It may have been either Will Rogers or Mark Twain, I cannot now recall which of the two great American humorists it was, who said all politicians are criminals. But it makes no difference because when something is true, its source is not the main issue. Fact is, politicians are extortionists at heart since their forte is that they will allow you and me to live and work provided we fork out nearly half of what we earn or otherwise obtain honestly so they can then dispose of it as they see fit.
In our time, not entirely unlike in others, the main appeal politicians hold out for millions is that they join them in their resentful bashing of the rich. This is a successful ploy because in the past, of course, most riches came from conquest, from governments and their favorite minions sending out thugs to confiscate whatever they desired from those who had some. As the saying has it, behind every great fortune lies a great crime, including extortion via taxation! This is why Robin Hood became a hero to so many: He went out and recovered what the tax takers took by force and returned it to the rightful owners. (No, Robin Hood didn’t steal from the rich and give to the poor; he repossessed from the ruler and his vicious taxers!)
How can politicians live with the knowledge that they are what they are, confiscators, extortionists? Because they tell themselves the story so many tell themselves when they do the wrong thing – “The intended end justifies the means!” Nearly every criminal thinks this way and so do nearly all who perpetrate evil upon others. Some higher goal than what the victim seems to be pursuing motivates them. They are serving the public interest or God or the common good or the environment or science or culture – you name it, there are hundreds of candidates that make the politician feel at ease.
Criminals also have great goals that will be served by their loot and since their victims are well enough off, they have nothing to complain about. After all, isn’t it selfish to insist on trying to hold on to your own resources, your own time, indeed your own life? Prominent university professors spell this out for us – we are all selfish bastards if we hold on to our own and allocate it as we judge fit. No, they will determine to what end my and your life should be devoted and if we disagree, they will send the politician into the arena who will make laws that compel us all to comply with their noble vision. As Professor Peter Unger wrote in one of his “ethics” books, “On pain of living a life that’s seriously immoral, a typical well-off person, like you and me, must give away most of her financially valuable assets, and much of her income, directing the funds to lessen efficiently the serious suffering of others.”
I personally know numerous such apologists for actions and politics that involve taking from people what is theirs so as to devote it to objectives the takers have failed to convince their victims to contribute to voluntarily. Never mind that – just like criminals, who cares about the rights of these victims when my noble goals are at stake?! And because there are at least some whose wealth was acquired through some shady dealings, one can rest easy in one’s conscience by telling oneself, ‘Well, they are all guilty of graft and theft. Why shouldn’t we then go after them in the same vein?’ With the likes of the famous French poet Charles Baudelaire, who said that “Commerce is satanic, because it is the basest and vilest form of egoism. The spirit of every businessman is completely depraved” providing them the clear conscience they crave as they rob and steal and extort from us, why would politicians think any differently from criminals? In our day the leader of the citizenry has no hesitation about bashing the wealthy, insisting that robbing them of their lives and resources and liberty to dispose of these as they judge proper is perfectly honorable.
Until this attitude about people and their resources – reminiscent of the days of serfdom and involuntary servitude – seriously abates, the dream of a genuine free country will remain, well, but a dream. The idea that when one is successful, or even simply lucky so far as amassing resources is concerned, others get authorized to forcibly remove one’s wealth and use it without one’s permission for their however desirable ends, is plainly barbaric. It amounts to subjugating others, actually enslaving them. And that has no place in civilized societies.
Tibor Machan, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Auburn University, holds the R.C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics at Chapman University, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University and serves as a Senior Contributing Editor with TheDailyBell.com.
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