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Libertarianism and Legal Paternalism

by John Hospers
Department of Philosophy,
University of Southern California

In his book Principles of Morals and Legislation, the eighteenth-century philosopher and legislator Jeremy Bentham divided all laws into three kinds: (1) laws designed to protect you from harm caused by other people; (2) laws designed to protect you from harm caused by yourself; and (3) laws requiring you to help and assist others. Bentham held that only the first kind of laws were legitimate; and in general libertarians would agree with him.

The third class of laws, sometimes called “good Samaritan” laws, are greatly on the increase today, and their principal examples are not laws requiring you to assist persons in trouble (such as accident victims) although these are on the increase,’ but rather laws-both Congressional and bureaucratic- having to do with income redistribution, such as welfare and food stamps and programs for the disadvantaged. Bentham argued persuasively against these laws as well; but he also condemned laws of the second kind, and it is these I propose to discuss in this paper. Legislation designed to protect people from themselves is called “paternal legislation,” and the view that such laws are legitimate and ought to be passed is called “legal paternalism.”


Legal moralism is the view that the entire nation should be governed by one morality and/or religion, with dissent from the official view being punishable as a crime. Examples of legal moralism are the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation and Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Legal paternalism is the view that the law should, at least sometimes, require people to act (a) against their will (b) for their own good, in that way protecting them from the undesirable consequences of their own actions.

The term derives from the Latin “pater” (father): just as a kind father protects his children against harm and danger, pulling the child away from the speeding car or from the precipice down which he is about to fall, so the State should protect its citizens, not only against harm inflicted on them by other citizens, but also against harm which they might inflict on themselves.

Thus, according to legal paternalists, the State should prohibit drugs because otherwise people might take them, and even if the danger is only to their own health or life the State should protect such values for them if they are too foolish or incompetent to do so for themselves. Or again, the State should protect people from their own profligacy by forced savings, such as social security.

Libertarians, of course, are vigorously anti-paternalistic, believing as they do that people should absorb the consequences of their own actions, and that in any case the State has no right to legislate what people should do as long as their actions harm no one else. The concept of “harm” is admittedly vague: some people would say, for example, that a teacher is harming their children more by teaching them anti-Christian doctrines than by injuring their physical bodies, and if such people had their way they would impose not only legal paternalism but a whole system of legal moralism. Most Christians today, however, aware of what would happen if each moral or religious sect tried to impose its views on everyone in this way, would resort to persuasion rather than to force, and however evil they might find certain teachings to be they would stop short of wanting them declared illegal. But disagreement about what constitutes harm continues: some consider X-rated movies harmful, others say the same about nude beaches, and still others would make the same assertion about certain theories of education. Yet most of those who say this (in the case of education, at least, often with good reason) would stop short of saying that those who inflict this alleged harm should be subject to civil or criminal prosecution. “Harm” is usually construed by libertarians, in accordance with their own political philosophy, to include (a) bodily injury, such as assault and battery, (b) damage to or theft of property, and (c) violation of contract; and accordingly it is only these that libertarians usually seek to prohibit by law. Even libertarians are not, however, opposed as a rule to all paternalism. There are several groups of people in behalf of whom some degree of paternalistic action would be considered proper.

1. Infants and children. Infants cannot take care of themselves at all, and children cannot in many ways. Children do make decisions, hut lacking experience they often fail to comprehend the consequences of their own proposed actions. Views on children’s rights are a hotbed of current controversy; but there is probably no parent who has not at some time used coercion in order to prevent some harm to the child or bring about some good.

A degree of paternalism concerning children is also embodied in the legal system: for example, if parents demonstrably abuse their children, the State takes the children out of the parent’s custody for the children’s own good, even if such action may not be in accord with the children’s own wishes at the time. The rationale of this is that the parents have proved themselves to be unfit custodians of the children’s rights.

2. The senile. When an elderly couple can no longer take care of themselves but refuse to leave their home, and when they consistently refuse to pay the utility bills and the heat and light are cut off, it is customary for a near relative to obtain power of attorney from the court in order to pay the bills and perhaps conduct other business transactions on behalf of the parents even if the parents are unwilling, in order to protect the parents from the consequences of their own actions. Though there has been little discussion of this, it is probable that most libertarians would go along with a degree of paternalism in such cases; at least it would bespeak a certain crassness to say, “If they’re so stupid or forgetful as not to pay their utility bills, let them freeze!” Our ordinary assumption is that people are able to estimate to some extent the probable consequences of their own actions, and this assumption is unjustified in the case of senility, just as it sometimes is in the case of children.

3. The mentally incompetent (a wider class than “the insane”). This is hardly a clear-cut group, but there are many people who are quite unable to function in the world and quite as unable to fend for themselves as are young children. In most states people are at least temporarily institutionalized when they are “in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.”

Libertarians in general are opposed to the compulsory institutionalization of persons who have committed no legal crimes; but it is not clear that all libertarians would be committed to opposing the non-voluntary incarceration of a knife-wielding psychotic in an aggressive phase when he was bent on killing the children in the neighborhood. Others might approve a person’s compulsory incarceration if he was a danger to himself, or even if he was simply unable to function, e.g., to know how to find food or shelter even if he had the money in his pocket.

But let us leave these groups aside for the moment. What about “ordinary normal adults”? At least, one would think, we should be totally opposed to any paternalism with respect to them. “Neither one person, nor any number of persons,” wrote John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, “is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it. . . . The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.”

Mill, a disciple of Bentham, was a utilitarian, and based his ethical conclusions on whatever was for “the greatest good of society”. But it is doubtful whether he could justify his strong anti-paternalism on utilitarian grounds. It may be that forcing motorcyclists to wear helmets for their own protection produces in its total consequences more good, e.g., more total happiness and less unhappiness, than the policy of not forcing them-particularly if there are lots of careless riders. It may even be that the policy of having parents arrange marriages produces less unhappiness than having young people (especially when they are emotionally immature) decide these matters for themselves; yet

Mill would have them decide for themselves, even make their own mistakes and hopefully profit from them. In fact Mill, not in his Utilitarianism but in On Liberty, bases his anti-paternalistic stand on quite different considerations. “There is a part of the life of every person who has come to years of discretion, within which the individuality of that person ought to reign uncontrolled either by any other person or by the public collectively.” And again, from On Liberty, “A man’s mode of laying out his existence is the best, not because it is best in itself, but because it is his own mode. . . .It is the privilege and proper condition of a human being, arrived at the maturity of his faculties, to use and interpret experience in his own way.” Mill here is “saying something about what it means to be a person, an autonomous agent. It is because coercing a person for his own good denies this status as an independent entity that Mill objects to it so strongly and in such absolute terms. To be able to choose is a good that is independent of the wisdom of what is chosen.”~ The question I now want to ask is, Are libertarians committed to being one hundred percent anti-paternalistic, leaving aside the groups described in the previous section?

We are sometimes paternalistic with non-deranged adults, and believe ourselves to be quite justified in being so. A friend or spouse says to you, “Be sure to get me up at 7 o’clock; my job depends on it. Force me if you have to. No matter what I say at the time, get me up.” If you do so, contrary to the person’s wishes at the time, do you as a libertarian feel guilt and remorse? No, because even though forcing him to get up at that time is contrary to his wishes as of that moment, it is in accord with hislong-termgoals for himself. We are in a position in which we have to sacrifice either his short-term goal (staying asleep) or his long-term goal (keeping his job), and we consider it preferable to honor his long-term goal.

The attendant at a hospital force-feeds a patient who needs nourishment in order to live but refuses to take it. Should the libertarian say “If he doesn’t want food, it’s wrong to force him to take it”-thus letting him die?

