Saturday, January 12, 2008

Self Evident Truths

I qualified for Harvard. And Stanford and Princeton. I told the story here once, alluding to why I went to a state college. It's another of those bitter tales of selfishness and betrayal. No matter. Thirty years ago. The point is that we owe, as well as take. In families, and in society. But we are not owed everything. There are things that we are owed because of the reality of natural rights -- parents must look to the best interest of their children, for example. But generally we are owed what we earn, and not just what we desire.

We are not owed happiness. We are owed the right to pursue happiness. It is a limited right. The rapist finds a sort of happiness, and the molester, and the criminal in general, in the exhilaration of their abuses. We don't have to get fancy with words to understand that they have no real right to be happy, as they see it. Philosophy takes us only so far, and then we just have to resort to moral sensibilities. Decency does not depend on verbal acuity, for its truth to be known.

So I was reading just now a well-written analysis of Libertarianism by Michael Kinsley. It's right on the money, for all that it's penned by someone who's clearly left of center. A former editor of The New Republic, and current writer for the Washington Post. So, yes, a lefty. No matter. We should learn from everyone who's right. And even from those who are wrong. This guy is right. Mostly. I wouldn't bother to note any of this except for one concluding passage of his.

After describing various elaborate Libertarian private enterprise schemes to circumvent and replace government laws and regulations -- such as Ron Paul's plan to legalize the sale of unpasteurized milk -- Kinsley concludes that there is indeed such a thing as the "right of a few idiots to be idiots. That right deserves respect. But not much." Yes. I might suggest however that "respect" is not quite the correct word. Toleration, perhaps?

Kinsley continues: "Extreme libertarians believe [that government-mandated redistribution] is immoral or even unconstitutional, and even more moderate libertarians disapprove of government social welfare programs as an infringement on the freedom of taxpayers. But freedom is only one of the two core values our nation was built on. The other is equality." Correct, so far. "Defining equality, libertarians tend to take a narrow view, believing that it means only political equality with no financial aspects." There it is. The poison pill.

Our nation was not built, in any way whatsoever, on any supposed "core value" of financial equality. The failed communal ethos of the Plymouth Colony? -- winter decided that issue, with starvation. If you will not work, you shall not eat. Does Kinsley mean some vague allusion to the Progressive Era and the Robber Barons? Our nation had already been built by then. And taxes aimed at taking money from the great industrialists, coal and iron and railroad tycoons, were in no way meant to create financial equality. The aim was to tap into a large source of revenue so that the government would have more funds; to build infrastructure, perhaps, or boondoggles -- never to fritter away on the poor, who are always with us. Those funds were never used for welfare, for income redistribution, until FDR's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society.

Kinsley slipped his socialist precept into his analysis. He had been so sensible, so right, up to that point, that like a greedy walleye trout we might gulp down the hook along with the bait. Gack ... or, if it is your inclination, Yum. The lessons are self-evident, and I shan't explicate them. I suppose they are ... in any case, we hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal. That they should be treated as equals before the law. That they have the right to pursue happiness. That happiness is not assured. That an equality of results is neither promised, nor desired. Rugged or not, we are individuals, and we are to be respected, if at all, always for what we have earned, and never for what we have been given.

Charity is a virtue. Welfare is a tax. There is room for both. But this nation was founded on virtue, and in opposition to tax.


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