All Commentary
Sunday, April 1, 1962

The Untenable Mid-Point

Mr. Sparks is a businessman in Canton, Ohio.

Some of us, interested in the study of limited government and maximum liberty, have met nearly every month for more than ten years. Newcomers to our meetings are troubled by the increase of government interference in their lives. Many, for the first time, seek a boundary line between the functions proper for government and those that are improper. Usu­ally the newcomer already believes that government should not en­gage in certain things—such as federal aid to education, excessive taxation, or subsidies to farmers—and evidences a desire to stop government encroachment in his private life. He is attracted to our discussion group where he hopes to find others opposing the same government intervention he op­poses.

Occasionally, the guest has little fundamental philosophy as to why or where government should be limited, but he knows he dislikes big government.

A logical, step-by-step explana­tion and review of the thrilling history of our country serves to remind him that government prop­erly holds only those rights first possessed by each person before they were delegated to the defen­sive agency. Briefly, government should be as a soldier to defend against external attack, and as a policeman to protect the lives and property of its citizens from in­ternal attack—nothing more.

This leaves many of the pres­ent-day government activities out­side the definition. The new in­quirer quickly confirms his own chief peeve against the govern­ment; but, as he mentally checks off a list of other activities also outside the definition, he runs into trouble.

Federal aid to education is un­derstandably wrong, and so is pub­lic housing, he thinks, but what about the postal system? Surely, it is all right. Is there an excep­tion to the definition?

No, of course not. Yet the defi­nition appears more inflexible by the minute as item after item of commonly-accepted government ac­tion moves across his mind’s eye. Pure food laws, city garbage col­lection, municipal water plants, land reclamation, federal travel agencies, municipal golf courses, state education, state employment service, milk marketing orders—are all of these improper functions of government?

Perhaps the definition is too ex­treme; maybe a more temperate position is better, decides the visi­tor, and anyway, extremes must be avoided.

Thus, a potential conservative is in jeopardy of being lost. Our experience has been mixed; some continue on, a few do not return.

Since the purpose of our study is to develop a better understand­ing of individual liberty in order to influence the direction of future government, it is serious when someone showing an interest in the subject is repelled. Paradoxi­cally, on a national scale, the more able the explanations of the im­portance of minimum government, the greater is the intensity of the opposition from those who clamor for big government. On the other hand, the less able the arguments by half-hearted, apologetic advo­cates of minimum government, the less anyone is convinced of the rightness of the limited govern­ment stand. Either reason can produce a negative attraction for the freedom philosophy.

The purpose of this piece is to confirm the case for full adherence to uncompromising, maximum in­dividual liberty. Such a stand cir­cumvents the second reason and squarely meets the first reason head-on. The more positive the conservative position, the greater will be the alarm and reaction among the “liberals.”

Denunciation of “Extremists”

It is currently the deliberate tactic of the “liberal” element to denounce “extremists,” although the category is not clearly defined. Others, unaware of the basic issue, take up the cry, resulting in further onslaughts in news arti­cles, editorials, public speeches, and friendly conversations. As a result, anyone who believes in the principle of limited government potentially is put on the defensive as an “extremist.”

One should know the flaws in the “liberal” attack in order to combat the accusations success­fully.

Purposely thrown into one class­ification of “rightist” by the “liberals” are anti-Semitist and fascist groups. Nothing could be farther from the truth than to in­clude these undesirable groups in a “rightist” classification. The Stalin-Hitler War led many to be­lieve that since Stalin was extreme left, Hitler must have been the opposite. The common foundation of all leftist thought is power-laden government, whether known as socialism, communism, welfare state, or as nazism and fascism. The latter two are kindred totali­tarian systems of socialism, not opposites, as “liberals” would have one believe. The strategy of the “liberals” is obvious. Denounce fascism; then falsely classify fas­cism as a rightist movement. Re­sult? The public is led to believe that rightism is evil, because al­most everyone knows fascism is evil. Similar tactics are used with any target that conveniently serves the purpose of embarras­sing the right.

Dissension in the Ranks

The distinction between the false right and the true right is not widely enough known to pre­vent the “liberals,” as well as their shallow “carbon copies,” from picking up the “extremist” term and hurling the false clichés and impressions at the conservative, hoping to shame him before the uninformed public, or at least dampen his enthusiasm for the conservative or libertarian cause.

There are many examples that must warm the hearts and souls of the “liberal” leaders. The “non-extremist” editorial writer, for one, opposes big government spending programs and supports free enterprise in name, but con­tradicts himself by advocating a federal urban renewal program for his city. Then, looking upon himself as a moderate and practi­cal conservative, he criticizes the true conservatives, who oppose all government intervention even when given the opportunity to claim a portion of the loot for their own personal or community advantage. This is quite a picture—the true conservative admon­ished by the lukewarm conserva­tive, while the “liberal” looks on in glee.

The presence of this background of irresponsible extremist public­ity may seriously influence the potential new conservative to be apprehensive about any belief, concerning the scope of govern­ment, that lies to the right of his present belief. Consequently, more than one person delving into the limited government concept in our discussion group has indicated that the libertarian is too intem­perate and should move to a more temperate position.

