There are believers in Liberty, and believers in power. There are those who say, “The only way for the many to be happy is through their own good choices, and so the greatest necessity is to prevent their free choices from being undermined, whether by crime or oppression. We cannot make them good, we can only prevent the rewards of goodness from being snatched away” And there are those who instead say “Whether these masses be good or no, I am good enough, or clever enough, to make them happy, where they were unable to do the same for themselves.” And that’s pretty much what i hear when someone says that i must be compelled to participate in some program, for my own good.
Believers in power, it seems to me, take formulas that make sense for earth and wood, and apply those formulas to human beings. If we want to make a house, we cut down trees that were naturally standing on their own roots, then we use the power of tools to overcome the resistance of the wood to shape it into the form we want, use the physical power of trucks and cranes to move it to the place we want it to be, and then use the power of saws and nails to combine the parts into the thing we want the trees to be, as opposed to what they naturally were. There’s nothing irrational about this; the tree is naturally stuck in the ground in one place, and we would rather it was a roof over our heads in another place. We have the capability of altering the tree to suit our wishes, and, what is critical, we have relatively little concern about what the tree thinks about what we’re doing. We might object to removing the trees from the forest because we like the forest; we rarely object to removing trees because the trees like the forest. And this practical spirit is visible in social reform as well. When reformers don’t like a wage, they pursue it with a statutory minimum, a thing much like a saw. Slum clearance is conceptually similar to land clearance, that is, the resistance of the materials (trees, or families) to being cleared away is just a force to be overcome with stronger force. It is a matter of taking the tools at hand, and using them to rearrange humanity as we see fit, just as a carpenter rearranges wood as he sees fit.
But the tools that the reformer uses to alter humanity are really remarkable tools. They didn’t have to be; it could be that when someone set out to improve humanity, he started by trying to convince men to abandon their errors. This is a method i would not oppose, but it is one my enemies evidently don’t trust to accomplish their aims, for they use another. Simply stated, the tool which they use to reshape humanity is violence. I do not say this idly; the force of legislation is only the force of prisons and armed agents, for without these things, legislation is nothing more than advice. When a reformer boldly states that legislation is necessary to build his pet park, or advance his pet ideal, he simultaneously admits that what his agenda really needs is the power to take people’s property, put them in cages, or shoot them if they resist it. “All my plan is missing is a prison for its opponents.” This is one of those points that I have a hard time making because it is too obvious to defend. The distinguishing mark of legislation, of law, as opposed to all other forms of human interaction (save crime itself) is that it has force at its disposal. Persuasion does not involve force, nor does commerce, romance, cooperation, education, charity, or anything else that a private citizen may engage in. And in insisting on legislation as his tool, the activist says that none of these normal interactions are up to the job: If legislation is uniquely suited to his needs, it can only be suited to them because of its only unique quality, and that unique quality is legitimized violence. The law holds the powers that were intended to deal with brigands, murderers, and thieves. The reformer insists that these are exactly the powers he needs for dealing with everyone. And somehow he receives nods of approval.
In any case this man thinks it quite normal that the first equipment necessary to create a school or park is one of the weapons we had invented to deal with murderers or thieves. If he has not the power to extract resources from other people whether they support him or no, and the power to threaten them with fine, enforced by eviction, enforced by imprisonment, enforced by firearms, well if he has not this power he feels as if it’s impossible to ever get his project accomplished. The prison is as essential a piece of his equipment as the saw is for the man who builds a house. He must have the power to move other men about, to take from them and compel them, of the same unilateral kind as the lumber harvester has over the trees. He must be able to use against all citizens what humanity invented for use only against exceptional villains. He must have his legislation; he must be able to override your will, and you must not be able to override his.
It seems natural to this sort of thinker (a believer in power) that Obama should be able to choose my doctor, and i should not be able to choose Obama’s. It seems natural that Feinstein and her friends have the authority to take property from me, while i of course can do nothing of the kind to them. This is the natural order of things, just as the prison is naturally a tool for building a park, or regulation naturally necessary for industries. If one believes in power as a means of positive change, then one might well believe that all this is right and just, or rather, one must already have accepted the absurdities above to ever believe that power is the force that improves the world.
The best understanding i have of the acceptance of the above nonsense is that a double standard of morality is adopted: The citizen has certain obligations and certain rights, and the figure in authority has very different ones. This is exactly what is meant by, “Only the police should be allowed to have firearms,” or “Only the heads of states should have the privilege of lying.” That there is one kind of morality for one kind of people, and another kind for the rest. So we can see the tendency against the equality of men, against the idea that all human beings have an identical set of obligations and rights. Such a division is intellectually unacceptable unless you believe in some sort of natural nobility or divine right, and i doubt my Progressive enemies would defend it on that basis. Multiple moralities are at least consistent with monarchy; in any sort of representative government they are not only wrong but absurd, for the following reason. Let me ask this: If Diane Feinstein passes a law to disarm me, destroy my livelihood, or silence my voice, on what basis does she have the authority to do so? If you believe she has any authority at all, you do not look to inherited privilege, or a test by ordeal, or some sort of survival of the fittest or any sort of talisman of “superiority”. Rather, if she has the slightest trace of legitimate authority, she has it because of an election, because the general public has put her in that position. She gets her authority from so many million voters–it is impossible for her authority to exceed that of those same voters. She is the agent, her voters are the principal. Yet if those millions showed up on my doorstep (threatening the same sort of force as that employed by the legislator, ie comply quietly or be shot) and demanded that i give up my rights, we would recognize it as an evil mob action. Does employing an agent in the government to achieve the same end change the moral quality of the act?
