All Commentary
Saturday, August 1, 1970

I, the Radical

Mr. Zarbin is a newspaperman in Arizona.

My immediate reaction to the newspaper headline, “Zarbin’s Radical Right Ravings Embarrass Council,” was bewilderment. I had not intended to embarrass, or to distress; I merely had hoped to explain why I was in opposition to a proposal, and to ask the council to consider my objections before deciding whether it would approve the ordinance.

What had I said that drew such strong reaction? I had gone before the city council to argue against the inclusion of health and safety standards in existing buildings (commonly known as a “housing code”) as part of a revised Con­struction and Residential Safety Code ordinance.

I oppose a housing code for two reasons: 1) because it is an inva­sion of the use of private prop­erty; 2) because the acknowledged reason city officials and community “leaders” want it is to qualify the city for a variety of Federal aid programs, such as urban renewal and model cities, which I oppose. I told the city council:

“How a man lives inside his house, what sort of house he has, is not the legitimate business of the city council or its agents…. This city council has no charter to invade my home or to regulate my personal habits so long as what I do is not destructive to other hu­man beings. If I want to live in a room without windows, that’s my business. If I want to read by candlelight, that’s my business. If I don’t want to put a furnace in my house, that’s my business—and it can be nothing but arro­gance and know-it-allness for any­one else to presume to tell me how I should live….

“The fact that the proposed or­dinance would (temporarily) lack enforcement provisions does not lessen the provocative nature, nor does it reduce the insidious impli­cations, of the ordinance. More­over, to suggest or to hint, as it has been done, that the city would not attempt to enforce its provisions to the fullest, is to expose the deceitfulness of those who so desperately want this council to enact a housing code. What pur­pose is there in passing an ordi­nance unless the city intends to use the police power to enforce it? The passing of laws is no game—it is a serious business, and this city council should realize that when it passes an ordinance it is throwing the weight of the organ­ized police force against the indi­vidual citizen. This realization should lead the council to act with extreme care….

“I do not want the fruits of my labor spent on restructuring this city—when there is economic jus­tification for spending money for tearing down buildings, that will be done by the people voluntarily. For example, the First National Bank has torn down old buildings to replace them with a new build­ing. The Valley National Bank is doing the same thing. Where there is economic justification, these things will be done, and they will be done without the mayor or any­one else holding a gun at our heads. But the people who want the housing code and Federal urban renewal programs are not satisfied with the pace for change made by free human beings work­ing in voluntary cooperation. The people who want the housing code and the resulting Federal pro­grams are social engineers, they are do-gooders who aren’t satis­fied with the rate of change brought by free people. Because the do-gooders have failed to sell in the market place their ideas on where our money should be spent, they have turned to the city gov­ernment and to the Federal gov­ernment to do it for them.”

If, at First, You Don’t Succeed…

I knew beforehand that my re­marks would receive a chilly recep­tion. The community “leaders” and city officials had been attempt­ing to enact a housing code and to usher Federal aid programs into Phoenix for more than a decade. Twice, in 1963 and in 1966, when housing code proposals (and the anticipated Federal urban renewal projects) had been put to votes, the people had rejected them. But the agitation for a housing code and Federal aid programs as the only solution for Phoenix prob­lems never ceased among city offi­cials and community “leaders.”

I have maintained that every­thing that has to be done in the community can be accomplished through voluntary cooperation, that it is immoral to use the police power to require individuals to contribute to projects they would not voluntarily support, that char­ity not given voluntarily is not charity.

Nothing that I had said sounded radical to me, but a young friend disagreed. Virtually everything that I had said, he had assured me, had been radical. I replied I couldn’t understand why, since I considered what I had said to be in keeping with the precepts of the U. S. Constitution and the philosophy of freedom.

But I began thinking about it. Perhaps what I had said was radical. Webster’s Third New In­ternational Dictionary includes these definitions of radical:

As a noun, “one that advocates a decided and often extreme change from existing, usual, or traditional views, habits, condi­tions, or methods.” As an adjec­tive, “marked by considerable de­parture from the usual or tradi­tional. Tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or insti­tutions.”

Back to First Principles

By these definitions, what I had said was radical, but only if gov­ernment intervention had become the usual, or traditional, view. In arguing for voluntary cooperation in resolving problems, I indeed was suggesting “extreme changes in existing views,” but only if col­lectivism was accepted as being dominant in our social and politi­cal habits. Sadly, the evidence around us is that collectivism to­day is considered the social and political panacea.

In opposing government inter­vention, in advocating personal choice and responsibility, my words were radical! But if they really are radical, how deep, how broad, is the gulf between the thoughts of the men who produced the Constitution and the men who today proclaim themselves to be its inheritors!

Radical, as a noun, also means “one who advocates radical and sweeping changes in laws, institu­tions, and methods of government with the least delay.”

In speaking to the city council, I did not advocate violent revolu­tion to alter the “methods of gov­ernment with the least delay.” I do favor a change in the methods of the Federal, state, and local governments; I want them to cease using the police power to require us to accept “goodness” as it is conceived by those in control of government.

Although the process may be painful, slow, and frustrating, I believe that what has been done to this country through the ballot box can, and must, be undone the same way. I suppose this belief reduces the extent of my radical­ism, but I cannot today envision a restoration of constitutional gov­ernment by some other means.

  • Mr. Zarbin, a retired newspaperman, does historical research and writing in Phoenix, Arizona.