Surely not. What we will do (or at the very least, may permissibly do) is to go counter to his present desires, which may last a day or a week, in order to fulfill his long-term desire (which was constant prior to his present illness), which was to remain alive. When the patient has recovered he may thank us for force-feeding him: “It saved my life.” If this happened, would the libertarian still say that the force-feeding was wrong? Even if we have no independent evidence at the time that the patient’s attitude was pro-life, we may tentatively infer this from the fact that he has already lived this long, and are justified in having apresumption that he wishes to live. If he is grateful to us for saving his life, this alone justifies our previous action; and if he still wants to die after his recovery, he is still alive to make that choice, and there remain many ways in which he can undertake to bring about his own death if he so chooses. Some decisions, once made, are extremely far-reaching, or dangerous, or irreversible-sometimes all three at once, as in the present case.

When this is so, we act paternalistically on the person’s behalf, so that he can live to freely choose another day.


It is one thing to be justified in doing X; it is another thing to require everyone to do X by law. Is there any justification at all for legal paternalism?

Mill himself thought there were occasions when legal paternalism was justified. He held, for example, that a contract by which a person agrees to sell himself into perpetual slavery should be null and void-as indeed it would be declared by virtually any court in the Western world. But why, if a person signs such a contract, should anyone interfere with it? “The reason for not interfering, unless for the sake of others, with a person’s voluntary acts,” wrote Mill in On Liberty, “is consideration for his liberty. . . . By selling himself for a slave, he abdicates his liberty; he foregoes any future use of it beyond that single act. He therefore defeats, in his own case, the very purpose which is the justification of allowing him to dispose of himself. …The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom to be allowed to alienate his freedom.” The reason for not honoring such a contract is the need to preserve the liberty of the person to make future choices. Paternalism is justified at time t, in order to preserve a wider range of freedom for that individual at times t2,t,, tn, etc.

Perhaps this example is extreme, or at any rate unique. Let us return then to our more mundane example, the law (which exists in all the states of the United States except four) requiring cyclists to wear helmets for their own protection. But “for their own protection” is not the only reason why such laws have been passed. It is also for the protection of others-thus falling under the heading of impure paternalism rather than pure paternalism. (A law is purely paternalistic if it is solely for the individual’s protection; it is impurely paternalistic when it is partly for that reason and partly for other reasons.) Without a helmet, a cyclist involved in an accident is liable to get a permanent head injury, and under present welfare and disability laws he would be a permanent ward of the state, perhaps living on for decades at taxpayer expense. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island a few years ago upheld the helmet requirement on the ground that it was “not persuaded that the legislature is powerless to prohibit individuals from pursuing a course of conduct which could conceivably result in their becoming public charges.”

Committing suicide is commonly a criminal offense. (You can be killed for doing it.) Even unsuccessful attempts are punishable. Yet if your life is your own, haven’t you the right to take it whenever you wish? What right has the State to command you not to take it? None, we say. Yet the State orders its policemen, when a person tries to kill himself by jumping in the river, to do their best to rescue the would-be suicide provided they can do so without “substantial risk” to their own lives. Is there any justification at all for this rule? I believe that such a rule could be defended, for the kind of reason already given: by forcibly preventing a person from taking his life at time tl, he thereby enables the person to make his own choice later, whereas the person’s death would put an end to all future choices.

Perhaps the person was in a depressed state of mind which would pass, if he lived; perhaps he was confused, or drugged, or deranged -the policeman is in no position to know when he sees the man jump. It is better to assume that in the long run the man wants to live, than to assume that his continuing and steady disposition (time t*, t2,. . . t,) would be to die. If one assumes that his attempt is only a temporary aberration, and acts accordingly, the rewards may be great; whereas if it is not merely a temporary aberration, but an abiding disposition, then the man will still be alive to make a choice for death at a later time.

Paternalism in such a case represents a kind of wager made by the person acting paternalistically on another’s behalf: “I’ll wager that the long-run trend of your desires is contrary to your apparent wish at the present moment, so I will act to preserve your long-term wish even if it means denying your present, and hopefully temporary, one.” In some cases it may even be justifiable, as in the case of teen-age marriages, to have an enforced waiting period: when the consequences of the act would be far-reacing and possibly catastrophic, it may be better to make the person wait or hesitate even if he doesn’t wish to at the time, just as one makes the person get up even if he doesn’t want to at the time.

An impulsive suicide leap would have far-reaching and irreversible consequences, so isn’t one justified in erring, if at all, on the side of caution? If the weeks go by and the person is still deeply depressed and refuses advice or therapy, then hecan, with Marcus Aurelius, weigh the pros and cons carefully and still decide, “The room is smoky, so I leave it.”

Rather than adopt the simplistic conclusion that all paternalistic action is wrong, I shall adopt a more moderate conclusion: I want to say that the greater the degree to which a person’s action (or a proposed action, or a thought-of action) is voluntary, the less are other persons (or institutions, especially the law) justified in behaving paternalistically toward that person. But the key word here is “voluntary”. The popular conception of voluntariness, which is shared by most libertarians, seems to me only to skim the surface of the concept. The popular conception, embedded also in most libertarian literature, is that voluntariness means non-coercion. As long as you’ve not been coerced, this argument suggests, your decision is voluntary.

But in my view much more than this is required.

1. Freedom from coercion and pressure. It is true, of course, that when coercion occurs the decision is not voluntary. But even here there are degrees. The limiting case of coercion is one in which, for example, someone stronger than you are forces your fingers around the trigger of the gun; you resist but without success. In that case it isn’t your act at all, but the act of the person who forced you. Still, you were coerced. More typically coercion consists not of overt physical action but of the threat of it: “If you don’t hand over your wallet, I’ll shoot.” Unlike the first case, in threat cases there is a choice: you can surrender your life instead of (or probably in addition to) your wallet. But it isn’t much of a choice, and handing over the wallet isn’t the choice we would have made except for the coercion-we were made to do something we would not voluntarily have done.

Threats, too, are a matter of degree. Threat of loss of life is more serious than threat of injury; threat of injury is (usually) more serious than threat of loss of employment; and a threat by your mother-in-law to move if you don’t do what she asks is still Less of a threat-indeed it may be not a threat at all, but rather its opposite, an inducement.’ Many libertarians are willing to call it coercion only if there is physical harm or threat of physical harm, but in my opinion this is much too narrow. A threat of loss of a job may not be much of a threat if you can easily obtain another; but if no others are obtainable within a hundred miles, or if your special skill is not one for which there is any longer much demand, or if you would have to move your whole family to another state, the threat of loss of a job could be very serious. In any case it’s not a job you would voluntarily have left- you would not have quit it hut for the coercion (and it is coercion, threatening the means by which you live, differing only in degree from threat to life or limb).

Indeed, any kind of pressure put on you interferes with the voluntariness of your decision. The warden says, “If you don’t cooperate with us by joining the group therapy sessions, we’ll put you in the hole for two weeks.”

Surely this compromises the voluntariness of the prisoner’s decision.

Someone puts pressure on you to make a decision hastily when you wouldn’t have made it without the pressure; while this may not be comparable to loss of life or limb, it may seriously compromise the voluntariness of your decision. It may be that laws against duelling are justified because if duelling were legally permitted many people would feel great pressure to preserve their “macho” image by never turning down a challenge, and thus they are (not exactly forced, but) pressured (perhaps with enormous sociological pressure) into entering a duel time after time even though they would prefer not to, and would refrain but for the pressure. It’s not an outright case of coercion, but there is a continuum between coercion and pressure and when the pressure is of the kind I have described, an individual will be relieved and gratified, and in the long run fulfilling his lifeplan much more in accordance with his own wishes, if the practice is prohibited by law. (Remember the film The Duellists, in which this kind of pressure ruins the protagonist’s whole life. How different is that from killing him outright?) There is a certain paternalistic wisdom in the remark of that eminent philosopher Groucho Marx in one of his films, when he wakes from a faint and says, “Force some brandy down my throat!”

