All Commentary
Thursday, April 1, 1965

No Special Privilege for Anyone

Those who seek to promote lib­erty by limiting the power of gov­ernment often are “floored” with a tricky question, “Very well! Just what would you eliminate?”

It would take a lifetime to an­swer that question in detail. But it can be answered on principle, leaving some of the difficult details to the questioner. For example:

“I would favor the rescinding of all governmental action—Federal, state, or local—which would inter­fere with any individual’s free­dom:

… to pursue his peaceful am­bition to the full extent of his abilities, regardless of race or creed or family background;

… to associate peaceably with whom he pleases for any reason he pleases, even if someone else thinks it’s a stupid reason;

… to worship God in his own way, even if it isn’t “orthodox”;

… to choose his own trade and to apply for any job he wants—and to quit his job if he doesn’t like it or if he gets a better offer;

… to go into business for him­self, be his own boss, and set his own hours of work—even if it’s only three hours a week;

… to use his honestly acquired property in his own way—spend it foolishly, invest it wisely, or even give it away. Beyond what is required as one’s fair share to an agency of society limited to keep­ing the peace, the fruits of one’s labor are one’s own;

. to offer his services or prod­ucts for sale on his own terms, even if he loses money on the deal;

… to buy or not to buy any service or product offered for sale, even if refusal displeases the sel­ler;

… to agree or disagree with any other person, whether or not the majority is on the side of the other person;

… to study and learn whatever strikes his fancy, as long as it seems to him worth the cost and effort of studying and learning it;

… to do as he pleases in gen­eral, as long as he doesn’t infringe the equal right and opportunity of every other person to do as he pleases.”

Unless a devotee of statism specifies which of the above lib­erties he would deny the individ­ual, he implicitly approves the free market, private property, lim­ited government way of life.

If, on the other hand, he insists that the individual should be de­prived of one or more of the above liberties, then let him defend his position. Trying to present his case will more surely convince him of his error than any reform talk a libertarian can contrive. Let him talk himself out of his own illib­erality!

In short, instead of attempting to explain the thousands upon thousands of governmental activi­ties you would eliminate, let the author of the tricky question ex­plain just one peaceful activity he would deny to the individual. Isn’t this putting the burden of proof where it belongs?

Reprints available, 2t each.

Foot Notes

¹ The Hillsdale College Leadership Letter, Hillsdale, Michigan, October, 1964. Issued by the Leadership Workshop and edited by Laurence J. Taylor, Vice-President for Leadership Development.

  • Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) was the founder of FEE, and the author of 29 works, including the classic parable “I, Pencil.”