In the Terri Schiavo debate, although I don’t agree with them, there is a side that has promoted the idea that the government should have left the matter alone.
Unfortunately, given the dispute between her husband and parents, government couldn’t avoid the issue. But they are right that wherever possible, government should not meddle in individuals’ lives.
In my last column, I stated that if I were running for office, because of my libertarian leanings, the only promise I would make to voters would be that I would leave them alone. I derive this conviction from the same notion that William Douglas had when he said, “The right to be left alone is indeed the beginning of all freedoms.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that the essential motivation behind people espousing the libertarian ideology is their agreement with the philosophy behind that quote.
Throughout time, much of the conflict we have seen between people has been a result of one person or group meddling in the affairs of another person or group.
While government’s main responsibilities include protecting those citizens from violations of their rights and personal property by others, as I believe Congress attempted to do in the Schiavo case, it has, unfortunately, also been a major source of the encroachment of those same rights.
Governments throughout history, in their zeal to protect their people, have violated the rights of individuals in order to uphold the supposed “rights” of the majority.
Hitler appealed to defending the German people as he slaughtered millions of people. Stalin appealed to the rights of the working class as he murdered millions as well. History is replete with such examples.
Another source of the conflict has been coercive meddling in other individual’s affairs by people who believe they have a religious or moral duty to do so. These are the types of people we see more often in our own society.
They view themselves as the moral and social guardians of society who have not just a right, but a duty, to meddle in other individual’s lives in order to bring about their vision of a perfect state. They are the ones who believe that government’s job is not only to protect individuals from others, but also to protect them from themselves. There’s quite possibly nothing worse than these moral busybodies who feel compelled to use government coercion as a vehicle for their social-engineering goals.
These would-be philosopher-kings have been labeled by some as “virtuecrats.” They believe they are justified in imposing their moral vision of the world on the rest of us by enacting public policies that promote their idea of virtue.
We see this played out in economic policies that seek to redistribute wealth and social policies that seek to uphold the religious views of a certain group of people. The former is espoused by modern liberals, the latter by traditional conservatives. Unfortunately, the courts have taken it upon themselves to, in many instances, bring the same type of social engineering about.
What these virtuecrats often neglect to observe is that by attempting to enforce their own moral vision of the world through policy, they are violating the individual rights of those they seek to help.
This is what the libertarian ideology seeks to avoid: the violation of individual rights. Because those of this mindset see the individual as endowed with certain unalienable rights, they oppose policies that seek to better society as a whole through appeals to “the common good,” not individual rights. This ideology seeks to put government in its proper role — the limited role of defender of individual rights.
Unlike a lot of people who vote for the candidate who promises to do the most for them, those of the libertarian ideology most often vote for the candidate who will do the least for them, the one most likely to simply leave them alone.
To be left alone by government would be ideal in all cases. But it’s something that, since there was a dispute over her true wishes, in all practicality was not possible in the Schiavo case.
Adam Fowler is a senior majoring in political science. firstname.lastname@example.org