Personal Responsibility: The Touchstone of Freedom

In his essay The Unkept Promise, written in 1987, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“Freedom necessarily includes the freedom to fail. Choice involves selection from a range of alternatives. Finite human creatures may choose beneficially, or they may err significantly, or their pick may rest somewhere along the continuum between merit and detriment. Further, the range of effects, good or ill, may not become readily ascertainable. Freedom compels each choosing actor to accept all consequences of his selection; it does not permit him to toss out his bad choices, to ameliorate the detrimental effects thereof by compelling another individual to accept those unintended or unhappy results, in whole or in part. A society which allows some participants to retain only beneficial results and to thrust the discards upon their neighbors is not free; it operates in the same fashion as the mandate state of the past, where, in George Orwell’s prophetic Animal Farm, “some pigs are more equal than others.” The compelled recipient of another’s bad choice loses an important aspect of his very humanity; only a poltroon would term him “free.”

Personal responsibility forms the touchstone of freedom. The delegates understood that each man’s liberty depends upon that equal and reciprocal right residing in every other individual. If A employs the law to shunt the burden of his bad choices unto the unwilling shoulders of B, B loses his freedom to that extent, no matter how moderate and polite A’s motives. A also loses some of his liberty (albeit by his own choice) and humanity, for tyranny requires unproductive effort to keep the slaves in line. Also, in the democracy of the day, B may seize the juridical apparatus in order to get even or get ahead. The result: Frederic Bastiat’s circle of pickpockets, each mulcting the other.”

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Using Force to Provide Charity

In his essay Essay on Caring, written in 1984, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“A remarkable duality pervades the concept of caring and its current implementation. Force represents the dividing line. Application or refrain from coercion separates the wrongful intrusion into the sanctity of the life of another from the permissible compassionate endeavor. The law ought not impede attempts to aid others or to solve problems where those enterprises occur without compulsion. This should be true where the majority decries the problem as ridiculous or the solution as ill-advised; after all, the crowd often proves ineluctably wrong and, in any event, no human being possesses either the ability or the moral privilege to substitute his judgment for that of another choosing sentient being.

Conversely, no one should employ the legal monopoly of force to compel adherence to, participation in, or compliance with an artifice designed to better another, no matter how well intentioned or meritorious the plan. No individual should be permitted to thrust a decision or shunt responsibility for the consequences of his choice upon another, unwilling human being. Disregard of this salient principle necessarily denies the dignity of that other individual, since moral choice and accountability constitute an essential element in the human condition.

Those who purport to care, then, must submit to a test of means and motive.

The law (rules and orders created and enforced by mankind) should not address the means employed by those who promote compassion as a political or economic discipline except to assure that no individual or entity compels a dissenter to assent to, support or participate in a proposal disagreeable to the latter for any reason.

All too often, those who preach caring, compassion and concern rest their case upon the root of envy: Loathe the rich and trust the poor; take from the evil producer and give to the high- principled but helpless victim of circumstance and oppression. Such caring persons really do not care at all about others: The creators must be plundered, the users must be pandered, by force and violence, by false premises and promises, in order to salve the promoter’s inordinate ego and to effect his flawed view of mankind and the world. In these, the vast majority of instances, one can always count upon the concerned to care—for themselves!”

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The Inconsistency of Political Movements

In his essay A Second Face of Justice, written in 1984, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“The absence of consistency mars all political movements. The liberal holds the tenet of free speech dear, yet demands the privilege of stating the agenda, setting the boundaries, and compelling the dissenting minority to fund the majority hyperbole. Coercively-acquired tax monies support not only public broadcasting editorials and purported documentaries, but also a vast range of spokesmen for political, legal, social, economic, historical and policy creeds or points of view. Valid dissenting opinions are shut out of the mainstream discussion and are often subjected to government-sponsored ridicule if not punishment: A contrary view on the political situation in South Africa or Israel, on the racially-related aspects of criminal behavior, or the immorality of public education, must not be countenanced by the liberal defender of the First Amendment.

The conservative earns almost as many demerits. Many employing this description urge “free enterprise economics” while securing special favors from the government in the form of subsidies, contractual incentives, barriers to market entry by competitors and the like. Those donning the conservative hat tend also to favor foreign military intervention, conscription, excessive defense expenditures and the like, overlooking the propriety of minding one’s own business in a peaceable fashion.”

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The Error of Forgetting the Individual

In his essay The Illusion of Certainty, written in 1984, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“What, then, of the perfect illusion? It is simply this: In a world dominated by bloc or aggregate thought, it is deceptively easy to overlook the individual, and to do so virtually compels the error of belief that men act as hordes or groups and not as persons or individuals. The Austrian School perceives the ill-advised Keynesian focus upon macroeconomics to the obscurity of the single acting man or woman who produces, earns, saves, consumes, and thinks. Nevertheless, proponents of that primal school of thought sometimes forget to transfer the fundamentals there recognized into other disciplines.

