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Idealism versus Freedom

August 14, 2010
Joseph Sobran
8/13/2010

Of all the apocryphal sayings ascribed to our Founding Fathers, my favorite is one attributed to George

Washington: “Government is not reason. It is not persuasion. It is force.” If he never said it, he should have.

Everyone who believes in a moral order should ponder those eleven words. Government is indeed force, force claiming justification, and its exercise at least requires some serious reason.

This is a truth that Americans have almost entirely forgotten. I often argue with a dear old liberal friend of mine, a man too personally decent and modest to impose his will on any human being, but who assumes implicitly that the government has the authority to enact, say, “civil rights” legislation curtailing freedom of association and property rights.

My friend is no fool. He is intelligent and eloquent, and I always learn something from his side of our endless arguments. But one thought — a self-evident truth that I’d hope would occur to every rational person — has apparently never crossed his mind: that government is force. Like so many people, he assumes, without reflection, that if some imagined social condition seems desirable, government should try to bring it about. He admits some practical difficulties, but for him government seems to embody aspirations which he further assumes reasonable people share and only unreasonable people resist, as in the case of “gay marriage.”

This is why I shudder at the word “idealist” Ideals are fantasies, most of which can never be brought into being. If government tries to realize them, it can do so only by applying force and curtailing freedom. And many people see this enterprise as noble, even if it fails; the cost to freedom seldom enters their calculations.

And now… the rest of the story. …..

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