The following question has been popping up a lot recently, and it relates to the prior post on Angry Libertarians:
Why has our political discourse become so uncivil?
The idea that we should do something has been popularly replaced with the idea that government must do something.
This shift undermines civil society, individuals coming together outside of government through free association based upon shared interests to act together.
As free association is replaced with 50% plus one of the electorate making decisions in a greater range of intrusive personal issues, there is no space for civility, but only force.
The US government criticizes the lack of a civil society in those backward and tyrannical countries abroad, yet the popular mood here is for the government to replace civil society as we become more backward and government becomes more tyrannical.
We see this from both parties when they rhetorically declare war on this or that which actually have nothing to do with actual war, except the consequent increasing bent in our society towards political violence.
In considering what we could choose to do as a corrective, let’s start with a few quotes from novelist Ayn Rand:
Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of the tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. [“The Soul of an Individualist”, For the New Intellectual, p. 84; via Lexicon]
The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships–thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement. [“The Nature of Government”, The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 108; via Lexicon]
What is the basic, the essential, the crucial principle that differentiates freedom from slavery? It is the principle of voluntary action versus physical coercion or compulsion. [“America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business”, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 46; via Lexicon]
A proper association is united by ideas, not by men, and its members are loyal to the ideas, not to the group. It is eminently reasonable that men should seek to associate with those who share their convictions and values…All proper associations are formed or joined by individual choice and on conscious, intellectual grounds (philosophical, political, professional, etc.)–not by the physiological or geographical accident of birth, and not on the ground of tradition. When men are united by ideas, i.e., by explicit principles, there is no room for favors, whims, or arbitrary power: the principles serve as an objective criterion for determining actions and for judging men, whether leaders or members…this is the only way men can work together justly, benevolently and safely. [“The Missing Link”, Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 45; via Lexicon]
Let’s pull all of this together into a few principles to guide action for selfish citizenship related to the original question:
(1) A proper government has a particular nature which subordinates the retaliatory use of force to objective law for the purpose of protecting individual rights.
(2) Within civil society, individuals should be free to associate and act together without resorting to the force of government based upon share values and interest to achieve common goals.
(3) Allowing government to do what is only proper to civil society corrupts government and society by allowing some individuals to initiate force against others…to compel others to be the means to the aggressors’ ends.
If we wish to be civil in our political discourse, it must begin with advocating for government to protect individual rights and no more.