Objectivism and Thomas Jefferson
Seven Essays on the Philosophy of Ayn Rand


6. The Non-Initiation of Force, Cont'd

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.

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?

To meet the needs of defense, Jefferson favored a militia in which every capable man was required to participate.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.

"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.

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.

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

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
NEXT ESSAY 7. Adversaries of Democracy

Go to the Essays

Front Page | 1. Reason as Absolute
2. Safety in Error | 3. Happiness as Moral Purpose
4. Selfishness as Virtue | 5. Capitalism Over Self-Government
6. Non-Initiation of Force | 7. Adversaries of Democracy

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