6. The Non-Initiation of Force, Cont'd
Compulsory Military Service
A society forms a government to protect individual rights and "to secure the greatest degree of happiness possible to the general mass of those associated under it." The government necessarily has the right to require certain actions by its citizens in the furtherance of this object and to force compliance if it is not forthcoming. Securing our rights is certainly the first object of government.
"It is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all." --Thomas Jefferson to Francois D'Ivernois, 1795.
But securing our rights is not the only purpose of government, and even that object cannot be fulfilled unless government has the powers necessary for it to exist and to perform its functions. The most obvious instances, and the ones that give the most trouble to Non-initiators, are:
1. The necessity of a nation to defend itself against invaders and to compel its citizens to assist in that defense if necessary. The answer given is that we should rely on volunteers entirely; if the cause is just, rational citizens will always come to the defense of their homeland. In this way, the future of a whole society rests upon hopeful expectation. What great nation could plan and mobilize for an effective defense in an all-out war resting solely on such uncertainties? Even if a volunteer service is frequently sufficient for some wars, what nation would be so foolish as to place upon itself any limitations whatsoever to its ability to defend itself in time of crisis?
"A ship at sea in distress for provisions meets another having abundance, yet refusing a supply; the law of self preservation authorizes the distressed to take a supply by force. In all these cases, the unwritten laws of necessity, of self-preservation, and of the public safety control the written laws of meum and tuum." --Thomas Jefferson to John Colvin, 1810.
To meet the needs of defense, Jefferson favored a militia in which every capable man was required to participate.
"We must train and classify the whole of our male citizens, and make military instruction a regular part of collegiate education. We can never be safe till this is done." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1813.
Non-coercion was tried as a principle of national defense, but was thought insufficient for the needs of a great nation in the real world.
"In the beginning of our government we were willing to introduce the least coercion possible on the will of the citizen. Hence a system of military duty was established too indulgent to his indolence. This [War of 1812] is the first opportunity we have had of trying it, and it has completely failed--an issue foreseen by many, and for which remedies have been proposed. That of classing the militia according to age and allotting each age to the particular kind of service to which it was competent, was proposed to Congress in 1805, and subsequently; and on the last trial was lost, I believe, by a single vote. Had it prevailed, what has now happened would not have happened. Instead of burning our Capitol, we should have possessed theirs in Montreal and Quebec. We must now adopt it, and all will be safe." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1814.
2. The necessity of a nation to collect taxes in order to finance its lawful functions is another situation that gives non-initiators problems. It was the fact that citizens were subject to these demands that Jefferson thought sufficient justification for their having the right to vote. This makes sense, because if the requirements are to be made on free individuals in a free society, they should at least have the power to determine what the requirements shall be through their votes.
"Every male citizen of the commonwealth liable to taxes or to militia duty in any county shall have a right to vote for representatives for that county to the legislature." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes for a Constitution, 1794.
The whole idea of "No taxation without representation," one of the chief complaints of the colonies that led to the American Revolution, was not an opposition to the state's power to tax, but an opposition to being taxed by an authority that does not represent the collective will of the people. The cry was not, "No taxation of individuals." The British thought they could levy taxes upon their American colonies as they wished, without any input from those being taxed. That kind of subordination was equated by the colonists to slavery. It was not the naturally coercive nature of taxation that was objected to, but the fact that taxes were extracted without consulting the will of the people, and the people were treated as a tax-producing machine for the benefit of an overseas nation. The will of each separate individual was never a factor.
To Rand, on the other hand, government in a free society has no right to coerce its citizens to do anything except refrain from using force on another. Absent is the idea that a free people are free to do things together for their common good, and to require general support for measures adopted.
"Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state--and nothing else. --"Conservatism: An Obituary," Capitalism the Unknown Ideal.
The distinction between force exerted against those who initiate force against others, and force exerted to compel obedience is impracticable. It would require all kinds of legal fictions in order for society to protect itself sensibly. The person with TB, the child molester, would need to be considered as using their disease as a "force" against other people. Otherwise, all society would be at risk from persons whose "individual rights" permitted them to become a threat to the common good.
It is individualism pushed to the outer limits of isolation and alienation that would deprive the government of the functions it needs to exist. Non-Initiators are thus compelled to refer to persons who support such sovereign rights of a people to act for their own survival, including Jefferson himself, as "statists" and "collectivists." And often these Non-Initiators will confess that, Yes, they wish to pursue this policy, even if it results in the destruction of our "statist" society, naively believing its destruction will somehow result in a society of greater freedom and not result in greater tyranny; that opportunistic despotic forces will not come forward to seize power when legitimate power is overthrown.
The use of the term "statist" to describe anyone who believes in having a central government is but another example of "a deception wrapped in a distortion hidden in an exaggeration." The term "statism" means "concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government." But this is broadened by the Non-initiators to include any form of regulation by a central government. Society, according to them, lacks the right to make any impositions on individuals to which they do not each give their voluntary consent.
It is absurd to apply the term of "statist" or "collectivist" to the government which a people elect to govern themselves. This is another example of the denigration of popular government in favor of an anarchic form of individualism that not only ignores the will of the people, but even suggests that the people as a whole have no legitimacy. Not so with Jefferson, however.
"The catholic principle of republicanism is that every people may establish what form of government they please and change it as they please, the will of the nation being the only thing essential." --Thomas Jefferson: The Anas, 1792.
Objectivists believe "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," and are fond of quoting Jefferson when he wrote:
"No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him."
But they omit the context from which that is taken, a context which speaks not only of restraint, but of duty. They attempt to make Jefferson appear to oppose any enforcement on individuals other than the protection of rights. But that is not what Jefferson wrote.
"Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their power: that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him; every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society, and this is all the laws should enforce on him; and, no man having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it is his natural duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third. When the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions; and the idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural right. The trial of every law by one of these texts would lessen much the labors of our legislators and lighten equally our municipal codes." --Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer, 1816.
"When the laws have declared and enforce all this"--all this what? Declared and enforced our natural rights and our natural duties.
It is grossly naive to think that a modern government can exist in this world if "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." The Founders certainly conceived of a government as more than that. Jefferson expressed the object of government in much broader terms.
"The only orthodox object of the institution of government is to secure the greatest degree of happiness possible to the general mass of those associated under it." --Thomas Jefferson to M. van der Kemp, 1812.
"The freedom and happiness of man... are the sole objects of all legitimate government." --Thomas Jefferson to Thaddeus Kosciusko, 1810.
"The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government." --Thomas Jefferson to Maryland Republicans, 1809.
"The first object of human association [is] the full improvement of their condition." --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Protest, 1825.
Thus we have Freedom, Happiness, Care, Full Improvement--all of this is more than merely "to protect men from those who initiate the use of physical force." It is a description of a government acting on behalf of its people, doing what, according to the will of its people, is conducive to the freedom, happiness, care, and full improvement of their condition.
The Insidious Nature of Political Propaganda
Theories that deprive the people of their collective rights become just as potentially destructive of Constitutional government as any Marxist or communist doctrine. Such theories could never prevail in a stable society, but what they can do is serve as an undermining force against an established government and its legitimate functions. Thus, while never being able to shape real government policy, they can serve as a disintegrating influence and permit the ascendency of authoritarian forces that would take over if democratic government were destroyed. These theories poison the public consciousness and often have their most significant influence with people who are more intelligent than the average and who, for that reason, are more likely to be in leadership positions.
The result can be noted in public discourse. Assumptions are made that are destructive and even treasonous. The ideas are spread in casual conduct, and a rebellious spirit seeps into the public consciousness and gains acceptance, sometimes even in high places. On the internet, one sees signatures and arguments such as
"Taxation is Theft, Jury Duty and the Draft are servitude."
"Those who *would* govern us are enemies."
"People who are paid with stolen money (tax revenues) likewise are moral accessories to a wrong act. In short, such people are sleeping with the enemy. I hope they are not enjoying it too much." --Bob Kolker.
This destructive legacy is the result of the Non-initiation of Force doctrine. While appealing to the individual's self-interest and desire for freedom, it undermines the only means and the only institutions that can secure him that freedom.
William H. Bird
The government of the United States in this century has for the most part interpreted 'the common good' in a very liberal sense. That is, if any situation might possibly be contrary to the perceived socialistic needs of 'society,' the government is morally and Constitutionally justified in extending and expanding it's coercive power in order to alleviate the threat. Since individuals are subordinate to the greater needs of society, they may be dispensed with in emergencies. An 'emergency' is anything that threatens the nebulous common good.
The result of this policy is clear: uncontrolled and geometric growth in both the sheer size and coercive power of our government. Even the most hidebound mind can perform a simple extrapolation of the curve to arrive at an America in which the terms private life and public life have ceased to be meaningful distinctions. You can quote Jefferson as a defender of individual rights as paramount or as the reverse.
During his lifetime Jefferson's political philosophy evolved in response to events. For instance, Jefferson before his terms as president was noticeably different from Jefferson after the presidency. However you quote Jefferson, the fact of increasing government coercive power and consumption of our productive efforts is incontestable. Only one unquestioned premise has made this possible: the subordination of the individual's right to exist to the needs of the majority, the state, the common good or the next 'emergency.' In the society where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, 51% of the population can and eventually will vote the execution of the other 49% ad infinitum until the last two individuals vote to club each other to death and get it over with. Unless some objective principles are identified (as Jefferson did in the Declaration) all we have to govern by is the unrestrained opinion of the majority. As long as we continue to undermine the principle of individual rights as the foundation for just government, we will continue our sacrificial slide into the tar pits of history. As long as we replace the right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' with 'collective' rights defined on the fly, our productivity will continue to vanish into a black hole of bureaucratic ineptitude. It is obvious that Thomas Jefferson recognized this. It is just as obvious that he could not escape the Christian-Platonic philosophical tradition of self-sacrifice as the highest good. Yet he chose to immortalize his conception of individual rights as supreme in the definitive political document of his age. It is this justification for the existence of government that he chose to fix permanently in our national conscience, NOT the assertion that the needs of the state or society take precedence over the individuals inherent and inalienable rights. Jefferson correctly saw that the tyrannies of prior ages were attributable to a lack of respect for the supremacy of the individual in all political and social matters.
Your implication that Ayn Rand disputed a government's right to collect taxes to finance expenditures is misleading. It should be obvious that in order to establish law courts, national defense, etc. that some method of financing would be necessary. The questions Miss Rand preferred to concern herself with were fundamental, i.e. what are the functions of government. A 'right' of a governing body to tax is of course granted by citizens -- it is not inherent and inalienable as are the rights of man outlined in the Declaration and the Bill of Rights. To reiterate, if a man's rights are no different than a nation's or government's 'rights,' then a man's rights can be voted away by the majority in the event of any 'emergency' or purported need of society. This is precisely why Jefferson chose to make individual rights 'inalienable' and 'inherent' -- to differentiate them from the socially granted rights of collectives and government institutions, which are subject to revocation if they fail to fulfill their purpose (protection of individual rights from aggression). Individual rights must NOT be dispensed with as a matter of convenience or 'pragmatism,' while those of institutions can and often should be.
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