I recently met a man who claims to be a libertarian with socialist leanings (when restrained by pre-determined parameters). I laughed. That’s like saying you’re all blue and all yellow, but you’re not green. Some things just don’t mix.
I will preface my thoughts with this one: most, if not all, people are socialists in some form. I believe in voluntary socialism. I was born into a family that raised me. A family is the smallest social unit of society. It is the most important and ultimately the most effective for taking care of individual wants and needs. Anyone that is familiar with the LDS faith (of which I am a part) knows that we have the most efficient welfare system on the planet. I contribute to that system as I can, and am happy to do so. I whole-heartedly believe in these social institutions. These institutions, however, are voluntary or natural.
Individual liberty and coercive socialism cannot co-exist because even if law enforces a minimal amount of socialism, then individual liberty is usurped. Period. If I do not wish to live a socialist lifestyle, then my absolute right to private property has been violated absolutely. We are all born with natural liberties that are necessary to our existence and happiness. These are: the right to life, liberty, and property. These rights are granted to us by God alone (or simply nature – if you prefer). They existed before any government was ever created. Government, in fact, was created as a means to preserve these vital inalienable rights. This is an important concept to grasp because “If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by the government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government” (Benson). This point was elaborated well by Frederic Bastiat:
Each of us has a natural right – from God – to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties? (p.6)
Government, at its core, is simply an extension of the right each individual has to defend his life, liberty, and property. Because government is a created by the people, it follows that the people cannot give to the government powers which they themselves do not possess.
This means, then, that the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act. By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute the wealth or force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by man. No man possesses such power to delegate. The creature cannot exceed the creator. (Benson, Italics added)
Essentially, the government is a retaliatory force against oppression. It gives would be offenders an incentive to keep clean and to observe and respect the rights and liberties of others. George Washington once said, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master!”
Though it is the responsibility of the government to make provisions for the defense and general welfare of the people of the nation, there are many things the government should NOT do. The Bill of Rights declares that the federal government has few specific privileges, and that all others are delegated to the states and the people themselves. Amendment X reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The people have the power. People may voluntarily do many, many things. Programs such as welfare, social security, and universal health care are programs not constitutionally supported.
Bastiat articulated this principle well:
Man can live and satisfy his wants only by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This is the origin of property. But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This is the origin of plunder. (p.6)
The act of seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others is a violation of the victim’s natural rights and liberties. Sometimes, the government has been perverted and used for this very cause. Bastiat calls this “legal plunder,” and later continues on this thought.
But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. (p.17)
That’s a sobering concept. How much money is taken from each of us on a daily basis, in the form of a plundering tax and, after paying bureaucrats more than they probably deserve for the administration of such a transaction, given to others in the form of a handout?
“But,” you say, “is there no room for charitable giving?” Why yes indeed! Charity is a tenet of a first-world and first-class society. But charity cannot be just that unless it is given freely and willfully. Wikipedia defines charity as “the practice of benevolent giving.” Can anyone explain how forcing people to give is in any way benevolent? Threatening a taxpayer with jail time or other negative repercussions if they don’t pay is not charity at all. It is force and a violation of the right to property.
You say: “There are persons who have no money,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills itself with milk. Nor are the lacteal veins of the law supplied with milk from a source outside the society. Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in. (Bastiat, p.27)
There is a time and place in society for charity. It is within a family first, friends and acquaintances, second, and possibly a religious group or other affiliation. But it has no place in government. There are too many people that want to use other people’s money to accomplish their own personal objectives.
What is disheartening to me is the amount of support these programs receive. I can imagine two reasons for this support: First, the person has something to gain. They believe that they are entitled to some amount of your earnings and aim to get their piece of it. Or second, they feel like the mouth of charity is not well fed and, rather than donating generously and without restraint, they feel inclined to donate your money. Either way, this mindset is for the unethical, illogical, and/or the immoral. I cannot and will not support these programs because I believe in liberty and justice for all.
“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” – Ben Franklin
Many of my thoughts were taken from Ezra Taft Benson’s essay, The Proper Role of Government, and Frederic Bastiat’s The Law. I highly recommend both for your reading and I’m sure you could finish them in less than a week (even with a busy schedule).