Monday, October 18, 2010

Government and Moral Values

I recommend that one read Selywn Duke's entire article, "Yes, Folks, We All Would Legislate Morality (Psst, Even You Libertarians)" dated October 17, 2010, which can be found at

My comments run too long to be posted to the site where it appeared. For this reason, I have chosen to comment here on my blogspot.

From that article, I have excerpted the statements that I answer.
To begin with, Mr. Duke's title is ambiguous. Is he claiming that government should impose moral values? Or that government imposes some moral values in the act of passing some laws? If the former, one cannot agree. If the latter, such a statement immediately raises the questions: what moral values are being referred to? Are they in keeping with man's life or opposed to it? Mr. Duke does not say.

He wrote: ". . . for a law to be just, it must have a basis in morality."

COMMENT: The problem here is that Mr. Duke does not clarify what he means by morality or what moral values he is referring to. One assumes that he means the morality of altruism, which is the moral doctrine most in vogue these days, accepted by virtually all religions and other types of groups.

At issue is the kind of values lawmakers accept and hold and which guide their choices in making law.

So, if Mr. Duke is referring to the altruist morality, then most laws are unjust since they ignore the moral principle of individual rights. To make a true statement, therefore, one must say, "For a law to be just, it must have a basis in objective morality."

"[Morality] is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions---the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life." (Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics")

Mr. Duke writes: "... a law states that there is something you must or must not do, ostensibly because the action is a moral imperative, is morally wrong, or is a corollary thereof [emphasis added].

COMMENT: Again, this is ambiguous. Does Mr. Duke mean that it is morally wrong for a law to state you must or must not do something? Or is he saying that a law that commands an action is a moral imperative?

It is true that those who make laws do claim such laws are "right." For instance, the belief that you are your brother's keeper is considered by some to be a moral value. Such a moral value is the basis of all welfare state laws. Such a value made into law claims it is "right" to take from earners and give their earnings to non-earners, and "wrong" not to do so. Not to fulfill your brother's need is therefore considered morally "wrong." All welfare statists base their laws on the claim that it is "right" to take from the producer and give to the non-producer.

Alluding to his statement quoted above, Mr. Duke writes: "If this is not the case, with what credibility do you legislate in the given area? After all, why prohibit something if it doesn't prevent some wrong? Why force citizens to do something if it doesn't effect some good?"

COMMENT: Government officials surely do seek credibility by claiming that government care from diapers to dentures is "good." They did claim that Prohibition would prevent alcohol abuse, drunken violence and family neglect. In fact, it heightened criminality and encouraged gang warfare in daylight, and increased drinking.

The Crusaders deemed it "good" to kill infidels. The Puritans deemed it "good" to burn witches. The Soviets deemed it "good" to impoverish producers. The Taliban deems it "good" to kill Christians. The Palestinians deems it "good" to kill Jews.

The problem is that Mr. Duke does not question whether the legislation government enacts is objectively right---i. e., in keeping with reason, man's means of survival. He simply accepts that when government passes a law, claiming it's "for the common good," it therefore surely will "effect some good."

But that something is held as a moral value by someone, does not make it objectively morally right. In the same way and for the same reason, a reliance on some amorphous "Absolute Truth" does not make something true.

Mr. Duke correctly recognizes that "to prevent some wrong" such legislation based on non-objective values becomes non-objective law and therefore necessitates force. Ayn Rand discusses this in "Faith and Force: the Destroyers of the Modern World," which curiously Mr. Duke does not refer to, although he claims knowledge of Miss Rand's words to the point of "quoting" her sentences I've never heard of or read anywhere else. One must wonder did he make them up?

If one holds the view that man is a volitional being whose rights are natural---i.e., acquired by the fact that he exists as a man, and that his nature as a volitional being requires that he must use his reason in order to survive---then laws based on that view would shun the initiation of force, precluding the welfare state entirely.

Laws would not be passed that forced others to live by legislators' values. Laws would not be passed that morally obligated one to help others against one's own better judgement---a thing altruism demands---which includes bailouts of failed companies and government created institutions such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and rushing to the aid of every disaster around the globe with taxpayer money at the ready, but curiously unable to maintain and repair the infrastructure across our own nation.

Mr. Duke writes: ". . . we couldn't credibly prohibit force, protect property rights, or prevent harm in the first place unless unjustly using the first, violating the second, or causing the third wasn't "wrong." Ergo, morality.

COMMENT: Mr. Duke fails to recognize the context of proper law: to protect the moral principle of individual rights. Law based on a proper moral code prohibits the initiation of force. The use of police force in the protection of property, for instance, is proper because it is retaliatory. Those who initiate force against others violating their rights, forfeit their own rights. Therefore, the use of police retaliatory force against them is morally right.

There should be no objection to the use of police force retaliating against violators of rights. There is mighty objection to the use of government force against non-violators of rights, which altruism in the guise of the welfare state daily initiates.

Mr. Duke writes: "Another argument I heard was that not all law reflects morality; the example given was law mandating that we drive on the right side of the road. Yet this is where the "corollary thereof" part comes in. Without such a law, more people will be harmed in accidents, and we believe it's "wrong" to allow people to get harmed.

