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Religious Freedom vs Economic Freedom: Kennedy Townsend’s False Alternative

Ms. Kennedy Townsend is very confused about Ayn Rand.

Sadly, because like many of Rand’s critics, her views on Ayn Rand are based on third-rate biographies as opposed to actually reading Ayn Rand’s views first hand. Take for example Kennedy Townsend’s  straw man attack on Ayn Rand’s view of government.

Writes Townsend in The Atlantic:

America was a beacon of freedom from its earliest days. But the freedom to earn one’s living is not the same as the freedom to emasculate government. It’s a mistake to enshrine individual liberty without acknowledging the role that a good government plays in preserving and promoting it. Look at places like Haiti, Somalia, and the Congo to see what happens when governments aren’t around much.

When government is marginalized, it’s not just individual freedom that suffers; the economy suffers too. A vibrant capitalism requires a legal system: contracts must be honored, fraud punished. Markets have to work, and for that we need a strong infrastructure of roads, rail, energy, and water and sewage systems.

Ayn Rand was no anarchist as pure libertarians are.

Rather than blindly accepting Kennedy Townsend’s view that Ayn Rand was against a legal system that honors contracts, lets see what Rand actually wrote on this issue in The Virtue of Selfishness:

The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law. ["The Nature of Government"]

Ayn Rand was for good government. In Rand’s view the essence of good government was judged by one principle: the protection of individual rights, which means in practice the banning of the initiation of physical force from all human relationships. Rand would agree with a government to enforce contracts, however, there is no reason for government being required to build roads, railroads, build power plants or sewage systems. Practically, because private industry can do these things more efficiently and at a better bang for the buck, i.e., before they were nationalized, America’s railroads were actually built by private industry. Morally, because such endeavors by government can only be funded by robbing the wealth of those forced to finance such projects against their will.

Even worse is Ms. Townsend’s misunderstanding of the relationship of religion and the concept freedom, the latter of which she views as a competing set of contradictory freedoms as opposed to an inseparable whole:

 I’ve always understood that one’s loyalty to God should take precedence over one’s patriotic duty. [As did the 9/11 terrorists! -- D&C] Churches are exempt from taxation, and conscientious objectors aren’t required to serve in war. Our high regard for the First Amendment shows the preeminence of faith in the American consciousness.

But to place economics on the same level as religious freedom seemed to me almost blasphemous. Are we really to believe that the freedom to make money should stand on the same level of religious liberty?

Yes, because freedom is an inseparable whole.

The right to religious freedom is not merely the freedom for the individual to practice religion as he chooses (so long as he does not violate the rights of others), but is the freedom from religion being imposed on the individual whether by private criminals or public bureaucrats, i.e., the freedom to not practice any religious doctrine.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

Quoting Jefferson in a letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814:

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

Religious freedom is the application of the right to free speech and property applied to the religious sphere. You are free to say what you wish on these matters — even that God does not exist — and no one can physically force you to think or act differently. Remarks Jefferson’s on this point in his Notes on Virginia, 1782:

But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Religious freedom — the right to free speech and action so long as one does not violate the rights of others — and economic freedom — the right to produce values necessary to support ones own life so long as one does not violate the rights of others — are equals, because the right to life is an inseparable, non-contradictory whole.

Religious freedom (the freedom from the state forcing some religious doctrine upon you) is an instance of the principle of freedom applied to the religious sphere. It is hierarchically a derivative of the fundamental right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There is no compromise or antagonism between religious and economic freedom when the two are properly grasped and defined.

Or in Ayn Rand’s words:

It is not society, nor any social right, that forbids you to kill—but the inalienable individual right of another man to live. This is not a “compromise” between two rights—but a line of division that preserves both rights untouched. The division is not derived from an edict of society—but from your own inalienable individual right. The definition of this limit is not set arbitrarily by society—but is implicit in the definition of your own right.

Within the sphere of your own rights, your freedom is absolute. [“Textbook of Americanism,”The Ayn Rand Column, 85]

As for charity and the “special responsibility” of the wealthy here is what Ayn Rand had to say:

The small minority of adults who are unable rather than unwilling to work, have to rely on voluntary charity; misfortune is not a claim to slave labor; there is no such thing as the right to consume, control, and destroy those without whom one would be unable to survive. [CUI]

Quoting Ayn Rand in her interview in Playboy, March 1964:

My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Rand did not see charity — the benevolent act of giving away one’s wealth to aid someone in need — as a badge of moral honor; she did award such a badge for the ability to produce that wealth. In Rand’s view your only political responsibility in regards to others is not to violate their rights by initiating force against them:

The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. No man—or group or society or government—has the right to assume the role of a criminal and initiate the use of physical compulsion against any man. Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. The ethical principle involved is simple and clear-cut: it is the difference between murder and self-defense. A holdup man seeks to gain a value, wealth, by killing his victim; the victim does not grow richer by killing a holdup man. The principle is: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force. [“The Objectivist Ethics,”The Virtue of Selfishness, 32 ]

And again quoting Rand in “The Nature of Government,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 108:

Man’s rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment.

The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.

The difference between Ayn Rand and Townsend’s ilk is that Ayn Rand leaves people free to be good as dictated by their own reason and free choice; Kennedy Townsend wishes to use the power of the government to force her altruistic conception of the good on others (i.e., robbing the “rich” to help those who sleep under bridges, i.e., Marxian “fair” taxation, etc.).

Kennedy Townsend wishes to unleash the criminal power of government to initiate force against those who violated the rights of no one — illegitimate and immoral means — to achieve her ends. In Rand’s view, rights are not things to be violated by regulation, but are to be protected by right. Quoting Ayn Rand:

Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state—and nothing else.

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