A Disturbing Awakening

Mr. Zarbin is a newspaperman in Arizona.

How naive I must have been! That’s what I thought when a friend of mine assured me that he believed in violence under certain conditions.

He wasn’t thinking of the force a man might use in defense of his life and property— he couldn’t have been, because he was about to ex­plain that the violence may be jus­tified to achieve such "good" as re­lieving hunger and poverty.

Plainly, a person who can justify the use of force to redis­tribute property in an effort to end hunger and poverty cannot justify the use of defensive force by those from whom the property is to be taken.

However, this contradiction was to come out of his mouth. He said a man certainly has a right to de­fend his property, except for cer­tain things, such as taxation to promote the general welfare, including the police, social security payments, aid to dependent chil­dren, urban renewal, and so on. I readily agree that taxing to maintain the police power to in­hibit violence is legitimate. It is the way of living in civilized so­ciety. But I don’t concede the legit­imacy of taxing from some to give to others, the process necessary to finance the welfare schemes and subsidies mentioned above.

My naivete stemmed not from this; rather, it came from my as­sumption that people who think of themselves as civilized reject vio­lence as a way of life. Obviously, not all of them do.

I do not know just how wide­spread this sickness is. (Surely there must be some illness to the intellect which approves the use of force and coercion for reasons other than the defense of life and liberty.)

I realize that the earth largely is controlled by men (govern­ments) subscribing to various forms of authoritarianism, among them the bulk of the political officeholders in the United States; but I can’t bring myself to be­lieve that people would support such power if they understood this.

Of course, I have no way of knowing what number of persons on the block where I live would support or reject violence. Fool­ishly, perhaps, I have assumed that those who understood vio­lence would reject it. Now I am not certain, not certain at all; in­deed, short of questioning each person I meet, I shall never know.

To Advocate Socialism Is to Espouse Violence

This awakening, both astound­ing and shocking to me, came as the result of a discussion concern­ing a professor at a local tax-sup­ported university who maintained that he had a "right" to advocate socialism in the classroom and on the campus.

My position was that the pro­fessor, in singing the praises of socialism, was espousing a philos­ophy of violence; because social­ism, as history has shown, cannot be instituted without the use of force, direct or implied. For this reason, I did not believe that those of us who support limited govern­ment and free market economics should be required either to pay this professor’s salary or to pro­vide him with a platform from which to urge the destruction of the institutions—misshapen though they be—which pay his wages and support the university. I explained that outside the classroom and off the campus the professor should be free to advo­cate whatever he wanted, but in­side he should confine his remarks to teaching what he was hired to teach. I also said I had no objec­tion to explaining the various "isms" in the classroom, but I could not agree to the advocacy of any of them because of the nature of the tax-supported institution: since persons of all political and economic persuasions are forced by government to support the uni­versity, it would be improper to permit the advocacy of one politi­cal or economic system over an­other.

I said I would prefer that this professor be dismissed from his teaching position if he did not stop his advocacy of socialism/ violence. He had declared his "right" to do this, and unless he changed his mind, the university administration, it seemed to me, had no choice but to discharge him.

I hoped my friend could concur with my position that advocating violence was immoral. No, replied the friend, he could not agree, be­cause he was perfectly willing to use force on me and everyone else to achieve the social circumstances mentioned above. Hence, he sup­ported the professor and did not agree that he should be dismissed.

So there are persons who con­sciously and knowingly support the use of coercion and force. Have I been so naive not to realize this? I suppose I knew it all the time, but I didn’t want to accept that people who say they support lib­erty and freedom can at the same time say they support compulsion and violence. Clearly, they cannot know what they are saying. I suppose I’ve always known this to be so. How else could there be so many supporters of "demo­cratic socialism" and other welfare state schemes? But I’ve wanted to hide myself from this realization. I simply didn’t want to believe that these people would willingly and deliberately use force to achieve their goals.

Now I do believe. The veneer of my reluctance to accept that there are many among us who would do this has been peeled away. It has been a disturbing awakening.

 

***

Law as a Negative Force

When law and force keep a person within the bounds of justice, they impose nothing but a mere negation. They oblige him only to abstain from harming others. They violate neither his per­sonality, his liberty, nor his property. They safeguard all of these. They are defensive; they defend equally the rights of all….

But when the law, by means of its necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of education, a religious faith or creed—then the law is no longer negative; it acts positively upon people. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own wills; the initiative of the legislator for their own initiatives. When this happens, the people no longer need to discuss, to compare, to plan ahead; the law does all this for them. Intelligence becomes a useless prop for the people; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.

FREDERIC BASTIAT, The Law 

Further Reading

{{article.Title}}

{{article.BodyText}}