Originally written December 11, 1986
I trust you to be the most competent person to run your own life. I presume you can judge for yourself whether or not you should partake in recreational drugs, gamble with your paycheck, hire a prostitute, or engage in any other personal non-violent activity. If you find that any of these are manageable vacations for you, then no harm is done. If you find instead that it is becoming your entire lifestyle, then the most important advice that I, or anyone, can give you, is to point out that you, and you alone, are responsible for the consequences of your actions. Vice does not have volition. You do. If you wish to accept the aid of others, who voluntarily offer it, no one can criticize. If, instead, you continue to engage in self-destructive activities, until you forfeit your life, I will grieve for the lost opportunity of your life, while recognizing that you had to be free to make your own mistakes. To assume that the mere offer of temptation is the same as offering aggression implies that you can not be expected to behave responsibly in the face of such temptation. That may be your honest self-assessment, but it will never be my presumption about you. Would you want it to be?
I believe you can choose what charities are worthy of support by your own moral standards. If one person would aid an unwed mother by offering her a subsidized abortion, while another would offer to adopt her child, who has the right to insist that only one or the other is acceptable – that support for the one standard of compassion will be compelled upon everyone, while the other is criminalized. You, and you alone, know how much you can afford to share with others after seeing to your own needs, and the needs of your family. Further, you, and you alone, know best how you can help. Do you really believe that love can be scaled up in size by coercive charities? Is the value of charity in the wealth that is given, or in the thought with which the wealth is given? Are you only concerned with the food in a man’s belly without a second thought about his soul? Can you only offer the poor the affection and esteem one would give farm animals? Does coercive love beget genuine compassion, or its antithesis, apathy and guilt? Is not government charity to voluntary charity as rape is to consensual sex? Do you really believe that institutionalizing government in the role of Robin Hood is a good idea? Robin Hood was a thief! But, at least, he was a thief because he had to be. There was no private property in King Richard’s England because ALL property was owned in the King’s name alone! And remember, Robin Hood’s enemy was the Sheriff of Nottingham,… THE GOVERNMENT! You and I would have been called serfs back then. Why, in the name of love, would anyone want to bring that life back? Do you regard others as only fit to live as serfs? Is that all you want out of life for yourself and your family? Is the only measure of charity you care to be tested upon to be your willingness to vote yourself (and everyone else) higher taxes? What are you saying you believe about yourself? How long must it be before humanity understands that it is more humane to create new wealth than to merely distribute wealth to those in need? It may be unfortunate, but governments will likely never be able to universalize love as readily as they can universalize equal process under law. When your main unique characteristic is having a socially sanctioned monopoly on the use of initiatory violence,… it is simply more difficult, not less, to universalize love. Voluntary means are not certain to succeed, but only by voluntary means can there ever be any possibility of universalizing love.
Why shouldn’t everyone be free to accept any job offer at whatever wage is mutually agreeable between employee and employer? Should you not be presumed competent to decide for yourself what wage is fair? Is it exploitation to be offered a low wage, or is it exploitation to be compelled to accept no wage rather than a low one? Is the need for pride in gainful employment something only known by adults between the ages of eighteen and sixty five, or is productive activity something sought by us all, regardless of age, sex, disability, or the paternalistic good intentions of strangers?
I trust that you know best what is a fair business risk for you to assume. I certainly trust your economic rationality when looking out for your own self-interest more than I would trust that of an anonymous government bureaucrat. Am I wrong for placing such trust in you?
Should others tell you what standard of morality you will hold? Should strangers forcibly take your children and teach them what the strangers choose to teach? Not what you choose, but what strangers choose? Strangers do, you know. Should others tell you how many children you may have? Why not? Why do you object to one and not the other? What inalienable right do you invoke in one instance that does not apply in all instances?
I trust you to be willing to fight to defend yourself and whatever else you value as much as you value your life. I trust you not to fight in unjust causes. When someone resists the draft in America and another in Russia, is one a coward and the other brave?
The greatest distrust that all reasonable people seem to have is the distrust of using force themselves. This is a natural and wholesome thing. But self-defense is also necessary. I am not stupid or willfully naïve. I am not suggesting that we all become Pollyannas and not defend ourselves from evil people. So long as people have free will, there will always be evil. No generation of men will be without it, ever. But how to administer the force necessary for self-defense? Vigilantism? Voluntary committees of citizens organized to suppress and punish crime when the processes of law appear inadequate? And without government, there can be no law, right? Government is law, isn’t it? What happens when mistakes are made? Doesn’t vigilantism mean lynch mobs in practice, inevitably bringing with it constant fear and mutual suspicion for everybody as a consequence?
