All Commentary
Thursday, December 1, 1983

The Irony of Eternal Vigilance

Mr. Foley, a partner in Schwabe, Williamson, Wyatt, Moore & Roberts, practices law in Portland, Oregon.

Common political folklore advises citizens mulcted by the persistent mirror evils of entitlement and regulation to “become involved in the governmental process in order to hold your own” and thus maintain their lives, liberties, and properties against the ravages of the avaricious state and its propelling plunderers. I protest: no one should be compelled to take up cudgels to defend and protect his God-granted rights against onslaughts perpetrated by envious, greedy, power-seeking panjandrums. Each person should enjoy a sanctuary devoid of unwanted intrusion by the state or its minions.

Those who offer the well-meaning advice concerning political involvement recognize but a single facet of reality: The dynamics of modern pressure-group politics result in a cacophony of quests for unearned largess and control over the destiny of others. A multitude of special interest conglomerates secure enactment and enforcement of rules and orders designed to employ the coercive force of the state to the end of self-betterment at the expense of other, less influential or well-organized, individuals. The exhortative activists suggest like action: Use special interest activity to combat the existing wicked ambiance permeating the halls of government. Thus witness the formation of taxpayer unions, public interest law firms, and freedom lobbies crafted to promote “free enterprise,” a balanced budget, judicial restraint and a whole host of superficially laudable notions.

Unfortunately, such conduct overlooks the shopworn but honest adage that those who cannot read history are damned to relive it. Almost three thousand years ago, the Psalmist David warned us to “put not your trust in Princes, nor in the son of man in whom there is no help.” Lobbyists, legislators, and jurors represent the current crop of “princes,” and the “son of man” equates with those sinister individual and aggregate attempts to coerce compliance with niggling norms motivated to limit creativity and to restrain the enhanced moral life. Simply put, one who adheres to the admonition to achieve political involvement will receive disappointment, not absolution; such persons who trust princes and serfs will find the proposed solution wanting.

Eternal Vigilance

Since we have been alerted by John Philpot Curran that eternal vigilance constitutes the price of freedom, it appears appropriate to investigate the reasons that deny efficacy to such a proposal for a political solution. A several-fold rationale divides into two categories of justification undergirding the conclusion.

In the first place, political activity (even that formed for high purpose) will not prove competent to achieve the desired result. In the instant case, counselors recommend the formation of political action groups to encourage proper governmental stands upon such causes as the liberation of business from the bonds of constraint, the inculcation of fairness and restraint into the system of taxation, the limitation of expensive entitlement or transfer payment programs and the like. They chain-pion such tactics as flooding Congress and the President with petitions, raising funds to elect compliant legislators or to defeat recalcitrant ones, employing proctors to adjudicate the legality of governmental behavior, and similar deportment.

Such efforts will prove unfruitful for two simple, cogent and related reasons: (a) The doctrines of regulation and entitlement, with their appeal to mankind’s malevolent side, always appear more desirable and harmonious than the path of right; and (b) the purveyors and seekers after booty can and will always outvote and politically overwhelm the remnant who merely wish to be left alone, never once pausing to contemplate Ayn Rand’s seminal question of”who will the looters loot when the victims are vanquished?”

In the second place, it is morally repugnant to enlist force to achieve the ends of liberty. Coercion begets coercion, restraint begets restraint. As Leonard Read was fond of noting, “the bloom pre-exists in the seed, the ends pre-exist in the means.” Political action—however properly conceived—still consists of the application of legal constraint upon creative human endeavor. Given the dark side of mankind, well-intentioned conduct invoking governmental action naturally deteriorates into coercive conduct resulting in the deprivation of human freedom. Treatment thus aimed at saving voluntary action soon succumbs to the disease sought to be cured.

Furthermore, contemplation of the ineffectiveness of political counteraction ignores the fundamental wrong: An unwilling individual ought not be drummed into the service of the freedom fight against his will. Justification of such an enlistment operates on the same premise as “might makes right.” Consider the basic proposition: “A” lives an upright life, never treading upon another’s freedom, always producing and trading desirable goods, ser vices, and ideas in a market; by what moral principle should “A” be compelled to expend his share of his rightful acquisitions in thwarting legalized theft?

One may deduce a quintessential duty to join the community defense against outlaws, but one may not distend the principle to compel such an obligation against brigands who use the law for wrongful purposes. Those who exhort common political activity essentially contend that a person who lives decently and properly should nevertheless engage in distasteful activity at his own expense to prevent illegality by the very state which is supposed to act as the eternal policeman for the citizenry.

On What to Do

One inquiry remains: What course of conduct should be followed by one who eschews political behavior yet aspires to freedom? An answer requires the height of presumptuous ness, for no actor can effectively direct another in this type of endeavor. Suggestions, not commands, follow. Refuse to recognize impolitic politics. Resist tyranny in all forms by every peaceful means and by adherence to ethical principle. Recognize and avoid coercion and rebuke those who apply it to your life. Read, write, discourse, listen and learn the ele mental postulates of truth and live by them always. Reveal your light to those who wish to see.

  • Ridgway K. Foley Jr. is a litigation lawyer who is passionate about individual and economic freedom, and has authored numerous scholarly articles on related subjects.