Adherence to Principle

Let’s examine this recommenda­tion. According to Webster, a temperate person is self-con­trolled. Self-control implies ad­herence to certain fixed principles; otherwise, it has no meaning. A libertarian has fixed principles of the highest quality. He is con­vinced he has no right to initiate force against another person. Honesty demands his recognition that support of federal aid to the home-town project initiates force against others—requiring others to “contribute” their property and money. The libertarian is willing to face facts and reflect them as accurately as he knows how. This is truthfulness. The limitation of government is truth, based on the rights of each man to defend his life and his property. To recog­nize this fundamental principle, and then fail to embrace it, re­veals that one subscribes to un­truth.

The libertarian, then, does not believe in initiating force against another—lawfully or unlawfully. He faces this principle honestly, even when it means personal in­convenience. He truthfully reflects his own understanding of the basic principle without rationaliz­ing acceptance of special privilege at the expense of others. This is the temperate position of self-control.

Those who seek the “safety” of a so-called temperate position are not searching for firm principles. Lacking conviction of belief, either left or right, they hope to enjoy a comfortable middle-of-the-road position, free of contro­versy and undemanding of cour­age. The “moderate” conservative, self-designated due to his leanings ever so slightly to the right, fails to understand that the no extreme he seeks implies a mid-point be­tween right and wrong.

If a libertarian is to be “tem­perate” in this latter, twisted meaning, he must reside philo­sophically somewhere between honest and dishonest, truth and untruth, and to a great degree, he must be willing to initiate force against another. If this is liber­tarian philosophy, then the term no longer has meaning, for it re­lates to nothing. There is no mid­point between truth and untruth, or between honest and dishonest. Neither is there a mid-point up to which one can properly initiate force against another, and beyond which it is improper.

When one departs from the basic, definable principle and looks for a mid-point beyond, he discovers there are as many mid­points as people who attempt to define them. It compares to a foot­ball field without boundaries, yard lines, or goal posts. Whether a “play” results in a gain or loss under such circumstances cannot be determined. This is bad if the objective is clarity of direction. This is good if the objective is confusion so that few can know how the game is going.

Nowhere To Stand

This confusion gains ground for totalitarian goals. An irres­olute conservative who fears being called ultraconservative or ex­tremist more than he fears the evil results of embracing fallacy, should re-examine his position. A mid-point is not a tenable posi­tion, for it cannot withstand the repetitive “liberal” argument to move one notch nearer to complete socialism.

If one believes that government housing for families earning less than $6,000 is proper, then why not $10,000? or $20,000? If one believes that compulsory govern­ment education through twelve grades is proper, then why not through four years of college? If one believes it proper to subsidize sugar factories, why not ceramic tile factories, grocery stores, and rubber-toy plants? If one believes it proper to socialize the medical profession, then why not include lawyers, accountants, and archi­tects? If it is proper for govern­ment to carry our mail, inspect our food, collect our garbage, build parks and golf courses for our recreation, educate our chil­dren, subsidize school lunches, pay farmers for not farming, fix prices for milk and fruits, operate fire departments, compel us to save for old age by assessing a social security tax—then where can a “mid-point” line be drawn?

It cannot!

There is only one place to draw a clear line—government, a sol­dier to protect us from outside attack, and government, a police­man to protect our lives and prop­erty from inside attack. This is the only position that seems to be consistent with the freedom phi­losophy and worthy of full support.

Strategy in Persuasion

Undoubtedly, something can be said for strategy in persuasion. Shocking the new inquirer is not usually the ideal method to win someone to the basic limited gov­ernment concept, for it is not a simple matter to erase years of fallacious thought in one hour’s discussion. Learning takes time. On the other hand, an inquirer bold enough to search for truth should be courageous enough to face truth when he finds it. Surely a libertarian who is asked where government should be confined cannot answer the question dis­honestly, not even when asked about one of the less important government intrusions of the rights of individuals. He must an­swer not only honestly, but he must also explain clearly and logic­ally.

One should not fear the truth; there is no danger in understand­ing where the line should be drawn. “Liberals” denounce the ultraconservative as dangerous, but do not say why or how he is dangerous. Is it dangerous to be­lieve that each person should make his own choices, his own decisions, live his own life, and use his own property? If so, to whom is this dangerous? It should not be too surprising to learn who finds it so

those with government power or government-endowed special priv­ilege or who covet such power and privilege, and those who enjoy being masters of human puppetry and live off the production of others.

The idea of freedom is danger­ous to these liberals who stand on the left, yearning for ever-increas­ing government power to make decisions rightfully belonging to individuals. The libertarians or conservatives stand on the right, fighting hard to regain for each person the right to make his own decision.

In between, among the sheep, stand the faltering, would-be oc­casional conservatives who seek mid-points. They are conspicu­ously ineffective, especially against socialism.



Freeman Policy

Almost everyone is “for freedom” providing “proper” excep­tions are allowed.

Our task is to present the freedom philosophy all the way, logically and consistently—as we see it.

This sometimes involves a fresh look at “proper” exceptions; if everybody’s exceptions are taken together, no room is left for any freedom at all.

  • John C. Sparks, who died on March 27, 2005, served on the board of trustees of the Foundation for Economic Education for many years. In the mid-1980s, following his retirement from business, Mr. Sparks served a term as FEE’s president.