority can compel an individual to do anything other than to desist from initiating force against another individual. Therefore, the "non-initiation of force" is a necessary part of the philosophy of individualism.
"The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that no man has the right to seek values from others by means of physical force--i.e., no man or group has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others. Men have the right to use force only in self-defense and only against those who initiate its use. Men must deal with one another as traders, giving value for value, by free, mutual consent to mutual benefit. The only social system that bars physical force from human relationships is laissez-faire capitalism. Capitalism is a system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which the only function of the government is to protect individual rights, i.e., to protect men from those who initiate the use of physical force." --Ayn Rand
The anti-socialist position implied here that no person should be compelled to surrender their property, including any part of their earnings, under the threat of force, for the use of someone else; that successful individuals should not be compelled to support failures; that there is no justification for taking from one who will work to give to one who will not, is a position fully supported by Jefferson.
"To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father's has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association--the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." --Thomas Jefferson: Note in Tracy's "Political Economy," 1816.
But, for Jefferson, this principle derives from the rights of property and the just administration of the state, not from the inability of government rightfully to collect taxes and to enforce its decrees.
"Our wish... is, that the public efforts may be directed honestly to the public good, that peace be cultivated, civil and religious liberty unassailed, law and order preserved, equality of rights maintained, and that state of property, equal or unequal, which results to every man from his own industry, or that of his fathers." --Thomas Jefferson: 2nd Inaugural, 1805.
It is the right to property earned and possessed, not the inability of lawful government to compel obedience, that is at issue. It is ludicrous to think that Jefferson would ever have suggested that lawful government, representing the will of a whole people, could be trumped by some imagined right of individuals to be free from coercion.
"A spirit of disobedience... must be subdued. Laws made by common consent must not be trampled on by individuals. It is very much the good to force the unworthy into their due share of contributions to the public support, otherwise the burden on them will become oppressive, indeed." --Thomas Jefferson to Col. Vanmeter, 1781.
To rest the right not to have one's property taken and given to another on a theory that the state has no power to compel its members to make contributions from their earnings for duly approved measures for the common good, is to completely distort the meaning of a free society and ultimately to undermine its authority and its continued existence. Only the most insignificant of organizations could continue to exist if it had no power to require specific contributions from its members.
What about any major corporation? McDonalds has the operating budget of most small countries without forcing anyone to buy it's products.Eyler Coates
This is not a good analogy, and illustrates the danger of using analogies to make an argument. The customers of McDonalds, or of any other major corporation, cannot be considered "members" of that organization. The "members" would surely be the employees and managers, and certainly they are required to make many specific contributions if they wish to retain "membership" and the benefits that accrue to members. But with such an analogy, one can get into all kinds of difficulties. For example, the stockholders and franchisees are not "members" either, but are "sovereign" owners. How far, and in what directions, one could move with that only shows how unproductive analogies are for proving anything.Alex Critchfield
So what is the relationship between citizens and government? You ruled out customers and mentioned employees. That does not seem to fit because employment is a voluntary contract between the two involved parties. I have no contract with the government unless you count the millions of pages of laws I am subject to, but I never voluntarily agreed with. I certainly would not sign a million page contract as obscure and vague as the laws of this country. If I am a stockholder in the government that implies my "ownership" is transferrable for other material gains.
This further illustrates the problems connected with arguments based on analogies. It is pointless, really, to try to understand the relationship between citizens and government based on the relationships between McDonalds and their employees, customers, OR owners. As soon as you do that, anyone can think of absudities that arise because of imperfections in the analogy. The relationship between citizens and government must be considered and understood in itself, not in a comparison to some other relationship. Almost everything about it is unique in comparison to the relationship of, say, customers, employees, or stockholders.Alex Critchfield
To say that a government could not exist without the use of force to pay for itself is admitting one of two things: 1 People are naturally selfish (in your definition of the term not Ayn Rand's) and refuse to do the "right" thing. If this is true govt by the people cannot work because people are too shortsighted to be able to govern themselves,
People are often selfish and shortsighted when it comes to their personal affairs. This selfishness often goes beyond rational self-interest, and causes many to harbor sentiments that would ultimately be destructive to the society as a whole.Alex Critchfield
Who exactly is it who gets to decide which sentiments are destructive to society as a whole? It doesnt make sense that the same people who are so short sighted and selfish personally suddenly become paragons of virtue when it comes to issues dealing with the whole of society.