So then, in honest self-doubt, reasonable men said, “Let us put force in one place, and then guard it by keeping it in one place. Let us call this place, Government.” But are we really safer for creating a monopoly and institutionalizing force? Could any mob be as dangerous as a society in which people say, I am not responsible, but the government is!?
As bad as the abuse of force can be, what is far worse is the abdication of self-responsibility. Any time that force is used, these principles must be invoked to weigh the justice of the action:
1. Force may only be used in response to force. Need, compassion, utopia, or fine dreams are not sufficient reasons.
2. Force may only be used against an aggressor and not innocent bystanders. It is not enough for society to claim that it needs to regard everyone as guilty until proven innocent (which is precisely the premise of all regulatory government). It is not enough to be fair by leveling everyone with equal injustice (which is the method of all compassionate socialism).
3. Force should only be used to gain restitution and not vengeance from aggressors. How can the world be other than impoverished when it tries to reduce criminals to the same sorry state as their forgotten victims? How long can criminals continue their self-denial of responsibility if they are required to repair the damage they are responsible for inflicting?
We must always remember that it is not the pomp and ceremony of government that make it just. Justice does not lay in government, nor in law, but in principle alone. Force is not (nor can it ever be) a creative power. Force is impotent to make anything. Force, at best, can only protect creative processes. It can never be a substitute for the source of all productivity, the sovereign individual mind.
In all argument concerning the integrity of ourselves and others, trust is an axiom, and it’s mine. But ultimately, trust is not something that I can prove for you. Trusting in yourself first, and then in others, is something that only you can do. I can not do it for you. Neither can the government, or your parents, or even God. Do you hesitate because you want an omnipotent guarantee of your continued existence? If you are trying to insure your survival by chaining my life to your welfare, are you not saying, in effect, that you trust me to keep you alive because you do not trust yourself? What does this do to enhance your celebration of life? What does this do for me? What does this teach our children? Do you hesitate to trust because you believe that justice requires that no innocent individuals should have to suffer through no fault of their own? Then there will be no end to your mistrust and suspicions because reality is indifferent to your beliefs about justice. There will always be misfortune and pain in the world. Utopia is not an option. It never was, and it never will be. Is it not probable that the maximum expression of good must always become evil, and that the minimum expression of evil is our best attainable good?
The reason the Soviet state continues in power is that the Soviet citizen is sincerely frightened of others having more liberty. They know that their government is brutal, but they also know (that is, believe) it is better than their best expected alternatives. Be very careful when you consider what you know. The German people, for centuries, had been among the most tolerant of the Jews, but even they could be loyal and obedient when told that all virtue is synonymous with obedience to authority. When people act only within the moral alternatives that others give them, they then make horror inevitable! The state is not our parent. Whether one is talking about Mother Russia, or the German Fatherland, or Uncle Sam, one is talking nonsense. Grow up, and be responsible for your own life, and for your own chosen values. You must not remain a child forever while leaving your own children with the debt of your folly.
I trust you to be the most competent person to run your own life. I am trusting my life on that fact. I am trusting your life to that fact. What other basis for social intercourse would you substitute? Why would you want to prove me wrong? When you believe that your fellow man is only fit for human society when living under the constant threat of initiatory force, aren’t you necessarily implying that he is just a stupid, incompetent, irresponsible, nigger slave, who is kept within bounds only by his fear of the whip and chain! Or is it that you are a willing slave whose real ambition is not freedom, but to own slaves of your own?
I am sorry, if I offend you. But the most powerful way to elicit responsible and productive effort in you is to let you know that that is the only way I ever intend to deal with you. I know you are capable of living up to my expectations. Why do you doubt yourself? I trust you. Rather than considering myself a Pollyanna, I believe that only by such trust can there be any sound hope for a better world and a brighter future. Trust is not something that large anonymous institutions can give to you by fiat. At first meeting, it is a premise between two individuals. Later, trust is usually recognized as deserved. When trust of someone is not deserved, act accordingly. But putting everyone in prison, gilded or otherwise, is not a way to build trust, either in yourself, in others, or in reality. I think you deserve better. I know I do. And most important of all, what kind of world do we want our children to inherit?
Yours in Liberty,
David R. Hunt
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