PERSPECTIVES ON LIBERTY (1987)

Chapter 3 - Overview of Specifics

In the remaining chapters, I am going to talk more about private personal conduct, its psychological motivation, and the changing perceptions of the "right to privacy." But, first, I want to comment on the proper roles of government, "private" institutions, and individuals.

In a free society, we expect government to prevent individuals and private groups from harming each other or interfering with each other's legitimate rights. We expect government to protect us from genuine external threats to security, whether manmade or natural. This might include dealing with global environmental changes brought on by man. This is as far as government should go.

Some people want government to do other things. For instance, "liberals" often want government to redistribute wealth to those less fortunate, or to provide dispensations to identifiable societal groups that have suffered real discrimination in the past and continue to do so today. (Isn't, after all, a family, capable of providing privilege, a group?) Some "conservatives" want government to impose majoritarian ir conformist motivational values on everyone.

The "problem" comes even when one has the best intentions for "limited" government, in drawing the line between protecting individual rights and providing dispensations, or in deciding whether one is protecting the public from a genuine threat or is just "legislating morality."

It has become painfully apparent during the past ten years (before 1987) that personal behavior carried out in private does affect others; society at least bears increased financial burdens, and persons may be other to harm others in certain situations, such as operating machinery or vehicles, giving blood, etc. There is no reasonable argument against removing individuals from situations where there is evidence that they can harm others; but, beyond that, should society take an aggressive stance that it will stamp out dangerous and "immoral" behavior? I feel that it is very difficult for government to do this without violating constitutional rights, at least in spirit. In our society, people must be allowed due process and probable cause before their spaces may be invaded. Attempts to "legislate morality" certainly compromise these rights. But what about institutions, corporations, private individuals? Corporations will tend to be concerned with the "morality" of employees when it threatens their financial welfare, by causing accidents or raising insurance premiums. Beyond this concern, corporations will tend to find it in their best interest (even in the Ayn Rand sense) to exercise due compassion and respect, and in some cases (drugs or alcohol) to offer rehabilitation, although economic pressures mentioned previously may countermand generosity. And certainly, for mental and spiritual health, individuals should, too.