Then who would you have decide? A dictator? But experience teaches that a dictator is EVEN MORE likely to decide improperly. The problem is, you are phrasing the question in theoretical extremes. People who are short-sighted and selfish are not that way 100% of the time. They do not ever become paragons of virtue when they decide issues that affect the whole of society, but they are often capable of making fairly good decisions when facing questions that concern the whole nation. But what does happen is certain TENDENCIES: fairly intelligent people, called upon to decide national issues, will tend to rise above petty concerns and make fairly decent choices. They can tell when a candidate for office is probably a crook, and the vast majority can be relied upon NOT to vote for someone who is a crook. It is this fact that makes popular government possible. Certainly, it has worked reasonably well in this country. In a representative democracy, the people decide some constitutional issues at a state level, but they mostly select fairly competent people who will make decisions in what they think will be a fairly competent manner. This is not an exact science, because nothing in this life is perfect.
This is one of the problems with Objectivist philosophy: It often puts questions in absurd, exaggerated, and impractical terms, and does not recognize the extensive experience of the human race with democratical government. Or if it does, it translates it into extremes that are dealt with in absolute terms. Life just cannot be approach on such simplistic terms. Practical politics means working with solutions that are "pretty good," that work "most of the time," or that work better than any alternatives; it does not deal with absolutes and perfection. What happens is, people who think in terms or absolutes and perfection can criticize, but they cannot provide a better alternative.
But the real question is, what is the alternative? How else would you have these decisions made? If they are not made through these procedures, based on the ultimate sovereignty of the people, then who will be the ultimate decider? WHO? I keep asking this question, but no one will tell me who besides the people themselves will decide these questions. Objectivists might answer in terms of certain principles, but principles don't make decisions; people do.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of people realize that the nation cannot exist in this world without a stable government. And they recognize that in order to have a stable government, it must be based on the rule of law. Moreover, they understand that in order to have a rule of law, ALL persons must be held accountable to the law, whether they agree with it or not, as long as the law has been produced through the established legal, democratic process.Alex Critchfield
So slavery was OK until the majority decided otherwise? What I am reading here is that there is no such thing as right and wrong, only majority agreement. 9 men and one woman on a desert island take a vote. It comes out 9 to 1 that the men be allowed to rape the woman every night. Should the woman humbly submit herself to the "rule of law" in order to prevent "anarchy?" Is it possible for the majority to be wrong or does the very fact that the are the majority make them right?
You are mixing two entirely separate questions. Majority rule is only a means for making decisions. It does not determine whether the decisions are right OR wrong. That is a moral question. We HOPE that people will decide morally, but if they don't, what do you propose to do? As James Madison wrote,
"To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea." --James Madison
I believe that the premise of majority rule is sound but the practice requires an educated enlightened populace which is sadly lacking at this point in history. Please watch a couple of episodes of "Cops" or "Jerry Springer" and tell me you feel secure knowing that the kind of people who enjoy these shows are deciding your fate at the ballot box.
There is no other way for a group of free people who have equal rights to make decisions EXCEPT by majority rule. The decision may be right or wrong. But in order for there to be a "right" decision when the majority decides wrongly, that decision must be made by someone who is in a superior position to the majority. A "right" decision cannot be forced on a group by a minority, if all the group members are equal.
The proper functioning of government DOES require an educated populace. That is why education is so important. But if the people are NOT sufficiently educated, there is no possibility for a free society.
I do not watch the trash on TV, and I realize a lot of people do watch it. But what they do for amusement does not necessarily say anything about how they might vote. At any rate, the nation cannot be morally better than its people. Again, how would you change it? Appoint a morally perfect dictator?
The vast majority agree with the rule of law and the democratic process, because they know that there is no other way that a stable government can be maintained, and whether they like some of the final outcomes or not, stable government under the rule of law is more important than the outcome on any single controverted issue.
Therefore, government by the people DOES work, because the vast majority realize that, regardless of their dissatisfaction on any given issue, they are compelled to support lawful government, or the whole society is doomed to anarchy, chaos, and destruction. This ignores, for the moment, the anarchists, because they are, fortunately, a tiny minority. It will be found that on almost any issue whatsoever, there will always be at least a tiny minority that are in disagreement. Popular government works because it is able to ignore such fringe sentiments.