Any influence, whether pressure or outright coercion, which keeps the process of decision making from “filtering through your mind” and thus triggers the decision with partial or no cooperation from your untrammeled decision-making faculties, tends to inhibit the full voluntariness of the decision. But freedom from coercion and pressure is only one of the conditions requisite for voluntary action.

2. Informed and Educated Consent. The decision must be informed, based on the facts relevant to the case, and purged of false information. If the merchant sells you what he says is a real diamond when it’s actually glass, and you pay the price of a diamond, your decision to pay is not voluntary: “You wouldn’t have paid that much voluntarily,” we say, at least not for a piece of glass. It’s not that you were coerced, or even pressured; you were defrauded, that is, you were fed false information in making your decision.

Fraud is only one special case. You think you are drinking water, it was water you asked for and your host at the party brought a clear liquid that looked like water, only it contained poison. Even though no pressure was placed upon you, it is not reasonable to hold that you are voluntarily drinking poison. Drinking the poison is not in these circumstances a voluntary act; drinking water would have been, but that is not what you are doing. Or: you start to walk across a bridge, not knowing that further down the bridge has collapsed (you can’t see it through the fog). You know that if it has collapsed you will likely fall to your death, but you don’t know that it has collapsed. Since your aim is to cross the bridge and not to commit suicide, your action, based on misinformation, is not voluntary. If a man really thought that when he jumped out of the 20th floor window he would float through the air, would his jumping to his death still be voluntary?

When a patient consents to participate in a medical experiment-he’s not threatened, not pressured-but some of the possible serious consequences or unpleasant side-effects of the experimental drug have been concealed from him, one would not say that he consented voluntarily to take the drug.There must not only be uncoerced consent, there must be informed consent. Because his consent is not informed, it is not fully voluntary. How informed must it be to be “really informed”? The general formula is: he must be told all the relevant facts prior to making his decision. But this too turns out to be a matter of degree: one could go on forever citing medical facts which might turn out to be relevant; can one ever be quite sure one has reached an end of citing such facts? Even if the physician or researcher has cited all the facts he knows, there may still he others he doesn’t know which are highly relevant to the patient’s decision, even to his life or death. It would seem, then, that a patient can have “informed consent” but not ‘yully informed consent.” If full (complete) information is required for voluntariness, the patient’s consent must always be something less than fully voluntary. But once again, this is a matter of degree.

When prisoners, or patients in mental hospitals, are encouraged to offer themselves as experimental guinea pigs, it is highly probable that there is, lurking in the background if not in the foreground, some external pressure (punishment if you don’t, reward if you do). But in addition to this, it is seldom indeed that the patient is told even all the relevant information that the physician knows; what happens is more like “How would you guys like to join us in an interesting experiment, which won’t take much of your time” and so on. Thus the consent fails of voluntariness in both counts.

It would hardly be an overstatement to say that the consent of children to participate in such an experiment can never be wholly voluntary, and that “voluntary consent,” though it may be required in such a case, can never be given. Even if the child could reel off all the information an unusually loquacious physician has presented regarding the new medication, the child is not in a position to appreciate the force of that information. How many children can really understand the full force of a simple statement like “There’s a 50-50 chance that you’ll die”? Children can make all kinds of confident assertions, wagers, and challenges, not knowing fully what they really mean. When the twelve-year-old is offered some L.S.D., with the invitation “It’ll give you a wonderful high,” he may accept it eagerly, just as a baby might play with a stick of dynamite or a loaded gun. For this reason, contrary to what some libertarians apparently believe, all such invitations by others should be prohibited by law, for the child’s protection. The child cannot give informed consent, much less “educated consent-and those who would take advantage of the child’s incapacity should be met with the full force of the criminal law. To say of the child that “after all he gave his consent” would be ludicrous if its consequences were not so tragic.

3. Healthy Psychological State. I believe that there is a third condition that must be fulfilled as well. A person may not be under coercion or outside pressure, and he may be fully informed of the relevant facts of the case, and yet he may make his decision in what I can only describe as an unsatisfactory-or irrational, depending on what that term is taken to mean psychological state. A person may be mentally deranged; but lacking this extreme, he may be in a daze, or drugged, or in an acute state of grief or depression, or just simply confused. Ordinarily when a person is in such a state he can hardly be described as “fully informed,” and so his action would fail of voluntariness by the second criterion. But there may well be occasions when he is not pressured and all of the facts are clearly before him, and yet he is in no position to make a decision such as he would make if he were not in such a psychological state. A person in a state of depression might be quite lucid as to the facts, yet a recital of ordinarily horrifying facts, such as his own imminent death or the extinction of the entire world, may well not move him to any kind of action or response.

I do not wish to say that any decision we might label as unwise shows that the person is in such an “abnormal” psychological state; people can certainly act voluntarily and yet foolishly. I only wish to suggest that when a person is in such a mental state as I have indicated, his decisions should not be described as fully voluntary. A psychotic in a highly manic phase may jump out of a second-story window, quite without coercion and in full possession of information as to the probable effects of his action. It is primarily because of the mental state of such a person, not because of pressure or lack of information, that we hesitate to describe his actions as fully voluntary.

In discussing human action, libertarians place very great emphasis upon voluntariness. But in my opinion most libertarians conceive it too thinly. “If he was forced, he hasn’t acted voluntarily”- this much libertarians all assent to. But too often they fail to see that voluntariness is not as simple as that -that once it is clear that no coercion or pressure has been applied, the action may yet fail of being voluntary. I have argued that the simplistic conception of voluntariness not only fails to do justice to the concept, but is often highly unfortunate in its effects. And I have argued that voluntariness, like so many other concepts, is not a yes-or-no concept but a matter of degree: not only does coercion-pressure itself encompass a broad spectrum of influences, from the application of force at one end to the exertion of subtle psychological pressure on the other, but that even when no external pressure has been applied, an act may be only incompletely voluntary because of its failure to meet the other two conditions.


Whenever I have offered remarks in defense of paternalism in the previous pages, paternalistic action was to be taken in order to help a person achieve his own goals. The man wants to get up at 7 a.m. to keep his job, and by going against his 6 a.m. command we are helping him achieve what he himself (though not at that moment) wants. If a person’s suicidal impulse is transitory, we help him achieve his long-term goals- which all, of course, presuppose life-by not letting him kill himself now. Even when laws prohibiting duelling were defended, it was on the assumption that a life freed of this curse is what the person who is constantly being challenged to other duels really wants for himself.
But there is also paternalism which thwarts the person’s long-term goals.

Laws limiting the number of hours per week a person may work are often defended as protecting that person; but what if the person doesn’t want any such thing? What if the person wants to work extra long hours this year in order to have money to start a possibly lucrative business next year?