i suspect that the reason these multiple inconsistent moralities are accepted is simply that the laws promised by the politicians are desired so intensely that the older, monarchic philosophy is casually adopted. In effect we accept a wrong principle, that of the superiority of the rulers, so that we may enjoy some of the benefits of a wrong form of government. We elect officials and then treat them as if they were divine-right kings, specifically because everybody knows that no voter has the authority to steal another voter’s lunch, and consequently no senator has the authority to steal that lunch on the voter’s behalf…but a king might have that authority. If we just treat our senators or presidents a little bit like kings, call them “leaders” instead of representatives, think of them as authorities over the people rather than our delegates, maybe we can get them to do a little bit of that lunch stealing for us. And thus they become our agents in crime.
“Can the clay say to the potter, ‘what are you doing?'” indeed speaks well of the relationship between man (as clay) and something radically superior to him. The potter has the authority, and the clay submits. But if one potter goes over to another potter, and starts trying to reshape him as he would reshape a lump of clay, the second potter is damn well right to ask, “What are you doing?”. If the “leader” is above me as God is above me, then i’m out of line questioning his authority, and, in fact, that is the only way it could be so. The only way any man on earth has the authority to tell me, “you must not smoke,” “you must not perform that service,” “you must not build your house there,” “you need a license,” or “your papers are not in order” is for that man to be above me as God is above me, and no man is so. No king really ever had such rights, even when it was pretended. No fellow citizen, or crowd of fellow citizens, has such authority over their neighbor’s own person and property. And it is pure madness to say that where the mass of men had no authority to act, that some agent of the mass of men does. If it is wrong to accomplish something by mob force, it is wrong to accomplish it by legislative force, because the act of legislation obviously has no sanitizing magic in it. The law must conform with justice, it cannot dictate what justice is.
The alternative scheme is that of a single moral standard, applied to all men, equally and identically. To understand such a system, it is helpful to consider a concrete example. Imagine a person is attacked in an alley late at night, and and shouts for help. A police officer happens to be nearby and intervenes with his nightstick or his gun, perhaps dragging the attacker away to face charges. Under either moral system the police officer would be acting more or less correctly, but for radically different reasons, and with radically different limitations. In the two-morality system (our present system) the police officer has the authority of the law on his side, and so he has the authority to bash anybody who doesn’t comply with the law. His authority is exactly as large as the law makes it, while the authority of every other person may be limited. It may be, in such a system, that the officer has the authority to intervene, but no bystander does, or that the victim might have their options of defense limited to abject reliance on the police. In other words, the police officer has the authority to stop the mugger for the same reason he has the authority to enforce occupational licenses or tap phones: Because he is an agent of a superior government, and that government knows what’s best.
Under a single morality system, the police officer is right to bash the mugger, but likewise the intended victim would be within their rights pulling out a pistol and resolving the situation on their own account. When the mugger took the step of violating the person of the victim, he chose to cross a threshold that justified forceful defense, and this defense can rightly take the form of self-defense, or delegated defense by police. The officer is right to fight the mugger because the victim is right to fight the mugger. And so the authority of the police extends only as far as the natural right of defense extends. And of course this coincides with the democratic argument; if the police officer is hired by an elected government, that government’s authority rests on being authorized by the voters. His authority only extends as far as the victim’s rights extend, exactly as the authority of his whole organization, the whole government, extends exactly as far as does the authority and rights of the voters. What the voters would be wrong to do, their officials are wrong to do. What the victim is wrong to do in retaliation to the mugger, the police officer must also be identically restrained from doing. Thus there is no man who is potter and no other man who is clay, but all are, as is obvious, equals.
In comparing the authority of human law to the biblical remark about the potter and the clay, there is another little detail that needs attention. Certainly, from this perspective, it would seem that man has a more limited scope in justly imposing restrictions on other men than God would have; God truly is the potter, in that tradition, and i would be in a very problematic position trying to make this kind of logical objection against His law if He had imposed taxi medallions or wetlands regulations on the public. The hilarity of our situation is that He doesn’t. Logically, under this argument, a being of infinite goodness, foresight, and wisdom would have exactly the authority necessary to legislate our lives from end to end, to dictate everything the most Progressive regime would dictate. Indeed a Progressive sort of person might expect it, since in the Progressive view, the lives of the masses need to be directed by their betters. Only the law of Moses does nothing of the kind. For every ancient law about the sacrifice of animals, there are a thousand modern laws about the slaughter of animals for human consumption. Moses is blamed for forbidding the weaving of two kinds of cloth into one garment; any garment maker would think himself in a paradise of freedom if he were only bound by Moses’s law today. The laws that modern man has imposed on his neighbor are legion, and he has no authority to make them. The interferences that are today taken for granted when a man tries to make a house or make a living would be seen for unthinkable, monstrous injustices if they were imposed directly from voter to voter; their nature is only concealed, not erased, by the convention of accepting government’s authority. And when man has imposed on his fellows these absurdities that he would only have the authority to do if he were an infallible demi-god, he looks to the law actually set by the God of the universe, and finds that it is too small to fill a single volume. The true potter has more respect for the clay than the legislator has respect for his fellow man.