First published in The Daily Bell
One of the major evils of the welfare state in libertarian eyes is
that it destroys the concept of objective law (i.e., equal rights
under the law) throughout society. This is because the welfare state
is based upon the violation of individual rights in order to convey
privileges to special interest groups. All primary policies of state
welfarism entail such a violation and conveyance. This is why justice
can never be achieved under a welfare state philosophy, liberal or
Government’s job is to protect rights, not violate them. Its laws must
be applied equally, which means no privileges. Yet we are taught today
that government conveyance of privileges to special interest groups
will bring us a just society. It is even taught that our concern with
“special interest groups” is the American Way – this in face of the
fact that the Founders’ repeatedly warned against the creation of
Special Privilege Defined
What follows will hopefully throw some light on this important issue
and clarify how government’s conveyance of special privileges is
destroying freedom and justice. Because of the heavy ideological
obfuscation that prevails in our media and our schools, we need to
first define the term special privilege. It means the intervention of
government into the free market to legislate policy that favors
specific individuals and groups over other individuals or groups. It
is the enactment of laws that either aid or suppress some people in
relation to other people. Special privilege can take any number of
forms. For example:
1) When government grants subsidies to corporations, banks, farmers
and low income earners, it is conveying a special privilege to these
recipients at the expense of the individuals whose earnings are
confiscated in order to pay for such subsidies. Their right to the
disposal of their income (i.e., their property) is violated.
2) When government dictates that certain quotas of racial / sexual
groups must be enrolled in colleges and hired in businesses because of
race or gender rather than the free determination of merit, it is
conveying a special privilege to those who are enrolled and hired at
the expense of those who are better qualified, but are not enrolled
and hired because of the quotas. Their right to free determination of
merit is violated.
3) When government allows striking labor unions to physically prohibit
non-union workers from replacing them by means of violence or through
NLRB mandates, it is granting a special privilege of monopoly power to
union workers at the expense of all non-union workers in the
marketplace. Their right to freely seek employment is violated.
4) When government passes a law mandating that oil prices cannot be
raised beyond a certain level, it is conveying a special privilege to
the consumers of oil at the expense of the producers of oil. Their
right to freedom of trade is violated.
Therefore, whenever government intervenes into the marketplace to aid
or suppress specific individuals and groups at the expense of others,
it is conveying privileges and violating rights, which cannot make for
a just society.
This doesn’t mean government intervention itself is wrong. Government
must intervene into the marketplace to protect men’s rights by curbing
violence and fraud. Most thinkers would also add a second legitimate
intervention, which is to provide those few services we cannot handle
in the marketplace such as communicable disease control, emergency 911
service, city streets, etc. But this kind of government intervention
is a provision of services for all men in general instead of an
enactment of specific policies for some at the expense of others.
Government intervention is, thus, necessary to maintain freedom and
order in society – but only if it is objective in nature and used to
protect rights, or to provide the minimal services that cannot be
provided in a free market. Once government intervention is used to
convey “special privileges,” it becomes arbitrary in nature, and the
authorities that legislate such intervention always become dictatorial.
This then is the major reason why libertarian and conservative
advocates of freedom vehemently oppose the welfare state. It makes
government a conveyer of privileges instead of a protector of rights,
which turns government into a criminal agency (criminality being
defined as the violation of individual rights). It destroys the
concept of equal rights, which is the foundation stone upon which
freedom, order and justice are based.
Equal rights under the law is the most important principle in
America’s political system. But there can be no equal rights if
government enacts unequal tax rates, i.e., progressive rates. Or if it
mandates that some corporations have the right to set their prices
freely, but not other corporations. Or if it allows free association
to racial minorities, but not to racial majorities.
Redundancy and Reciprocity
To further clarify this crucial issue, consider the following truism:
There are no such things in reality as simply “rights.” Rights by
their very nature must also be equal, or they are not rights. The
phrase, “equal rights,” is really a redundancy. For instance, we all
have to have an equal right to freedom of speech, or we are no longer
talking about a right. If all men do not have the same right to speak
freely, then the right to free speech does not exist. In other words,
rights necessitate the concept of reciprocity. Whatever I have the
right to, everyone else must also have a right to. All rights are,
thus, reciprocal, or they are not rights but privileges. So whenever
we talk about rights, we are automatically talking about equal rights.
There can be no such thing as an unequal right, or a right just for
some citizens. Rights are either equal for all, or they become
privileges for some.
Thus, all citizens must have an equal right to freedom of speech. They
must all have an equal right to due process. They must all have an
equal right to freedom of association. They must all have an equal
right to the disposal of their property (i.e., their income).
Another point must also be grasped here if one is to understand what
is happening in the modern world, and that is that rights and
privileges cannot co-exist in the same society. They are not only
opposites, but opposites in the sense that privileges will destroy the
concept of rights whenever they are mixed in a political system.
For example, the nature of the material reality surrounding us is that
it is made up of numerous entities composed of opposite existential
structures that cannot commingle and still retain their specific
existences. That is to say if they are mixed, one of the opposites
will dominate the other and destroy it. For example: locusts destroy
wheat when mixed. The same goes for acid and silver, mold and bread,
tornadoes and towns, fires and forests.
This feature of reality exists not only materially, but also
spiritually. In other words, the intellectual realm is subject to this
same operating principle, for there are fundamental opposites that
cannot be mixed without one destroying the other. Rights and
privileges are an example; they are philosophical opposites. Whenever
a privilege is granted by the government to someone or some group, a
right has to be destroyed in the process. If thousands of privileges
are granted, then thousands of rights must be destroyed.
This is the nature of our modern day political scene. Large numbers of
people are demanding special privileges from the government, and in
the process are destroying the legitimate rights of their fellow men.
Every time someone votes for government to provide a subsidy, or a tax
break, or a price support, or a monopoly, or an injection of fiat
money, he is asking for a special privilege and in the process is
destroying equal rights. Once the “equality” of our rights is
destroyed, then our rights themselves no longer exist. Once our rights
no longer exist, then the prevailing society has evolved into a dictatorship.
In conclusion, rights and privileges cannot be mixed. This is the Law
of Mutual Exclusivity. A just, stable and free society cannot provide
special privileges for some of its citizens and remain just, stable
and free. The curse of modern day societies is that their governing
authorities believe they can circumvent this truth.
What this means is that a society must be based upon equal rights, or
it must be based upon special privileges, but it cannot be based upon
both. The latter consumes the former. Just as wheat and locusts cannot
co-exist in the same field, neither can rights and privileges co-exist
in the same society. Just as locusts will eventually spread throughout
the entire field to destroy the wheat and its life-giving nutrients,
so also will government conveyed privileges spread throughout an
entire society to destroy the concept of rights, and with it the
life-giving values of justice, freedom and stability.
This is why we have the insufferable locust horde of factions,
coalitions, foundations, corporations, banks and divergent individuals
today who feel their “need” justifies their lining up at the
government trough to lobby for the corrupt favors, handouts and pork
that have flowed so overwhelmingly from Washington for the past 100
years. Once we step beyond minimal Lockean government so as to allow
government to violate individual rights to convey special privileges
to others and accept this as morally legitimate, there is no end to
the process. Tyranny must follow.
Government should not be in the business of conveying privileges and
favors to anyone. Period. It should protect rights and do for us those
few things we cannot do for ourselves in a free market, and these few
services should be done on the state and local level. This was the
Lockean ideal that the Founders envisioned. This is the only morally
just form of government. It was not meant just for the nineteenth
century; it was meant for all of time.