“But,” one may say, “surely laws or actions that thwart the person’s own goals can’t be paternalistic at all, because part of the definition of paternalistic action is that it’s for the person’s own good.” Yes, but there’s the rub: what is for the person’s good may not be the same as what he wants (even in the long run). Suppose that what would be for his good is to develop his talents so as to have a fulfilling life, but that all he wants is to be a bum. Or suppose he is a drug addict, and all he wants for himself even over a life-span is a state of drug-soaked euphoria (he doesn’t mind if his life is short, as long as it is, by his own standards, sweet). Even if we believe, and even if we believe truly, that such a life does not serve his good-we think of the wasted talents and of what he might have achieved and enjoyed if he had not (on our view) thrown away his life-we are nevertheless faced with the fact that what we want for him is not the same as what he wants for himself.

Any kind of paternalism which consists of our acting against his will to achieve our goals for him, rather than our acting against his (present) will to achieve his own goals (assuming, of course, that he is sufficiently mature to have them), is the kind of paternalism which I believe libertarians should condemn. Libertarians have condemned all paternalism without recognizing its two distinct forms, one of which may sometimes be acceptable and the other not.

Once it is clear that our goals for a person do not coincide with his goals for himself, and once we have used reason and possibly persuasion to convince him (never force), and he still sticks to his own, then as libertarians we must conclude, “It’s his life, and I don’t own it. I may sometimes use coercion against his will to promote his own ends, but I may never use coercion against his will to promote my ends. From my point of view, and perhaps even in some cosmic perspective, my ideals for him are better than his own.

But his have the unique distinguishing feature that they are his; and as such, I have no right to interfere forcibly with them.” Here, as libertarians, we can stand pat. It is, after all, just another application of Kant’s Second Moral Law -that we should always treat others as ends in themselves, never as means toward our own ends.


1. See, for example, James Ratcliffe, ed., The Good Somariron and rhe Low (New York: Anchor Doubleday Books, 1966).

2. See Joel Feinberg, Social Philoso~hy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall vawrback. Foundations of ~hilosophy series, 1973), chaps. 2 and 3

3. Gerald Dworkin. “Paternalism.” The Monist 56. no. I.

4. See John Hospers, “Some Problems ~oncerni& Punishment and the Use of Force,” Reason (November 1972 and January 1973).

Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. IV. No. 3 (Summer 1980)

1776 to 1984 Part I

by John Hospers

In 1776 there was a libertarian revolution in America. It occurred under an unusual concatenation of circumstances.

Intelligent and dedicated men, educated in classics and history, imbued with ideals of freedom because they all knew tyranny first-hand, gathered together to form a new nation. The constitution they devised was unique in history.

Although it provided for protection against individuals doing violence to one another, it provided primarily for protection against the abuses of government itself. Its main aim was to check the violation of the rights of citizens by their government. The tragedy of history, they knew, was that governments, which were supposed to protect human beings from violations of their rights, turned out to be the chief violators of rights–taxing, plundering, and enslaving. It was to be a severely limited government. Bind the government with the chains of the Constitution.

When these men talked about freedom, they meant freedom from oppression, freedom from tyranny, freedom of speech and peaceable assembly, freedom of the press, freedom from confiscation of property, freedom from arbitrary search. They wanted to make the decisions governing their own lives, rather than have officials in government make those decisions for them; they wanted their actions to result from their own choices, not from the choices of others. They wanted to institute a republic (not a democracy) whereby each person would be free to do anything except interfere with the equal freedom of others. And this, after all, is the essence of libertarianism.

It was these political freedoms that they had in mind in developing an American Constitution. They did not primarily have in mind economic freedom, the freedom of production and trade. Nevertheless, with government explicitly restricted in what it could do, it was not permitted to enact measures to prevent enterprising people from improving their own lot; and this they proceeded to do with such speed that within a century America was already the wealthiest nation in the world.

This did not result from its supply of natural resources – many other nations, still mired in poverty had far more – it resulted from the release of human energy, which freedom made possible.

At the beginning, the standard of living in America, as everywhere else in the world, was unimaginably low by today’s standards. George Washington never heard of calories or vitamins, he lived on meats and starches through every winter. He never saw a glass of orange juice, his diet was so deficient that he lost his hair and teeth at an early age. His clothes were uncomfortable and unhygienic. He traveled on foot, on horseback, or in a springless carriage. His house had no toilet or bathtub, no furnace or heating stove, no light except sun and candles. What was his standard of living? It was so high that for a hundred years not one American in ten thousand aspired to it.

The Revolution began here, in living conditions hardly changed since Nebuchadnezzar reined. Two centuries ago, here in this country, men carried men on their shoulders, as coolies still do in China. American women still cooked over open fires, as women had cooked since before history began, and as more than two thirds of the women on this earth are still cooking.

In 1850 in New York state every woman made her household’s soap and candles. Oil was always in this earth; men discovered it when Babylon was young; Romans knew it and saw it burning; no European had ever made kerosene. American women still spun thread and wove cloth with the spindle and the loom that were older than Egypt. Older than Egypt, the water-wheel and the millstone still ground the grain that American farms still cut with the knife and threshed with the flail that are as old as history. In one century, three generations, human energy has created an entirely new world.

What did the new-found freedom achieve? More than two thousand years ago, the Greeks knew the principle of the steam engine, but they lacked the technology to develop it. In Germany in 1704 a steamboat ran on the river Elbe, but the boatmen saw it as a threat to their livelihood, and they burned it; the inventor died in exile. So steamboats were developed in England, but there too they were under government control. The British government controlled their manufacture, sale, and use. The controls were sufficiently severe to make the manufacture unprofitable and the future uncertain. So it fell to America to develop the steam engine, and that is where it was done. Of course, the same attempts were made in America as elsewhere. Operators of sailing ships in New England demanded government protection against this new intruder, which would soon destroy their sailing-ship industry.

But there was a difference. In America any laws to control the steamships and protect the sailing ships were unconstitutional. Soon steamships were going up and down the Hudson, then the Great Lakes, and finally the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Then they started to cross the Atlantic. They were fast, cheap, efficient — and they captured the world’s sea trade. Soon steamships were found in virtually every world port, carrying cargo faster and more reliably than any sailing ship had ever done. The uncontrolled American economy had achieved this. The controlled British economy had produced inferior ships. England was desperate. Parliament debated the issue hotly; it was now a matter of survival. “What had created the clipper ships? Not the American Government.

Not protection, but lack of protection. What made the British marine second-rate? Safety, shelter, protection under the British Navigation Acts. In 1849 the British Government repealed the Navigation Acts and opened British ports to the world.” (Lane, The Discovery
of Freedom, p. 238.)

“American clipper ships opened the British ports to free trade. Half a century of American smuggling and rebellion and costly ineffectual blockades, seven years of war in America, and the loss of the thirteen colonies; and all the sound and sensible arguments of English liberals and economists, could not break down the British planned economy. American clipper ships did it.

“They were the final blow that brought down that whole planned structure. The great English reform movement of the 19th century consisted wholly in repealing laws. There was nothing constructive in it; it was wholly destructive. It was a destruction of Government’s
interference with human affairs, a destruction of the so-called “protection” that is actually a restriction of the exercise of natural human rights.

“In that mid-19th-century period of the greatest individual freedom that Englishmen have ever known, they made the prosperity and power of the British Empire during Victoria’s long and peaceful reign.

“And to that freedom, and prosperity, and power, and peace; the American clipper ship contributed more than any other one thing.” (Lane, The Discovery of Freedom; p. 239.)

America’s political freedom made possible its economic freedom, and the economic freedom made possible a prosperity never before seen on this earth. In the years 1870-1890 the American standard of living doubled: that is, you could obtain twice as much for a dollar in 1890
as in 1870. And even so, the material standard of living was low by today’s standards.

In 1900 there was a $40-a-month mechanic, working 10 hours a day, six days a week, tinkering nights and Sundays in the woodshed behind his little rented house — no bathtub, no running water, no light but a kerosene lamp — in a far, cheap suburb of Detroit. Even Henry Ford did not imagine that his invention would change the face of the world.

