The Individual vs. the Human Being

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I
am a libertarian. I think our government has done great evil to
us and to the world. Five hundred years from now, perhaps civilized
people will think us morally backward for even tolerating income
taxes, the public-school ideological brainwashing centers, the prison-industrial
complex, welfare systems, and pre-emptive wars. I would hope so.

Yes,
I am free to write this – at least for now – but in most other ways
I do not consider myself a free man. A free man wouldn't need to
fill out government license and tax forms to start a business, for
instance. Or be prohibited from bringing his newly-invented drug
to market. Or be forced to associate with only a non-smoking clientele.
Or see half of his earnings go, one way or another, to taxes.

Should
I, and my fellow Americans, then be "liberated?" Hypothetically,
should a foreign government committed to freedom have the right
to invade us, overthrow our government, and impose libertarian values
on the American people? Pure libertarian doctrine would abolish
even state-run public universities. Shall our foreign Liberation
Force "free" the people of Nebraska, for instance, from
supporting its Lincoln university campus and its football team?
Shall adherence to doctrine overthrow all local cultural attachments?
And how many American soldiers, guardsmen, and innocent civilians
will die as our foreign Liberators seek out every one of our tyrannical
government officials?

I
think there is one fair question to ask, not only supposed "libertarians"
supporting the Bush Administration on Operation Iraqi Freedom, but
all proponents of armed ideological and political crusades throughout
history. And, by extension, this question would apply to anyone
who would impose further burdens on the taxpayer, or impose more
laws and regulations on the people, in pursuit of some noble doctrine,
ideology, or slogan. The question to be asked all of them is this:
"How much damage to lives and to property are you willing to
inflict on actual human beings for the sake of your principles?"

What
this is getting at is that, no matter how burdensome and even arbitrary
my government may be, there is no mandate under heaven that would
obligate another, freer country to "liberate" me and my
people at the cost of many of our lives and much of our property – let alone at the cost of their lives.

The
cases in which I comply with, evade, or resist the Government should
be my responsibility and mine alone. If I choose imprisonment or
death for the sake of principles, they will be my principles, thank
you very much. No foreign force is, in the process of liberating
me, going to kill me and/or destroy my house and call it "collateral
damage."

Even
after the last twelve years, I would still take up arms against
an invading foreign force with altruistic intentions of liberation,
then I would see the entire fabric of American life be undermined
by foreign ideologues – even if I agreed with their ideology.
Even if a Bush or a Clinton were my Commander-in-chief, I would
fight against the invasion and occupation. Robert E. Lee didn't
believe in slavery; I don't believe in the public schools. That
doesn't mean I will lie over when my country is invaded.

How
could that be? Because, basically, no one has the right to interfere
with national sovereignty. We have a system in place, and most Americans
are, frankly, happy with it. And if not happy with it, they prefer
dealing with it for the sake of peace instead of rebelling against
it. Within the American culture are, I think, many misbegotten and
unjust institutions. I am often disgusted and disappointed that
my fellow Americans have developed unhealthy attachments to many
of them, such as the Flag and the trough of monopoly money it represents.
But it is the responsibility of Americans to use the arts of persuasion,
politics, and, if necessary, resistance, to correct the injustices.
Outside interference to restore our "liberty" is not liberty
at all, it is just an admission that we can be overrun by foreign
forces.

It
is through repealing laws, reigning in the executive, destroying
the powers of bureaucracy, and limiting the jurisdiction of the
federal judiciary, that greater freedom can be restored to the individual
and to society. Failing that, peaceful attempts at secession. Failing
that, armed defense of our freedom.

What
kind of "freedom" can a foreign occupation force really
provide? Freedom on their terms is no freedom at all.

Of
course, there is no libertarian nation out there, let alone one
more powerful than the United States. And any true libertarian nation
would be neutral, like Switzerland. Which speaks to the irony of
American overseas crusades, beginning in earnest with the Spanish-American
War of 1898. We speak of freedom, human rights, and democracy, but
to impose them by force on another nation is in fact to simultaneously
refute these very ideals.

Abstract
concepts ignore the reality on the ground. In real life, there are
no "individual freedoms" or "human rights,"
there are only human beings. And human beings care about survival,
for themselves and their families, and they want the security of
whatever they own. As life is hardly ever fair to anyone, most will
take living in peace under systematically unjust institutions over
risking death, destruction, and famine through rebellion. This might
be right or it might be wrong. But it is their choice to make, not
for foreigners to make for them.

There's
also the reality of religious loyalties and national attachments,
and a diverse range of leisure interests and economic interests,
that suggests a human being is much more than an abstracted individual.
His existence – his "being-ness," transcends any abstract,
reasoned, moral absolutes. If you kill a person or destroy his property
for your idealism, then you cheapen the worth of your own life,
which is morally vulnerable to even higher-developed, more abstract,
better-reasoned idealism.

Conservatives
have long decried moral and cultural "relativism." And
I understand where they're coming from. But if some moral teachings
and some cultural traditions are superior to others, that will be
made known in due time to all, just as it will be made known who
is good at math and who isn't, or who is a good at spelling and
who isn't. It doesn't give the superior mathematician or speller
the right to blot the inferior from the earth for the sake of humanity.

The
essence of libertarianism is the rejection of aggression, the rejection
of the initiation of force for any reason. If it rests on any other
foundation, it is just another bloodthirsty, utopian ideology. Saddam
was a tyrant, yes. There are many tyrants on the earth. But within
those tyrannies are actual living human beings who are going through
life, making friends, raising families, trying to get by. If they
resist their oppressors, my prayers are with them. If they don't – for whatever reason – how can I possibly judge them? How can I
possibly claim that our country's government has the right to kill
some of them in order to liberate the rest? How many Americans would
agree to the same principle if our own main enemy was a foreign
country freer, more just, and far more powerful than ourselves?

We
have lives to live – we don't have other people's lives to sacrifice
for our principles. Libertarians ought to care less for the "rights
of the individual" and more for the lives of human beings.

March
27, 2004

James
Leroy Wilson [send him mail]
lives and works in Chicago and is a columnist for the Partial
Observer
.

James
Leroy Wilson Archives


        
        

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