[Or,] 2 The government doesn't provide any services which people would be willing to pay for, therefore it has no useful function beyond self-perpetuation and should be altered anyway.
As mentioned above, there will always be a minority of some size or other that disagree with any given policy or program. That is human nature. Fortunately, the government can function in spite of such disagreements because it does not rely on unanimous consent. It relies basically on the "lex majoris partis," or majority rule. But majority rule would be meaningless and ineffective as a means for a large group of persons to make decisions affecting the whole group, if a minority were free to disregard the decisions of the group. That would undermine the whole system of stable government and rule of law, because, as we pointed out previously, there will ALWAYS be a minority who will disagree with any decision of a large group.
While it is always true that a dissenting individual can quit such an organization if he chooses not to pay assessments, and, similarly, a dissenting citizen may emigrate if he chooses not to pay taxes, it is the height of absurdity to propose that the organization or the state itself has no right to make such assessments in the first place.
The real significance of the non-initiation of force doctrine is its opposition to the very principle of self-government, i.e., government of, by and for the people. In denying all rights except those that belong to individuals, this doctrine denies to a people their right to nationhood and their right to a common destiny. The Founding Fathers never contemplated the idea that individual rights took precedence over national sovereignty. Jefferson stated it thus:
"Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government... This, like all other natural rights, may be abridged or modified in its exercise by their own consent, or by the law of those who depute them, if they meet in the right of others." --Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on Residence Bill, 1790.
All natural rights may be abridged or modified in their exercise by the consent of the governed. This means, of course, the collective consent; as indicated below, bodies of men express their will through their majority, and the majority of one vote is to be respected as though it were unanimous. If we were to assume that a body of individuals, such as a whole nation of people, could give their consent to an abridgment or modification of their rights, but that any members who individually refused their consent were not bound by the decisions of the majority, decisions of the majority would be meaningless, and the collective consent of a body of people would be a mockery.
The doctrine that force can never be initiated against a member of society denies to an entire nation of people its sovereignty. To this, some naive persons might reply, "Good! Sovereignty should rest in the individual." But national sovereignty, the power to make decisions and laws for the nation as a whole, cannot rest in the individual. To deprive a whole people of their sovereignty is to deny that nation of its right to exist as a nation. Objectivists treat nations and other associations of people, not as existing entities, but "merely" as collections of individuals. They afford to those collections no collective rights whatever. But this is nothing more than an attempt to change the nature of something by redefining its properties. It is a pointless attempt to deny what is plain to any person of common sense. A people obviously form a nation and do things and act in ways that no individual can. Nations have powers and rights that no individual can exercise, most importantly the right and power to form new governments and make of that government what they please. This is most clearly spelled out by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, and it is the very means by which individual rights are secured.
"To secure these [inalienable] rights [to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed... Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." --Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence, 1776.
No individual has the right to alter or abolish a government, much less to institute new government. Indeed, some individuals have seized that right in some countries--a fact that demonstrates that indeed the right to perform such acts does exist. But no individual has a natural right to exert such power. It is frustrating to have to explain this to persons bent on denying even the most obvious facts just because those persons are determined to believe that "only individuals have rights." Individuals have rights, nations have rights, corporations have rights, ships on the open seas have rights; it is only abstract theorizing that defines such rights out of existence.
What the "non-initiation of force" means is that a people, coming together to form a nation, establishing the rights and duties that shall exist for themselves, are, by this doctrine, denied their right to govern themselves and to demand of members the duties and other requirements which it decides are necessary for their mutual well-being--species of requirements which even a high-school debating society has the right to determine for itself. This non-initiation of force dogma says that such a people lack the right to enforce those measures they in their wisdom deem necessary for their common good on those rebellious individuals who choose to enjoy the benefits of association in society, but refuse to share the duties and responsibilities for the maintenance of the society. Individual sovereignty means the will of each individual is placed above the sovereign will of a whole nation.