There were no cars, no highways, no radios or planes, no movies, no tall buildings, no electric lights, no toothpaste, not many toothbrushes, no soda fountains, no bottled soft drinks, no hot-dog stands, no high schools, no low shoes, no safety razors or shaving cream, no green vegetables in the winter, and none in cans, no bakers’ bread or cakes or doughnuts, no dime stores, no supermarkets. An orange was a Christmas treat, in prosperous families. There was no central heating, and only the very prosperous had bathtubs; they were tin or zinc, encased in mahogany in the homes of the very rich. The rich too, had gaslights.

But the automobile changed all of American life, and life all over the world. The era of covered wagons and horses and buggies was over. The civilization that we know today, which we all take for granted, was in progress.

But when Mrs. Lane described this progress, she issued a warning: “Do you assume that this new world cannot vanish? This world that your grandfather could not imagine and that your children now take for granted. do you think that your grandchildren must surely inherit it?

“Do you imagine that the planes cannot be grounded, the factories close, the radio be silent and the telephone dead and the cars rust and the trains stop? Do you suppose that darkness and cold and hunger and disease, that have never before been so defeated and that are now defeated only on this small part of the earth, can never again break in upon all human beings? Do not be so short-sighted.

“The energies of living individuals must constantly create these defenses of human life and these extensions of human powers.

“Relinquish the free use of individual energies, and these defenses must vanish as the Roman galleys vanished.

This whole modern world must disappear completely.

Every effect ceases when its cause no longer operates.

“This whole modern civilization, that is not yet a century old, that is not yet established on any large part of the earth, can cease to exist.

“It must cease to exist, if individual Americans forget the fact of individual liberty, and abandon the exercise of individual self-control and individual responsibility that creates this civilization.

“Young Americans who had known nothing but this new world, naturally take it for granted. They see a great deal that is wrong in it; they can very easily imagine a better world. So can any honest person. The eternal hope of humankind is in the eternal human desire to make this world better than it is.

“But when they imagine that a control can exist which can be used over individuals to make a better world according to someone’s plan, they are falling into an ancient delusion–a delusion from which most persons on this earth have never wakened.”  — Continue –>

1776 to 1984 Part II

by John Hospers

And now it is 1984. We are approaching the end of the 20th century. We are told that the 20th century has been the era, not of individualism, but of collectivism; not of capitalism, but of socialism; not of peace, but of war and terrorism; not of individual freedom, but of government control; not of free traders on a free market, but of concentration camps and torture chambers.

We live in the Orwellian century, and indeed in the Orwellian year. How accurate was Orwell’s vision? To what extent is the world today as Orwell envisioned it?

Orwell was not a theorist as much as he was an opponent of lies, hypocrisy and tyranny. In the 1930s when a publisher asked him to go to the north of England and report on the plight of factory workers unemployed in the Depression, he went, and he became a socialist. He knew nothing of economics; he knew nothing about the causes of depressions; but he reported with knife-edge clarity what he saw.

When he joined the rebels in the Spanish Civil War to fight Franco, he soon found that the Russian communists had taken hold of it; and the communists didn’t want the independent workers’ unions that Orwell championed.

The communists regarded these deviants from these views as more dangerous enemies than Franco’s soldiers were. They placed them in military positions from which they knew they would never return. They killed them as if they, who had come to help, were the enemy. Orwell saw now that they were tyrants, as ruthless as the ones he was fighting against. Both sides were alike in wanting absolute power, and using it to stamp out the individual.

Orwell felt betrayed; recovering in a hospital from a throat wound, he barely escaped from Spain with his life. He may never have learned that the same Russian soldiers he saw in Spain were never permitted to return to their homes. On one pretext or another, Stalin had them all shot on their return; after all, they could not be permitted to tell their fellow Russians how much better things were in the world outside–that people actually had watches, and more than one suit of clothes, even in a poor country like Spain.

Orwell was not as disillusioned about the left as about the right. His countrymen were not; and London’s West End literary critics spurned and hated him for exposing the dictatorships of the left to which they were now turning their allegiance. Orwell saw them both as ruthless tyrannies. He had seen the future, and it worked too well. All men were equal, of course—sometimes equal in pay, but never equal in power: some were more equal than others. Out of his experiences in Spain came Orwell’s Animal Farm. More than a dozen publishers rejected it because of its obvious parody of Soviet slogans before it was finally accepted. After all, the Soviets were now Britain’s allies in the war. But to Orwell this made no difference: the truth was still the truth.

How did the trend toward 1984 begin? In the United States, along with most Western nations, it all began innocently from the best of motives. Especially after the depression, of whose causes they had no comprehension at all, the voters have wanted more and more things from the government, without a price tag attached.

The first of these historically was education; everyone in the United States can receive at least 12 years of free education. The motive, of educating the youth, was doubtless a noble one; yet the public schools today are turning out millions of functional illiterates, and by every comparison made, the private schools that still exist are doing a far better job.

Then Americans wanted to be insured against indigence in old age; hence, arose Social Security. Though this system is now virtually bankrupt, and the only way to keep the government’s promise to take care of people in their old age is to tax the earnings of the younger generation more and more each year. The money originally put in has long since been spent. It is as if you lent Jones money on his promise to return it when you needed it, plus interest, but when you needed it, it turned out that he had squandered it all, and now he has to steal to get it back.

Then people asked to be insured against unemployment, so unemployment insurance came to be. They wanted to be insured against medical catastrophes, so Medicare was born; it is costing billions of dollars every year, including the treatment of people with imaginary illnesses (“after all, it’s free”) and physicians padding bills and charging them to the government. The same with welfare, then food stamps–both programs full of graft and brimming with freeloaders, yet it would cost more to weed out the cheaters than it would to continue as before.

But of course, someone has to pay for all these benefits. Taxes grew higher and higher, but even very high taxes were not enough to pay for the programs, so a national deficit was born. It grew and grew, and continues to grow.

(Buckley, National Review, Feb. 10, 1984): “Along came a Republican president who said the tax structure was causing positive damage.” (It was causing businesses to go bankrupt from the high taxes and regulations.) “He said that people were being taxed so heavily as to jeopardize their productivity. So he proposed to cut down taxes, and to cut down the insurance. Congress agreed to cut down taxes, but not to cut down insurance; so the deficit deepened.

“Meanwhile, the president said that we had neglected the first responsibility of government, namely defense.

This too, he said, was a form of insurance: just as we want to insure against indigent old age, so we want to insure against the loss of our liberties. The Democratic opposition went along, but rather sulkily, and it proposed higher taxes to pay for defense insurance.” But higher taxes were very unpopular, so they talked about “taxing the rich.” But that wouldn’t do, as Sir Stafford Cripps pointed out to Britons in the late 1940s. If you taxed every millionaire 100 percent of his income, it wouldn’t be enough to run the government for one day out of the year. So the people will have to tax themselves more, or else do with less insurance. Meanwhile, the high taxes “harden the productive arteries,” and there is less employment to be found and more people to go on welfare, increasing the tax burden still further.

That is the situation we are in now. Each of these seemingly innocent steps along the way has catapulted us into 1984.

The U.S. has a national debt of 10 trillion dollars, enough dollars that the pile would extend from the earth to the moon. The interest on that debt will soon be the largest single expenditure of the government. The entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, have burgeoned beyond all predictions, and no one knows where the money will come from to sustain them for more than a few years. A huge bureaucracy in Washington controls the conditions under which businesses can be run, with so heavy a hand that countless small businesses each year are forced into bankruptcy, with the result that new products don’t reach the market and the employees are laid off and go on welfare. Many businesses have to spend 30% or more of their employee time doing useless paper work for the government.

