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Posted by on Jan 21, 2011 in At TMV | 0 comments

A. Barton Hinkle: Civility is nice; nonviolence is even better

I recently came across a rather interesting Op/Ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch written by A. Barton Hinkle. Mr. Hinkle does not explicitly identify himself as a libertarian, but his article does a good job of articulating the non-aggression principle that is at the heart of the libertarian philosophy:

The debate over the size and scope of government, then, is an argument over when to use violence to change things and circumstances consensual activity cannot. Liberals (broadly speaking) find inequality odious and think the government should use force in the economic arena by redistributing wealth but leave individuals alone in matters of personal morality, such as whom they have sex with. Conservatives (broadly speaking) are less troubled by inequality and disdain the redistributive uses of government power. But social conservatives are outraged by immorality, as they define it, and therefore think the state should use the threat of violence to enforce personal moral codes by banning prostitution, homosexual sodomy, and the like.

Then there are a small minority of diehard libertarians who would like to minimize government involvement in both arenas, and a small minority of diehard communitarians who think government should dictate behavior of every stripe.

Mr. Barton concludes:

Force is sometimes necessary. We must have police and courts and national defense and environmental protection and so on. But government at all levels does much more nowadays than is strictly necessary, because both liberals and conservatives delight in using it to make other people do what they would not do through mutual consent.

In the wake of the butchery in Tucson, it has been nice to hear many people say we should not speak so well of violence. It would be even nicer to hear more say we should not vote for it quite so often, either.

Mr. Barton’s article echoes what I have been stressing both at TMV and elsewhere throughout the blogosphere for several years. Aggression is wrong. Progressives and conservatives and moderates seem to implicitly understand this when it comes to individuals initiating violence against other individuals. Yet somehow, the idea that individuals should not initiate violence against other individuals goes out the window if the violence in question happens to be state-sanctioned violence.

We must understand that the single biggest difference between government and any other institution is that the government has a monopoly on the use of force. The fact that we have constitutions authorizing our federal and state governments and that we have democratically-elected officials does not in any way change the fact that the actions taken by government constitute force.

The next time you have a really great idea that you would like other individuals to emulate, you ought to stop to consider how you might best accomplish the task of getting other individuals to emulate your idea. You can use persuasion to convince other individuals to willingly emulate your idea, or you can use aggression to force other individuals to emulate your idea against their will.

Supporting laws that compel people to do things that they do not wish to do or that forcibly prevent individuals from doing things that they would otherwise like to do–that is not persuasion; it is force.

I certainly agree that we could certainly use more civility in our discussions. But I think society would reap even greater benefits if we, as individuals, learned the value of the non-aggression principle. We, as individuals, would never strike or imprison another individual simply because we did not approve of that individual’s lifestyle choices or because we did not approve of how that individual decided to run his/her business. Why, then, would we advocate that the government do such a thing in our stead?