Notice that even the staunchest supporters of this doctrine do not deny that government has the power to compel performance; all governments have this power, however it may be used. What they attempt to do is philosophically emasculate their own government and render it incapable of exercising governmental power. Since this power exists in all states of the world, whether for ill or otherwise, the result of such a policy would be to give the enemies of a state--and the most vicious of that breed also--a destructive advantage over one's own country. Thus, this doctrine acts as a Trojan Horse in America, whether intentionally or not.
"The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man's rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man's self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law." -- Ayn Rand, "Galt's Speech," Atlas Shrugged
Such a doctrine denies to a people the power to take concerted action for their common good, except those that protect individuals from the use of force. It decrees that all such actions outside of such police protections must be taken by individuals.
This undermining of government is rationalized by the assumption that if the philosophy were fully and perfectly implemented, rational individuals would always respond to a nation's real defensive needs. And a sovereign nation is told that other functions that it wishes to perform for itself are disallowed. But we are compelled to ask, Who, then, or what power will tell a sovereign nation what they can and cannot do, if the greater portion of its citizens determines on a certain course of action? This is the question left unanswered. Those who would propose these doctrines also, as we shall see, deny the power of the people through, democratic processes, to change the principles of the government under which they live. How then will these doctrines be made effective? What sovereign entity shall declare them the policies by which the nation shall be governed? Obviously, the only way such a theory could be rightly implemented is through the very means which the theory denies and despises: the majority will of the people themselves.
Recognizing the vulnerability of a nation practicing non-initiation of force in a world of nothing but power and force, the claim might be made that at least the influence of these ideas would serve as a constructive ideal. But would they? Would even a partial move toward this principle make a nation stronger and safer? Not likely. These ideas could only serve to weaken, not strengthen a nation vis-a-vis other nations. They sap a nations unity and vitality as each individual declares his independence from the nation itself. The dissemination of these ideas would not make us more secure, but less so. Their effect is to lessen the confidence of people in government and to foster a rebellious attitude toward the authority legitimately invested in the state by the people.
The real result of a greater proliferation of these vitiating ideas would not be the progress toward a healthy political ideal, but the gradual disintegration of society itself, along with the disappearance of effective law and order. In the vacuum thus formed, raw power would doubtless exert itself, and the blessings of liberty would be lost as despotism rose to the occasion.
But here is another conundrum. All societies consist of persons who are irrational, who make decisions on the basis of narrow, prejudiced views. In order for there to be an Objectivist Society or any other society based on a "rational theory," its institution would be much like that necessary for communism: The nation would need to be subjected to authoritarian rule to prevent those who are "unenlightened" from undermining the fledgling society. And that form of repression would need to be continued until the consciousness of the whole society was "raised" to an acceptable level. All teaching and doctrine contrary to the "Received Truth" would need to be suppressed, for that would only undermine the dissemination of this "truth." As we know from experience with communism, that need never ends, and the promise of a "pure" society becomes an excuse for perpetual oppression and tyranny.
But, someone might ask, Isn't the American society based on the indoctrination of a similar political theory? Isn't America dominated by a political idea? The answer is, It is not. The American society is inspired by ideas and ideals and principles and theories; but it is founded on the organization of sovereign POWER, in which the people themselves are the ultimate sovereign. Therefore, as Jefferson wrote, we can tolerate any kind of dissenting ideas as long as we are free to contradict them.
"If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801.
The structure of American government started out more idealistically pure than it is today. But no theory of government can be maintained except through some form of dictatorship unless it is embedded in the hearts of its people. When a nation's government rests on popular sovereignty, the principles that govern it must be embraced by the people, or it will soon become corrupted. Hence, when we look for the preservation of a free state, we cannot depend on its theoretical establishment, but we must depend on the people themselves and their education for the burden of self-government. Such exalted principles as we believe our nation is founded upon cannot of themselves endure unless they are embraced by the people of this nation. And the most important element in maintaining those principles in the heart of the people is that they be educated in them.
"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." --Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820.
And this only emphasizes another point that Rand ignores: Freedom means that a whole nation has gained the right to liberty and is engaged in maintaining it. Freedom in the political sense is won and possessed by nations, not by individuals, and it is done with guarantees (such as Constitutions and Bills of Right) that are effective generally. It occurs as the result of a common, unified effort, or it doesn't happen at all. Those ideas and theories that would undermine this collective nature of freedom undermine freedom itself.
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