The honest businessman who is trying to survive amidst the taxes and regulations is having an ever harder time of it; meanwhile the dishonest businessman, who gets government subsidies for his business, prospers, and even more so the super-big businessman who controls the government from behind the scenes, using government to force out the competitive newcomers.

There is less and less incentive for the honest businessman to exert his efforts; if he succeeds against all odds, half his earnings are confiscated by the government.

And thus production, on which everyone’s welfare depends, languishes; and more and more special groups arise to steal money from the government cookiejar, while fewer and fewer people are available to put the money in. And, thus, the first group can outvote the second at the polls. The U.S. has become a semi-socialist state.

Yet if there is any lesson of the 20th century, it is that socialism doesn’t work. It doesn’t motivate people; it discourages productivity; it encourages huge debts and tremendous inefficiency in any economy that adopts it. Consider Mexico, which is practically floating on seas of oil–enough even to cancel out Mexico’s multi-billion-dollar debt, if it were properly handled.

But Mexico will not permit private ownership of oil lands; that would encourage large profits, and of course that would be immoral. No, the Mexican government itself owns the oil, and there is such inefficiency and waste and corruption in the whole governmental chain of command that Mexico is actually losing money on the oil.

You’d think it would be impossible that a nation endowed with such a resource would be unable to lose money on it, but they’ve done it–quite an accomplishment.

Or consider the so-called developing nations of central Africa. One after another of them, after shucking off their colonial masters, has become a socialist dictatorship, with enormous wealth in the hands of a few at the seat of government and nothing but widespread poverty
and misery among the masses. American loans haven’t helped; they have simply lined the pockets of politicians and kept the dictatorships afloat. The International Monetary Fund hasn’t helped; it has only encouraged the same profligacy and resulted in the same widespread poverty. Wherever a socialist economy has emerged, it has resulted in misallocation of resources, centralized control of the economy, graft and corruption, poverty and starvation. Certainly no lesson of history could be clearer than this–as if it were not already clear from the history of the Soviet Union.

Most of the poverty-stricken masses of Africa and Asia don’t know why they are poor; they know nothing of economics, nothing about trade or loans or international relations. But those who do are increasingly aware of the destructive effects of socialism wherever it is in operation. Their politicians may still have to appeal to the popularity of government handouts for their own people; in democracies they have to do this to get reelected. But that socialist economies don’t work, is certainly well known where they exist. As Peter Beckmann
says, there are no longer communists in the East; there are only officials holding on to the perquisites of power enforced by a ruthless police state. The only dedicated communists are in the West, those who still believe, as many Americans did in the 1930s, that only a fully socialist government was a “true brotherhood of man” and looked to the Soviet Union as a realization of that ideal.

That is the economic background to 1984, the lesson is that when you place more powers in the hands of government, it is going to use those powers; and that to entrust powers to the State is as rational as to entrust the fox to guard the henhouse. Orwell, who never renounced his socialism, apparently never learned that simple economic lesson. He thought you could put the powers of enforced equalization of income in the hands of the State and then expect those powers to remain within strict limits. He described vividly the long-term consequences of such policies, but he did not eschew the policies that led to these consequences. Yet had he known the inevitability of this causal chain of events, he should not have been surprised.
Still, the world as a whole is different from Orwell’s 1984. The West is better; the East is worse.

In the West the press is still relatively free. I say relatively; papers can still print what they want that isn’t libelous or condemned as obscene, but often these papers are controlled by the very men behind the scenes who also manipulated the election of presidents and congressmen. The result is that much of the news that is of the most vital importance never reaches us.

Nor does government control all industry. It takes the cream of the profits of any business that makes them, and cripples them with regulations, so that productivity doesn’t expand as it would by leaps and bounds with modern technology; bureaucracies take positive delight in controlling the producers, and seeing yet another capitalist bite the dust. Even so, there are still many rags-to-riches stories coming true in the United States and to a lesser extent in the welfare states of Europe.

The State has achieved the almost total capitulation of the educational establishment. Educators by and large believe they can make it better under government than in the marketplace. About half the educators teach socialism to their classes; and one can get a Ph.D. in economics in most American universities without ever having heard of Von Mises. Educators vie with one another for government grants, no matter how useless and how often the same research has been done before. They don’t want to be controlled in what they teach, but they don’t mind at all if the businessmen on whose surplus they depend are totally shackled in their enterprises. Courses in social philosophy discuss how world’s goods should be distributed, but seldom concern themselves with how they are to continue to be produced– production is taken for granted. Yet if Orwell’s 1984 does come to America, at the first sign of dissidence these intellectuals would be the first people to be shot.

The result of such education is that effect of reading Orwell’s 1984 is much less than it used to be, and much less than one would think it ought to be. Many of them have been taught that America should be a socialist nation, that businessmen are all exploiters, that those who earn a living should sacrifice enough of it to those who don’t so that the income of the two groups is the same. They think it quite all right for the government to control the economy, indeed they typically agitate for more controls, not less. Much of what they read in
Orwell they find familiar; it’s here already, and it doesn’t shock them.

As to the continuing low-scale wars sapping the nations, they believe we’re in that already; they’re used to it. As to the torture and murder, they don’t like that part of course, but they doubt that in the real world much of it really went on; it has no sharp edge for them. They never lived through World War 2; they have scarcely heard of Stalin; they have never read anything about the Soviet regime; if you tell them about it, they think it’s propaganda. They have never read Solzhenitsyn; they have scarcely heard of him, and of course their teachers never mention him, for he is an embarrassment to them: what he reveals pricks too many holes in the collectivist views to which they are already committed. And of course the students don’t read Solzhenitsyn on their own; the products of the television generation don’t read anything on their own.

Nevertheless, here are some of the facts, compared with which even the worst of the fictitious situations in Orwell’s world are relatively mild.

The methods of Stalin were crude, but effective. Be didn’t have to retrain people for the crimes he wanted committed, he just took the dregs of humanity, the people in prisons who loved killing, and promised them triple the wages they’d get anywhere else for just arresting people and torturing them in prison cells, the very thing they most enjoyed doing anyway.

Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko writes in his recent book The Time of Stalin: “Stalin selected hardened thugs and scoundrels who were born sadists but who, for all that, were as devoted to their benefactor as only a member of an outlaw gang can be toward his Chief. All the dregs of society rose to the surface. An investigator earned a bonus of two thousand rubles for each confession. Every petty thief, sadist, or climber was free to go at it as hard as he liked.” (pp. 150,157) During the war, when the Nazis marched into Soviet territory, even they were appalled at what they found “amongst the day-to-day equipment of the Soviet state.” Nicolai Tolstoy writes, “instruments to break the bones of shins and arms, to squeeze testicles, to pierce the soles of feet and pull off the nails and skin from toes, to squeeze the main nose ligament until the victim bleeds profusely, etc.

Recovered corpses resembled cuts of meat displayed on a butcher’s slab. What prisoners had undergone was indescribable, even by the survivors. As a Pole in the NKVD prison recalled, ‘The cries we heard were not always even recognizably human…’” (p. 219).

Whenever the Soviets conquered other nations, the same techniques were used. “Anyone who was suspected of harboring dissident acts or even thoughts (says Tolstoy in Stalin’s Secret War) were tied to trees… Some had their eyes slowly gouged out. Others were scalped and had their brains squeezed out of their skulls. Men had their tongues torn out, their sides and legs slowly cut open, or had bayonets thrust into their mouths and down their throats.” The same can be expected of any nation that the Soviets may conquer in the future. It exceeds anything envisaged in Orwell’s 1984.

