Posts tagged justice

Column on Anti-Libertarian Point Refuted

Anti-Libertarian Point Refuted

Tibor R. Machan

The English Marxist political philosopher Ted Honderich asks us to imagine a perfectly just society, constituted according to libertarian principles. Then he asks, rhetorically, whether it is possible that there exist starving people in such a society? (Sure, that might be so but that’s true of any society and much less likely in a free one.) So Honderich then continues: “[I]n this perfectly just society they have no claim to food, no moral right to it. No one and nothing does wrong in letting them starve to death. There is no obligation in this society, on the state or anything else, to save them from starving to death. It is not true of anyone that he or she ought to have helped them. This is vicious.”(p.44)

Here we have a blatantly misleading assessment of a free society as well as men and women in such a society. Yes, Honderich is right that no one has an enforceable claim on other people providing food for them. There is in such a country no legal right to be supported except by parents of their children. That’s correct.

But first, to backtrack a bit, libertarians do not usually claim that a society with a libertarian political system is “perfectly just.” Only Socrates has laid such claim to a society, namely the imaginary one in his Republic. What libertarians claim is that their legal order secures political and criminal justice better than do alternatives. With libertarian principles in its constitution, such a system has a better chance at resolving conflicts justly than do others.

Now to Honderich’s charge: In a society with such a system of law it is quite often morally wrong for many who know of such a case to fail to provide help. (If, however, they had more vital goals to pursue, say attending to their children’s medical needs, this wouldn’t be so.) Lack of generosity, compassion, or support for those who deserve it would be morally wrong. Indeed, it could well be true of many that they ought to help anyone in such dire straits and very wrong for them not to do so. What the libertarian is convinced of is that no such help may be coerced from anyone, that government, in particular, has no moral authority to mandate the help, to use its power to make some people help others. Government exists to secure our rights, not to make us morally good, whether as this is understood by modern liberals or by modern conservatives.

This is something very different from the claim that no one ought to help those in dire straits, quite the opposite. Where there is no unjust, coercive welfare state, it is the citizenry’s responsibility to reach our and help when people are suffering through no fault of their own.

Would there be such people in a free country? Of course. To begin with, the near-free countries around the globe, such as the USA, are also the most generous when, for example, tsunamis or earthquakes occur! The people give freely, without having to be made to do so. Then, also, if the administrators of a welfare state could find the extra resources to help the needy, why couldn’t the citizenry itself do this? After all, supposedly the welfare state is representative of its citizenry–it would be implementing policies of which the citizenry approves. So the same motives that may induce them to forge the welfare state would also induce them to be generous. The only difference would be that there would be no coercion involved.

By the way, Professor Honderich is also one of the most avid hard determinists in contemporary philosophical circles, so talk by him of what people ought to do and not do is entirely superfluous. He cannot mean it, not if he is convinced that que sera, que sera, what will be will be. Only men and women with free will could be implored to do anything they aren’t doing, including to provide help to the poor. There is no morality without freedom to choose. At most one can talk about prodding or encouraging certain kinds of behavior but since the behavior isn’t chosen by the agents, it has no moral significance.

Column on Obama versus Due Process

Due Process versus Desired Results

Tibor R. Machan

Human justice is directly concerned with process, indirectly with results. This appears to have escaped President Barack Obama, especially during the recent political battle over whether Obamacare may be implemented or is it perhaps in violation of the U. S. Constitution. And was it perhaps enacted without regard to justice, to due process?

I am no constitutional scholar but it seems to me that in America it is perfectly proper to inquire about whether a piece of legislation has been enacted in a way that does violence to due process, the method of making law that free men and women are due. So when during the final hours of the debate about Obamacare Mr. Obama himself derisively dismissed the concern of many about the process by which it was being made into law–for example in his 11th hour interview on Fox TV–the American citizenry gained an important insight into just how his administration plans to govern. What the president was insisting upon is that what matters to him and his team are results, not process. He wanted the bill to succeed, whatever process would bring this about and it is quite likely that this is how he plans to pursue the rest of his agenda.

Now life, of course, is itself a process. Human life in society manifests itself in innumerable processes, aiming at innumerable results. There is only one common result all human life ought to aim for but it comes in a great variety of forms, which is human happiness. This is supposed to be the reward of the morally good life of the individual human being. For this reason a good society has a system of legal justice that protects the processes whereby men and women will not have anyone around them obstruct their pursuit of happiness. It is the protection of that pursuit that is crucial to the law, not the result itself which is the citizenry’s own business, their own task to achieve.

A parallel situation obtains concerning attempts to adjudicate dispute among members of the citizenry. A criminal trial is such an adjudicative process. And here again the result is only indirectly the concern of the legal system, the process is the crucial factor. And this is clear from the fact that the system often leaves the result in the hands of a jury, private citizens with no political and legal office. The system is supposed to ensure that every trial follows sound procedures–due processes of law!

But the tenor as well as the aims of our legal system have been changing. Politicians, including their legal appointees, are focused not on process but on results. The country is in danger of becoming a semi-civilized lynch mob. This could be appreciated from watching the news reports of all the fuss associated with the how dismissive President Obama was toward concerns expressed about the process that finally produced Obamacare.

And all this should not surprise us too much. Although the United States of America was conceived in terms of a legal system focused on due process, in time the government began establishing too many specific goals for us all to pursue. If the proper processes of the law do not produce an educated public, relief for the poor, environmental purity, total racial harmony, decent speech, or health insurance for all, then let’s just drop them and charge ahead anyway.

When such a role is conceived for our government, is it surprising that the people are willing to throw out due process as they protest the ensuing results? What many wanted from the recent debate about Obamacare is to make sure that bringing about the result does not do violence to individual rights (as, for example, coercing people to buy insurance certainly would). Did the American political process manage to abide by the principles to which all political maneuvers must conform? Or did those who wanted Obamacare proceed without regard for the principles on which the government is supposed to rest?

In the eyes of most protesters, for example members of the Tea Party, it could very well look as if due process was tossed to the side. Supporters of Obamacare made it clear they couldn’t care less about how the legislation made it into law so long as it did so somehow, with some semblance of legitimacy. This is a very ominous sign of where the country is headed. Hugo Chavez would find it promising.