The philosophy of individual liberty necessarily focuses upon, and dignifies, the individual human being as an actor causing consequences, accountable for his conduct, and (by virtue of his signal ability to select from an array of choices) imperfect and mistake-prone in the sense of being incapable of universally determining a desired result. Dr. George Charles Roche Ill concludes that one of the most telling legacies of Frederic Bastiat was his insistence ‘that men were imperfect and unique, that freedom could be found only by protecting the individual’s life, liberty, and property from the predations of other men, organized or unorganized.'”

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Man is Moral

In his essay In the Name of Protection, written in 1984, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“As the magnificent historian Richard Weaver chronicled, ideas do have consequences. Man is a moral creature, ultimately responsible for his actions and for the results of his behavior. Thus, each individual must bear the ethical burden both for the idea he espouses and for the consequences which ensue: The adoption of those ideas into hardened law or practice and the effect of those ideas upon subsequent deportment of other men and women. Like it or not, we are accountable, now and hereafter, for our handiwork, and we cannot ameliorate our responsibility by acting as a voluntary or cooperating adjunct to a team, a staff, a mob, or an electorate.

The state consists of those who partake of the power and of the beneficiaries of that coercive body. The state cannot create rights, but it can destroy them. The state cannot create wealth, but it can destroy it. The state cannot create life, but it can destroy it. The state cannot create moral conduct, but it can destroy it. All of these untoward events can occur only if the individuals within the state permit it to pervert the law. We who allow petty little irrationalities—restriction of market entry to purveyors of airplane tickets—with applause or without a whimper in the name of protection, stand accused.”

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Egalitarianism: Unrealistic and Undesirable

In his essay Our Fair Share, written in 1984, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“In the lexicon of the modern egalitarian, equality as a principle mandates transfer payments to even out existing natural or artificial differences. Passing for the purposes of this essay the possibility of achieving enforced equality by any system of redistribution,[4]focus upon the philosophical aspects of the equation reveals the barrenness of the purported analysis.

The fair share advocate perceives the inequality of appearance and talents naturally attendant upon the human condition; he decries this individuality, which he views as unfair disparity, and urges dull and desolate sameness, the absolute of reduction to the lowest common denominator. Down with Haydn and Monet, with Voltaire and Confucius! Seek the gray identity of those crea tures who contribute little or nothing to creativity and culture. Unconsciously or intentionally, his every action leads necessarily and convincingly to this cheerless end.

At the base, two aspects undergirding egalitarianism appear: a presupposition to power and a denial of essential humanity. First, the seeker after enforced equality wishes to impose an orthodoxy upon everyone about him to fit them into his subjective mold. He knows only power; persuasion and rationality dissatisfy him because they lead inflexibly to consequences contrary to his preconceptions. Second, the egalitarian dislikes what he sees when he looks at humanity. He wishes not to alter those things within his puny power, such as the uplifting of man’s material and spiritual existence by the development of new labor-saving devices or the composition of a beautiful work of art. Instead, his quest is to achieve the opposite, by beating down those about him who display any degree of innovativeness or originality. Yet reflection reveals that the egalitarian position amounts to a stubborn denial of the essence of humanity: the awe of unique creation and the mechanism of meaningful choice which unavoidably leads to differences in outlook, ability, goals, and appearance.”

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The Root Assumptions of Regulation

In his essay The Myth of Self-Regulation, written in 1983, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“Pared to essentials, all regulatory standards rest upon two premises: First, that unregulated conduct is evil, and second, that the regulator possesses the inherent ability to curb that malevolence. Subjected to proper scrutiny, both ideas prove fallacious.

Initially, consider the proposition that autonomous human activity deserves condemnation as evil. Not necessarily true. All analysis requires a comprehension of fundamental human nature. Mankind possesses a propensity for betterment, for kindness, sympathy, and empathy, along with a more sinister side tending toward darkness and cruelty. The philosopher and the theologian have long observed and considered this duality of human nature. Man exhibits inherent flaws consistent with his finite condition; neither inherently good nor naturally evil, he enjoys the capacity for improvement but not perfection.

Given this indisputable fallibility, the contention that unregulated conduct constitutes evil proves too much. As with all human endeavor, business or professional activity manifests the dual capacity for good or evil. It does not differ in this respect from any other human action.

However, rational and empirical investigation reveals that mankind generally performs better with lessened (rather than increased) regulation. Although not subject to certain proof, reason demonstrates that unfettered creative endeavors normally lead to an astonishing array of goods, services, and ideas, as distinguished from the more turgid output emanating from a closed or managed system.[1] Historical evidence supports this thesis: witness the imaginative flowering during the times of the Saracenic Empire or nineteenth century America.[2]

One caveat: by reason of mankind’s recognized duality and propensity to evil, completely unfettered human action cannot be tolerated. A free society, governed by rules of justice and opposed to coercion, requires constraints inhibiting the initiation of force and the pursuit of fraud against unwilling participants and providing a final resolution of otherwise insoluble disputes. In essence, such rules and orders circumscribe destructive conduct while leaving creative accomplishment without manacles. To the extent, then, that industry codes and professional standards tether force and fraud or provide an orderly means for solving disputes, those devices serve the legitimate ends of justice and comport with legal propriety.[3]However, if these devices exceed the described boundaries, they represent unwise and improper excursions into conduct which should remain unbound and wholly voluntary.”

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