The same methods continue today:

According to a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal (April 23 to May 10, 1984), “The Soviets are using recombinant DNA for military purposes… In at least one case, Soviet scientists were attempting to combine the venom-producing genes from cobras with ordinary viruses and bacteria; such an organism would infect the body and surreptitiously produce paralytic cobra neurotoxin.” The Soviets also dropped poisonous gases called “yellow rain” on towns and villages in Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In 1979 an explosion at a biological-weapons facility in Sverdlovsk released anthrax spores into the atmosphere, killing about 1000 soldiers and civilians. And the CIA has detected the Soviets conducting tests with a re-entry vehicle designed to tumble when reentering the earth’s atmosphere; the tumbling is to spray chemical warfare contents of the re-entry body over wide areas as the weapon nears the surface of the target.

The Soviets can only control people by the Orwellian methods of propaganda and brute force; once this is gone, there will be massive defections. This is the Achilles’ heel of the Soviet regime, and their rulers know it. In Sir John Hackett’s History of World War III this is what finally defeats them.

Americans have taken comfort in the knowledge of the Soviet Union’s Achilles’ heel–the fact that unless tightly controlled their people will rebel against them by the millions. In Hackett’s novel, The History of World War III, this is what happens: the Soviets invade Western Europe, but when one of their cities is bombed, the ensuing bureaucratic chaos is so great that the Ukranians, Uzbeks, and other oppressed peoples who have long wanted to be out from under the Russian heel take the occasion to form independent republics of their own, and that is the end of the Soviet Union as a unified power.

The Soviets, of course, know this very well. That is why, for example, (p. 101, Suvurov, Inside the Soviet Army) they invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia instead of Romania. Romania has been far from submissive; it has good relations with Israel and China; it has thumbed its nose at the Soviet Union many times, yet there has been no retaliation as in the other cases.

Why? Because, unlike Hungary and Czechoslovakia before the take-over, Romania presented no threat. “Her existence does not threaten the foundations of communism.

It has a cult of a supreme and infallible leader; it has psychiatric prisons and watch towers along its frontiers.” No Soviet subject dreams of escaping to Romania. So it is left alone. But the other nations, to which Soviets might defect, represent for the Soviet government a contagious disease which must be stamped out.

That is why Soviet military strategy is quite different from the way it is conceived in the West. The popular opinion in the West is that any war would start slowly, with conventional forces, and only turn nuclear as a last resort, after all else had failed. According to Suvurov, the Soviet general command thinks this theory so silly that they wondered whether the West was airing it only for purposes of deception or diversion.

When they realized that the West took this view seriously, they were unbelieving but delighted.

The actual Soviet tactic is quite different. Writes Suvurov: “The turning point (p. 162) must be reached within the first few minutes… The more terrible the weapon your opponent may use, the more decisively you must attack him, and the more quickly you must finish him off. You can only prevent your enemy from using his axe if you use your own first. … What alternative could there be? In peacetime Soviet soldiers desert to the West by the hundreds, their sailors jump off ships in Western ports, their pilots try to break through the West’s anti-aircraft defenses in their aircraft. Even in peacetime, the problems involved in keeping the population in chains are almost insoluble. The problems are already acute when only a few thousand of the most trusted Soviet citizens have even a theoretical chance of escaping. In wartime tens of millions of soldiers would have an opportunity to desert – and they would take it. To prevent this, every soldier must realize quite clearly that from the very first moments of a war, there is no sanctuary for him at the other side of the nuclear desert. Otherwise the whole communist house of cards will collapse.”

According to Suvurov, the first stage would be an initial nuclear strike lasting for half an hour by all the rocket formations that can be used. The second stage would last less than two hours: a mass air attack of all the fronts by all the long-range air force units carried out in a series of waves. The third stage, half an hour, will be more rocket launchers, now moved up from rear areas. The enemy will try to hunt out and destroy all Soviet rocket launchers; so each of these should inflict the maximum damage on the enemy before this happens. The aim is to destroy all the targets that survived a first and second stage. The fourth stage, lasting 10-20 days, consists of operations by tank armies, attacking the enemy’s defenses at every point where a breakthrough has been achieved.

These are the words of a high-ranking Soviet officer who has defected to the West; he has been in the inner circles and is in a position to know. Unfortunately modern war confers a tremendous advantage on the side that strikes first; and if he strikes hard, that may be the end, without the attacked nations having a chance to respond. It is this consideration which ought to unite libertarians in insisting on an effective defense, even though it is a government defense. To turn down the very concept of defense just because at this historical time it is government defense seems to me nothing less than suicidal.

And yet there are libertarians who favor unilateral disarmament as if a totalitarian power, inspired by our noble example, would also lay down its arms. Some believe it wouldn’t but it does matter. Welfare statists hide their heads in the sand, wishfully thinking that if only the U.S. spent its money on social programs rather than arms, the whole problem would somehow go away. If only we disarm, peace must come. But what if the other side doesn’t disarm? Blank-out. This is the Achilles’ heel of the libertarian party.

It’s not that they deny one’s right to self-defense; it’s that they disapprove of government defense. But at the moment government defense is the only game in town.

We may not like this, but it’s a fact. There is no other option at the present moment, if we are to be defended against bombs and missiles. If libertarians wait until we have a non-governmental defense system or systems, international danger may well be upon us and any aggressor will seize the opportunity to strike, and that will mean either death or slavery, or probably both. I don’t think that a libertarian credo demands self-immolation as the price of adhering to principle. Anyway, the fundamental principle of all libertarianism is not even the non-initiation of force; behind that lies the even more fundamental principle, the value of individual human life; and any strategy that would unnecessarily risk the destruction of a nation or a continent in the name of a totally voluntaristic principle would be violating that even more fundamental principle.

All actions must be considered in context; and the present context in international affairs prominently includes governments. The fact is that there is a barbarous world out there, and there are people with enormous power who envy our prosperity and our liberty and would take almost any risks to keep us from enjoying them. We cannot simply wish this away. — Continue –>

1776 to 1984 Part III

by John Hospers

Yet it is probable that the Orwellian vision of the world will never be completed. A world of governments headed by ruthless and despotic men, a world of rebellious subject populations who had to be kept in line through terror – that was a familiar world to Orwell.

Big Brother controls through fear, and through constant intrusion – such as watching television eyes in every home. It was the world of indoctrination and coercion.

But what if despots need not have rebellious populations?

What if people can be conditioned through drugs, surgery, selective breeding, and recombinant DNA, to be passive vessels of Big Brother? Not rebelling against him but being fully cooperative with him, either through early conditioning or (more promisingly) through selective breeding so as to eliminate the active and independent minds who are the greatest potential for rebellion among his subjects. Then the threat to Big Brother would evaporate and methods of torture and terror would no longer be necessary.

If a world totalitarian state would come to pass, it will not be on the Orwell model. It will be, instead, on the model of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Huxley’s Controller “saw that total control should start at conception.

In hatcheries made possible by reproductive biology, embryos were molded to order by genetic means to become humans of certain types. The level of intelligence was controlled by manipulating the amount of oxygen given the foetuses. Future sewer workers, who needed few brains, were mass produced on low levels of oxygen.

