A few years ago, with the help and encouragement of my older brother, I ran the Chicago marathon. It was hard. The training was hard. The hardest part of the training was the mental part, that part where I had to overcome the anxiety and disbelief that having completed a 10 mile run on a Saturday, there would come a day when I could do a training run of 12, then 15, then 20. Once the 12 mile run was done, 10 miles didn’t seem like such a big deal. I couldn’t even remember thinking that 10 miles was a big deal. I just knew that I had real anxiety about the upcoming 14 miler. What I hadn’t accomplished yet seemed unreachable, yet once the next goal was reached, I discounted my prior uncertainty. You get the idea.
I think that our socialist tendencies are like this. Almost everyone is a socialist if you push them far enough. On the contrary, almost every socialist respects property rights if you push them far enough. Let me show you what I mean, and as you read this, you can be thinking about when you start feeling like a socialist. Even the most ardent socialist would protest the violation of his property rights were a mugger to take his watch and wallet. Most of us don’t like to have our wages taken from us and given to someone else who isn’t working who could be working. You may be one of these resentful folks but all the while advocate that tax dollars should be used for public broadcasting or the arts. Realize that what you are saying, in effect, is that “I know best how someone else’s money should be spent.” You are also saying “..and I condone whatever force is necessary to take the property of my neighbor to effect that end.” Perhaps you are having difficulty distinguishing between this theft and that of the mugger.
Now understand that I’m making the case that we all have this tendency (to know what’s best) in us to some extent. This is one reason that liberty is so fragile and unusual. Freedom and liberty require a systematic and regular review of what is done by government with an eye toward which, if not all, of its functions can be eliminated, that is, which government activities can be accomplished by the private sector. Thomas Sowell once said that..”..there is no such thing as community service, for if there were a demand for it, someone in the private sector would have already found a way to provide the service and profit from it.”
You might fancy yourself a true freedom lover, but not when it comes to medical research or health care. In your opinion, it might make sense for the robbery to occur to make sure that these services are part of the social safety net as the market can’t be trusted to be as wise as certain brilliant individuals directing the traffic of tax dollars. You might have difficulty envisioning education as voluntary and separate from government. You might see the role of government in commerce or energy or old age pensions or the regulation of the environment or food and drugs or roads and bridges as legitimate and sufficiently justifiable to warrant the confiscation of the property of people who don’t.
Where do you draw the line? I’ve always found it interesting that these are very emotional issues and topics for people to discuss. Often times there is so much emotion anchored to these ideas that you can risk a friendship with a discussion. Many lovers of liberty have difficulty discussing their own new liberty frontiers without getting angry themselves, not unlike the marathon trainee, who, now running 16 mile runs has forgotten what their mindset was at 8 miles. Many are frustrated to condescend to discuss issues long since dealt with by them and it shows.
So here’s my point. Be patient with those who harbor more faith in government (socialism). They might have just finished their first 3 mile run and are doing all they can. Take Leonard Read’s advice and work on yourself: test and master your own thoughts and arguments and don’t go looking for trouble; just because you can’t wrap your mind around a new and seemingly radical freedom proposal doesn’t mean that someone else hasn’t thought through this long ago; find the borders of your own frontiers and challenge those. I think that this approach can bring the peace of mind that true liberty can grant, as we question at every step the legitimacy of the violence of state action.
G. Keith Smith, M.D.