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Freedom’s Frontier

I have lamented that none of the popular advocates for limited government make a moral argument. Libertarians, Limbaugh, or even Ron Paul, focus on efficiency and effectiveness, or how the state causes waste or violence. These are all, I think, sufficient justifications for minimizing state power. But they’re not the most important.

By settling into a debate over the most efficient or effective form and balance of government, they concede a necessity of government. This is pragmatic. To fetishize un-governed anarchy removes one from participation in our political society. Anarchists are self-disenfranchised. So, I accept the efficiency arguments must be made, to move us to greater liberty. Or at least to resist encroaching tyranny.

But the essential question, the goal, is not to find the optimum level of oppression. The goal is to maximize human fulfillment. Both as individuals and as cooperative groups.

Any government depends on coercion. One who is coerced is not fulfilled. He is a slave. This is the first-order argument for limited government. Government is contradictory to human fulfillment, and unnecessary limits on human action are immoral.

Dr. Sanity explains:

Morality, though, must always be a matter of choice, not mandate.

One cannot hold a person responsible for actions that are coerced or forced from him. Morality can only exist when freedom of action exists; and thus moral actions in any field of human endeavor require freedom.

Conduct may only be thought of as moral or immoral when it is freely chosen by the individual. It is only then that the moral significance of the action can be assessed. It is only when we are free to act that we can exercise moral judgment.

Which brings us to a capitalist political/economic system. Only in a free economic system within a free political system is it even possible to be moral, since benevolence toward others, compassion, charity, and generosity cannot exist without freedom. Benevolence, generosity, charity, and compassion that are mandated by the state, or by a religion (on pain of death or other consequence); or by any regulations on behavior; or by force--are meaningless insofar as individual morality is concerned.

As government grows, the governed become smaller. We are deprived of our essential humanity as moral agents. The morally superior system is an absence of government: anarchy.

That concept is frightening, for many reasons. And I do not mean to propose an immediate dissolution of coercive authorities. People need generations to mature into greater trust and responsibility. Today, pragmatically, limits are necessary.

Those limits are subject to adjustment. The most effective line between human potential and human imperfection is always subject to review. Yet, our aim is not merely to make the best border. We must never forget our ultimate goal is a world without such borders, where each is person is a free moral agent. This is the philosophy of liberty.