Sunday, 11 January 2009

An apposite analogy

Freedom of Religion has long been a central tenet of Western liberal culture, a basic value which meets with no opposition in polite company. As an integral component of this, the separation of church and state is defended by all liberal thinkers.

It is curious, then, that in other areas of life, there remains a willingness to enforce moral judgements in the political sphere. One sees the compulsory participation aspect of religious intolerance with anti-discrimination laws or sensitivity training; and the state promotion of one set of views over another with such policies as subsidies for the arts.

The point was driven home by an eccentric essay featured in 'A Plea for Liberty' called 'Free Libraries.' Its conclusion eloquently draws the analogy between the advocates of religious subsidy and other cultural subsidy:
"Free Libraries are typical examples of the compulsory co-operation everywhere gaining ground in this country. Like all State socialism they are the negation of that liberty which is the goal of human progress. Every successful opposition to them is therefore a stroke for human advancement. This mendacious appeal to the numerical majority to force a demoralizing and pauperizing institution upon the minority, is an attempt to revive, in municipal legislation, a form of coercion we have outgrown in religious matters. At the present time there is a majority of Protestants in this country who, if they wished, could use their numerical strength to compel forced subscriptions from a minority of Catholics, for the support of those religious institutions which are regarded by their advocates as of quite equal importance to a Free Library. Yet this is not done; and why? Because in matters of religion we have learnt that liberty is better than force. In political and social questions this terrible lesson has yet to be learned. We deceive ourselves when we imagine that the struggle for personal liberty is over—probably the fiercest part has yet to arise. The tyranny of the few over the many is past, that of the many over the few is to come. The temptation for power—whether of one man or a million men—to take the short cut, and attempt by recourse to a forcing process to produce that which can only come as the result of the slow and steady growth of ages of free action, is so great that probably centuries will elapse before experience will have made men proof against it."

Craig Smith discussed this modern advocacy of coercion in pursuit of a moral goal in his address to the society in November, as part of a speech entitled 'The Errors of Social Justice':

(relevant excerpt ends at ~23:10; entire video is here)

The entire book is to be highly recommended; that it is available freely via the Library of Economics and Liberty is a nice irony.

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