Persons were induced to love their assigned status and the regime by the use of neo-Pavlovian conditioning techniques, by sleep teaching, and by a wondrous ‘soma’ drug. Most of the techniques Huxley fantasized for the distant future are already becoming available…” (Vance
Packard, The People Changers, p. 5)

The rise of technology has been far more rapid than Orwell could have suspected, and it has taken forms that he could not have predicted — technology that would be worse than frightening if placed in the hands of any government. Some of these brave new world fantasies have already become reality, and others are easily within the range of present technology, should the decision be made to go ahead with them.

Already there are devices for pacifying troublesome people and dissenters: for a time brain operations such as pre-frontal lobotomies were popular, but now thorazine and other drugs are used because they are cheaper and can be used on a day-to-day basis. People can be kept under surveillance by locking transmitters to their bodies (Packard, p. 4). Sub-humans can be treated for doing menial work and as a source of spare parts for human bodies.

The ancient Stoics used to say, “Surrender everything you have to, except your will. People may injure your body, but do not let them injure your spirit. Even if you are sick or in pain, this need not affect you; keep intact your inviolable will.” Heroic words, these.
But modern technology has made it possible to break the will. Tortures can be inflicted such as virtually no one can resist. And anyway various forms of truth-serum can be forcibly injected so that you cannot help revealing the truth under their influence no matter how much you may try to hide it. The will itself can be broken.

But a much simpler way than all this has come into view. We can re-shape people so that they will not want to resist; we are becoming capable of genetic engineering that will produce whatever kind of people the rulers want.

Maya Pines, in her book The Brain Changers, writes, “In France, where generations of peasant women have painstakingly force-fed geese by hand (to fatten their lives for good foie gras), surgeons have begun to take over the job, performing a delicate operation on the geese’s hypothalamus to knock out their centers of satiety.

This makes the geese eat incessantly–as of their own free will–damaging their insides and consuming almost as much as when they were stuffed by hand. To top it all, a drug company is now developing a chemical that could be injected directly into the animals’ brains to produce the same effect in only a few minutes, at negligible cost.” She adds, “There is something particularly revolting about these self-stuffing geese. Surely the American scientists who investigated the brain mechanisms responsible for appetite and satiety could not foresee such applications of their work. It makes one wonder how our own brains may be changed some day, and for whose benefit. What may all this research do to human beings?” (p. 231-2)

Peace-loving rats that grew up in a laboratory have been turned instantly into killers by injecting certain drugs into the aggression center of their brains. The transmitter acetylcholine caused the release of aggression.

In other rats, the scientists inserted tiny hollow tubes into the rats’ brains; then they put in a few drops of carbachol, the rats pounced on the mice and killed them with a single hard bite on the back of their necks–their first murder. Then the scientists found chemicals that would turn off these killer attacks.

Methylatropine caused the wild rats to suddenly become pacifists, walking to the mice, sniffing them, but doing nothing else. Dr. Douglas Smith (p. 104, Pines) said that similar “pharmacological prevention” could control aggressive behavior in human beings, as in Clockwork Orange.

B.F. Skinner, describing behavior engineering some years ago, said, “We have the technology for installing any (human) behavior we want.” (Packard, The People Changers, p. 4) And a University of Michigan psychologist, James V. McConnell, proposed, “We should reshape our society so that we all would be trained from birth to do what society wants us to do.” The techniques are here; there are plenty of scientists who, to get government grants, would gladly do anything the government says. The apparatus is in place; it would require only a change in government to put it into practice.

Peter Beckman wrote, “Orwell’s 1984 will not come true.

“The West is not moving toward 1984 because it is moving toward Brave New World. In George Orwell’s fascinating vision (1948), men are coerced into a society of slaves; in Aldous Huxley’s unforgettable novel (1932) they are conditioned into it.”

“In a recent speech, a German journalist noted the failure of Soviet propaganda: ‘I guarantee you that there are no communists under 40 in East Germany; the only communists are in the West.’ To which this (ex-Czechoslovak) writer will add a guarantee that there are no communists under 40 anywhere in Eastern Europe, and probably very few, if any, in the U.S.S.R. itself.


“Because the 1984 type of brainwashing does not work. Nobody is so stupid as to believe that the American imperialists will kill widows and orphans for profit – nobody, that is, who is force-fed such nonsense. Why, then, can large segments of the population in the West be made to believe that the evil corporations, driven by lust for profits, will give cancer to anybody in sight (including themselves, apparently), as well as future generations?

“Not, we submit, because of the rantings of the Jane Fondas and Caldicotts. They are themselves too 1984-ish to have lasting effect; they probably just give most people the creeps. But in Brave New World, people ‘planned’ for work in urban factories are, in childhood, shown pictures of flowers and the countryside and they are given electric shocks. No need to coerce them into city living when they grow up: they hate the country quite ‘naturally.’

“So why do millions in America regard ‘profit’ and ‘capitalism’ as dirty words? Why do they distrust science and technology? Why will they let fraudulent charlatans frighten them out of their wits with witch’s brew concocted from scientific vocabulary?

“Because they have been conditioned; not by Marx’s Capital, but by NBC’s Colombo, in which every businessman – subtly and unobtrusively – is a fool, a crook, or both, as he is in virtually any other TV series” (see Benjamin Stein, The View From Sunset Boulevard, Basic Books, 1978). (And the average American now spends only more time working and sleeping than in front of the conditioning tube). We lack, the space to give a million other examples from the printed media, the movies, school textbooks, college courses, and every other conceivable channel of communication where the conditioning spices are added subtly, but persistently. — Continue –>

1776 to 1984 Part IV

by John Hospers

But how plausible in this picture of the Brave New World? There are now hundreds of books and articles demonstrating the superiority of the free-market, as well as books such as Ayn Rand’s espousing their philosophy of liberty.

Almost no such books existed a generation ago. A rising tide of Americans is now aware that government, not the market, is the cause of inflation, depression and poverty. These people, no longer children of Roosevelt’s new deal, are waiting in the wings, even in Washington, to reverse the course of the American economy, to remove the ball and chain of big government which still consumes the days and years of our lives.

Even the academicians who have thus far turned to the government and defended it in return for favors to them, may come to realize that the Russian revolution which they have viewed so favorably is passé and that the real revolution, the revolution of 1776, of individual rights has taken place in their own land, unseen and unacknowledged by them.

The use of force by one government after another did not stop the clipper ships. In the end, they won the day and the wielders of governmental power had to go along or stagnate and die. In the same way, the soil of 1984, unlike the soil of say 1954, has been prepared for an outbreak of freedom which can pull even the welfare statists kicking and screaming into the 21st century and that is where we libertarians come in.

We are the intellectual spearheads of the coming renaissance of liberty. Just as the intellectual influence of the Fabians propelled Britain into socialism a century ago, so the intellectual influence of libertarians can turn Britain, and indeed the world, back to individual liberty because now the soil has been prepared.

The consequences of socialism in practice are increasingly plain for anyone with eyes to see. “It’s the essence of man,” said Aristotle, “to make decisions.

His own decisions, not those made for him by others.” To implement this simple but profound truth and to apply it over and over again, in its countless manifestations in our individual and social lives; that is our libertarian mission. Surely, it’s the noblest of goals and I see no good reason why we should not be able to achieve it.

Thank you very much.

I delivered this speech, “1776 and 1984” to the Society for Individual Liberty in London in the early summer of 1984 before a huge audience and cheering crowds. It was given in l984, and I prepared it for that event months ahead. The fact that the speech was referencing l984 itself, seems to have made it more impressive. I delivered it twice, in the morning and evening. Afterwards, I went to the London opera.

Those were the days!
John Hospers, June 2008
Copyright © 2008 by John Hospers. All Rights Reserved. (all cited quotes property of quote’s source)