All Commentary
Saturday, September 1, 1984

A Page on Freedom: Number 11

Legalized Immorality

It must be remembered that 95 per cent of the peace, order, and welfare existing in human society is always produced by the conscientious practice of man-to-man justice and person-to-person charity. When any part of this important domain of personal virtue is transferred to government, that part is automatically released from the restraints of morality and put into the area of conscienceless coercion. The field of personal responsibility is thus reduced at the same time and to the same extent that the boundaries of irresponsibility are enlarged.

Government cannot manage these fields of human welfare with the justice, economy, and effectiveness that are possible when these same fields are the direct responsibility of morally sensitive human beings. This loss of justice, economy, and effectiveness is increased in the proportion that such governmental management is centralized.

Government cannot make men good; neither can it make them prosperous and happy. The evils in society are directly traceable to the vices of individual human beings. At its best government may simply attack the secondary manifestations of these vices. Their primary manifestations are found in the pride, covetousness, lust, envy, sloth, and plain incompetency of individual people. When government goes far beyond this simple duty and deploys its forces along a broad, complicated front, under a unified command, it invariably propagates the very evils that it is designed to reduce.

In the sweet name of”human welfare” such a government begins to do things that would be gravely offensive if done by individual citizens. The government is urged to follow this course by people who consciously or subconsciously seek an impersonal outlet for the “primaries” of human weakness. An outlet in other words which will enable them to escape the moral responsibility that would be involved in their personal commission of these sins.

—Clarence Manion


  • Former Dean of the School of Law, University of Notre Dame, Dr. Manion now heads theManion Forum. From an address at the Yale Law School.