Human Rights vs. Human Beings
On killing for the sake of ideals.
by James Leroy Wilson
April 1, 2004
I am a libertarian, and I believe that national governments, including our own, have done great evil in the world. Five hundred years from now, perhaps civilized people will think us morally backward for even tolerating income taxes, the public-school ideological brainwashing centers, the prison-industrial complex, welfare systems, and pre-emptive wars. I would hope so.
Yes, I am free to write this - at least for now - but in many other ways I do not consider myself a free man. A free man wouldn’t need to fill out government license and tax forms to start a business, for instance. Or be prohibited from bringing his newly-invented drug to market. Or be forced to associate with only a non-smoking clientele. Or see half of his earnings go, one way or another, to taxes.
Should I, and my fellow Americans, then be “liberated?” Hypothetically, should a foreign government committed to freedom have the right to invade us, overthrow our government, and impose libertarian values on the American people? Pure libertarian doctrine would abolish even state-run public universities. Shall our foreign Liberation Force “free” the people of Nebraska, for instance, from supporting its Lincoln university campus and its football team? Shall adherence to doctrine overthrow all local cultural attachments? And how many American soldiers, guardsmen, and innocent civilians will die as our foreign Liberators seek out every one of our government officials?
I think there is one fair question to ask, not only supposed “libertarians” supporting the Bush Administration on Operation Iraqi Freedom, but all proponents of armed ideological and political crusades throughout history. And, by extension, this question would apply to anyone who would impose further burdens on the taxpayer, or impose more laws and regulations on the people, in pursuit of some noble doctrine, ideology, or slogan. The question to be asked all of them is this: “How much damage to lives and to property are you willing to inflict on actual human beings for the sake of your principles?”
What this is getting at is that, no matter how burdensome and even arbitrary my government may be, there is no mandate under heaven that would obligate another, freer country to “liberate” me and my people at the cost of many of our lives and much of our property - let alone at the cost of their lives.
The cases in which I comply with, evade, or resist the Government should be my responsibility and mine alone. If I choose imprisonment or death for the sake of principles, they will be my principles, thank you very much. No foreign force is, in the process of liberating me, going to kill me and/or destroy my house and call it “collateral damage.”
Even after the last twelve years, I would still take up arms against an invading foreign force with altruistic intentions of liberation, then I would see the entire fabric of American life be undermined by foreign ideologues - even if I agreed with their ideology. Even if a Bush or a Clinton were my Commander- in-chief, I would fight against the invasion and occupation. Robert E. Lee didn’t believe in slavery; I don’t believe in the public schools. That doesn’t mean I will lie over when my country is invaded.
How could that be? Because, basically, no one has the right to interfere with national sovereignty. We have a system in place, and most Americans are, frankly, happy with it. And if not happy with it, they prefer dealing with it for the sake of peace instead of rebelling against it. Within the American culture are, I think, many misbegotten and unjust institutions. I am often disgusted and disappointed that my fellow Americans have developed unhealthy attachments to many of them, such as the Flag and the trough of monopoly money it represents. But it is the responsibility of freedom-loving Americans to use the arts of persuasion, politics, and, if necessary, resistance, to correct the injustices. Outside interference to restore our “liberty” is not liberty at all, it is just an admission that we can be overrun by foreign forces.
It is through repealing laws, reining in the executive, destroying the powers of bureaucracy, and limiting the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary, that greater freedom can be restored to the individual and to society. Failing that, peaceful attempts at secession. Failing that, armed defense of our freedom.
But what kind of “freedom” can a foreign occupation force really provide? Freedom on their terms is no freedom at all.
Of course, there is no libertarian nation out there, let alone one more powerful than the United States. And any true libertarian nation would be neutral, like Switzerland. Which speaks to the irony of American overseas crusades, beginning in earnest with the Spanish-American War of 1898. We speak of freedom, human rights, and democracy, but to impose them by force on another nation is in fact to simultaneously reject these very ideals.
Abstract concepts ignore the reality on the ground. In real life, there are no “individual freedoms” or “human rights,” there are only human beings. And human beings care about survival, for themselves and their families, and they want the security of whatever they own. As life is hardly ever fair to anyone, most will take living in peace under systematically unjust institutions over risking death, destruction, and famine through rebellion. This might be right or it might be wrong. But it is their choice to make, not for foreigners to make for them.
There’s also the reality of religious loyalties and national attachments, and a diverse range of leisure interests and economic interests, that suggests a human being is much more than an abstracted individual. His existence - his “being-ness,” transcends any abstract, reasoned, moral absolutes. If you kill a person or destroy his property for your idealism, then you cheapen the worth of your own life, which is morally vulnerable to the even higher-developed, more abstract, better-reasoned idealism of others.
Conservatives have long decried moral and cultural “relativism.” And I understand where they’re coming from. But if some moral teachings and some cultural traditions are superior to others, that will be made known in due time to all, just as it will be made known who is good at math and who isn’t, or who is a good at spelling and who isn’t. It doesn’t give the superior mathematician or speller the right to blot the inferior from the earth for the sake of humanity.
The essence of libertarianism is the rejection of aggression, the rejection of the initiation of force for any reason. If it rests on any other foundation, it is just another bloodthirsty, utopian ideology. Saddam was a tyrant, yes. There are many tyrants on the earth. But within those tyrannies are actual living human beings who are going through life, making friends, raising families, trying to get by. If they resist their oppressors, my prayers are with them. If they don’t - for whatever reason - how can I possibly judge them? And how can I claim that our country’s government has the right to kill some of them in order to liberate the rest? How many Americans would agree to the same principle if our own main enemy was a foreign country freer, more just, and far more powerful than ourselves?
We have our own lives to live - we don’t have other people’s lives to sacrifice for our principles. Doctrines and ideologies are important, but they can't replace the lives of human beings.
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