COMMENT: Such issues as which side of the road one drives on---including other traffic regulations---are fundamentally procedural issues, not moral issues. While the consequences of not following them can cause harm, the event of harm is not the source of morality. It is questionable journalism to introduce such procedural matters into an article on morality and the law.

Mr. Duke's argument then devolves into the tiresome equivocation of preferences in ice cream to moral values as if this puerile parallel had originated with him and as if it proved Objectivism and its author are "moral relativists." But in a serious discussion of morality and the law, it is important to recognize that individual men hold personal values as well as fundamental moral values and that these are not the same in the face of ultimate alternatives.

Philosophically, "moral relativism" refers to a subjectivist view of morality, which finds its origin epistemologically in holding the primacy of consciousness. To accuse Miss Rand of moral relativism shows a dreadfully vast ignorance of Miss Rand's philosophy.

Mr. Duke writes: ". . . Insofar as our government does legislate . . . it must impose morals, not just "values" (which can be positive or negative).

COMMENT: Another ambiguous statement. Does Mr. Duke means that any legislation by its nature is applied moral values? Or does he mean that the government should make laws that identify, choose, direct, and control moral choices?

A proper government has only three functions. And it does not involve itself in welfare programs. It is concerned only with the function of protecting and defending individual rights. If any legislation violates individual rights---such as a welfare program---then it is an immoral law and should not be imposed upon citizens.

He writes: For it is only when government imposes morals residing within its legitimate domain that laws are just; when it imposes merely values, they may be unjust.

COMMENT: Mr. Duke does not specify what he holds is government's "legitimate domain." So there is no way to know whether such laws he refers to are just.

However, if you know that the only legitimate domain of government is the protection and defense of individual rights, then you know that any law that upholds that moral principle is just. If you know that today's government hardly recognizes the existence of individual rights, you know that today most legislation is unjust.

It is quite true that if the government imposes "merely values" it will be unjust---no maybe about it. There can be no right to violate rights. Forcing men to buy health insurance, for instance, is imposing values. Such a law is unjust.

That said, I am puzzled by Mr. Duke's ignorance of or perhaps contempt for individual rights. It is this that makes his views suspect. His unspecified "laws" and undefined usage regarding the relationship between morality and the law indicates that he believes government should impose moral values. Such a view must lead logically to tyranny, despite his protest that he is "a man who proposed the Defense against Tyranny Amendment."

Government's insertion of moral values---beyond the protection of the moral principle of individual rights---has resulted in the creeping socialism that started at the end of the 19th century when government demanded that earners must financially support those who had not earned their way. It was, it was said, the "right" thing to do. This view took more rabid form in the 1930s when, in addition, government withdrew part of men's paychecks to "secure" their future. It was, it was said, the "right" thing to do. Then government proceeded to loot that alleged security.

From the 1940s to the 1990s, the ballooning welfare state in this country and around the world showed the extent to which government's imposition of moral values perverted education and bankrupted producers. Anti-Trust, it was said, was the "right" thing to do---although it is one of the most unjust of our laws. It strangles businessmen and lowers the standard of living across the board. Affirmative Action, it was said, was the "right" thing to do---although it hindered the group it was suppose to help and lowered the standard of professional and academic excellence. Medicare, it was said, was the "right" thing to do---although it is bankrupting families and all levels of government, and wasting the time of skilled medical personnel forcing them to care for malingerers while true emergency cases wait with little hope.

Today, the new health care law, it is said, is the "right" thing to do. But Americans have awaken to the fact that government imposed morality is the wrong thing to do. When you tell men what they must value, you are telling them how they must live. And that is tyranny. The original Tea Parties patriots knew it. Americans today know it, too.

Mr. Duke wrote: ". . . first and foremost, understanding what morality actually is.

COMMENT: I agree that "first and foremost, [we must understand] what morality actually is." But to understand what morality is, one must understand the standard of value of the good. One must grasp the volitional nature of man and his means of survival. One must understand the role that reason and freedom play in one's life, in production, in capitalism. Not to understand that is to be where we are today.

To demand that people value what government officials declare they should is the harbinger of statism in government and the Middle Ages in culture. During the Middle Ages both state and church oppressed men relegating them to thousand years of poverty, disease and ignorance. Today, the danger is that the state and church will once again struggle for authority resulting in a similar consequence.

If we allow this blending of church and state, together they will bring about another Middle Ages. This will happen, however, only if people accept the notion that morality should be imposed by government. The Inquisition tried it. So did Hitler and Stalin. They all "accomplished" only slaughter. One must conclude that that is the goal of every such advocacy.

Mr. Duke ends his article by stating, "So people who want [Ayn] Rand can have her. I'll side with George, James, and the rest of those Taliban, neocon socialists of dead-white-male fame."

COMMENT: I definitely will take the philosophy of Ayn Rand. As many Americans are discovering, her ideas must be implemented if we are to restore individual rights and prosper.

Mr. Duke has made it clear where he stands.

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At October 28, 2010 at 7:59 PM , Blogger Lee said...

"To preserve America, it won’t suffice to oust Barack Obama and his statist allies from office, for to fundamentally change our government we must fundamentally change ourselves. This means dispensing with moral relativism — our time’s characteristic spiritual fault — and returning to God, to Truth."---Selwyn Duke


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