The State vs. Virtue

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Who will educate the poorest people if the state doesn’t compel such education, both by taxes and by education requirements? That came up yesterday in the blog. A correspondent who represents a widely-held opinion had wondered: “As a society, don’t we have to chose to either pay for basic  schooling via taxes for the poorest children versus simply letting these children grow up without an education…?”

Dwight Johnson has this thoughtful response to the state’s education compulsion and to all such compulsion:

For me, the biggest argument is also a moral one: like a muscle, a person can only exercise virtue, and hence become virtuous, by voluntarily exercising that virtue. Coercion by the state prevents people from choosing to do the right thing. This young man thinks, as so many do, that people are naturally bad, and need the state to force them to do the right thing. The result is that they are prevented from any attempt to be individually virtuous: acquiescence to the state does not produce individual virtue (such as generosity toward the poor). Freedom allows people to make choices, and to act on those choices. It allows people to become virtuous, and incentivizes virtue. Certainly some will choose to do the wrong thing, but in a free society their choices become apparent, and people react to them accordingly, producing an incentive to do good. When the state alone is ‘virtuous,’ people who would do evil can hide behind the ‘good’ done by the state, and, since they are unable to exercise virtue, and there is no incentive to do good, they become worse people. Thus, the very structure of the state creates the environment that encourages people to be evil.

9:08 am on July 11, 2012