By Bradley Harrington
“In the space of a single lifetime, two world wars have devastated the entire civilized world; two major dictatorships, in Russia and Germany, have committed such atrocities that most men are unable to fully believe it — and the bloody rise of rule by brute force is spreading around the globe. Something is obviously wrong with mankind’s political ideas, and needs urgent attention.” — Ayn Rand, “The Chickens’ Homecoming,” 1970 —
As we’ve already seen last week in “Man as a Thinker and Producer” (WTE, Jan. 15), man’s particular methods of survival are: Thinking and production.
In order to gain the great benefits of knowledge and trade, however, we have to organize ourselves into a “society” first — and, as soon as we make that choice, we are now obligated to construct a set of principles by which that society is to be organized under.
And, since we’ve already seen that the greatest threat to successful thinking and production is the use of force against us by other men, doesn’t it therefore follow that the overriding principle of such a society would be, to ban that use of force from all our relationships?
“Force,” however — defined by “Merriam-Webster” as “violence, compulsion” — can be either initiatory or retaliatory in its nature, and it is of the utmost importance that we differentiate between the two types.
“Initiatory force,” in essence, is force that someone starts (“initiates”), whereas “retaliatory force” is force that someone employs against an earlier usage of initiatory force (in “retaliation”).
Socially speaking, it is the first which merits banning — and the second which must be practiced in order to prevent the spread of the first.
And it is precisely these facts of reality, back in agricultural times, that first gave rise to governments — i.e., political mechanisms established over a particular territory, with a monopoly on the use of force, for the purpose of protecting the citizens and property within its boundaries.
But, does not that very purpose also spell out government’s proper parameters? That the use of force must be employed only in retaliation, and only against those who initiate its use?
As the mass slaughters of well over 100 million people in the last century alone by Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Red China make perfectly clear, the biggest threats to our liberties come not from criminals but from governments supposedly tasked with those protections instead.
So — if it is our individual liberties within our society that we seek to protect — are we not obliged to determine not only methods for protecting us from criminals, but also methods for protecting us from our protectors as well?
This, in essence, was the great American contribution to political philosophy, the United States’ answer, during its war with Great Britain, to millennia of dictatorial murder and control: “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (“The Declaration of Independence,” 1776.)
Thus, for the first time in history, citizens were (mostly) freed from chains they’d worn for untold centuries — and the flood of ideas and goods that resulted from that freedom hasn’t been seen on such a level of magnitude before or since.
No, the limitations weren’t perfect, and contradictions did exist — but the idea was sound, even if its implementation was partly flawed. The “Declaration of Independence” laid the groundwork for liberty, individualism and the Industrial Revolution.
Observe, in this context, that the “societies” mentioned above, responsible for the murders of millions of human beings, had no such limitations placed on their governments.
Unfortunately enough, it also merits observation that we, ourselves, in the time since the Declaration and the U.S. Constitution were penned, have moved away from those ideas as well.
For several decades now we have been granting government powers outside its province, powers to aggress against its own citizens that it never had before — and we wonder why our country has become divided, why we are often at war with ourselves, and why our economic productivity has flushed itself down the toilet?
One follows from the other, Dear Reader. We are a nation in the middle of abandoning its own political principles — and we’re surprised by the consequences? It was our ideas that created our glory — and it’s our disregard for those ideas from which our problems flow.
Tragically, it is we, ourselves, who have led the charge in our own destruction. After all, is there anything our government is doing in our society today that we, as individual citizens, haven’t called for or demanded?
And, if so, maybe the next time we think it would be a great idea that “there oughta be a law,” maybe we should stop and consider just what the full implications of those words and laws are. We’ll do that next week.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the “Wyoming Tribune Eagle” on January 22, 2017. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.