Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do
SIX CHAPTERS IN SEARCH OF A SHORTER BOOK
I'd call this section a collection of essays, but no one seems to write essays anymorenonfiction authors write feature articles, op-ed pieces, pitch-letters to Hard Copy, and grant applications. So I refer to this as a section of chapters which might abandon ship if they ever find a skinny book in need of plumping up.
WE WERE SO MUCH OLDER THEN; WE'RE YOUNGER THAN THAT NOW
My people and I have come to an agreement which satisfies us both. They are to say what they please, and I am to do what I please.
- IT WAS KNOWN AS THE Enlightenment. Remarkable human beings shined the light of reason on areas of human endeavor that, for centuries, were kept in the darkness of dogma, fear, and prejudice. Philosophy, anatomy, medicine, astronomy, music, physics, and even the most taboo subjects of allreligion and governmentwere explored anew. It was the time of Bacon, Locke, Descartes, Spinoza, Voltaire, Rousseau, Franklin, Jefferson, Swift, Kant, Sir Isaac Newton, Mozart, and Beethoven. The death of Beethovenpunctuated by lightningmarked the end of the Enlightenment.
- Nothing would ever be the same again.
- One of the Age of Enlightenment's great creationsan experiment that continues to this dayis the government of the United States. No less than Voltaire's Candide or the Beethoven symphonies, the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution with its Bill of Rights are masterpieces of the Enlightenment.
- Helping to lay the foundation of the Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason) was John Locke (16321704). Locke was an Englishman who, thanks to his "treasonous" thoughts, spent a good deal of time outside England. When he began to explore government, helike all good thinkersstarted at the beginning. He asked, "Why should there be a government? What is the purpose of government?" These questions, in themselves, were considered treasonous. At that time, everyone knew there was a government because God wanted it that way. If God didn't want it that way, there wouldn't be a government. Anyone who questioned further was guilty not only of treason, but heresy. The church and the state ruled together, by Divine Right. Anyone who questioned this arrangement questioned the authority of God. For such blasphemy, the law declared, one should be put to death. Many were. Nonetheless, John Locke asked his question, "What is the purpose of government?"
It is not only vain, but wicked, in a legislator to frame laws in opposition to the laws of nature, and to arm them with the terrors of death. This is truly creating crimes in order to punish them.
- First, Locke concluded that all human beings are endowed with what he called natural rights. Human beings, individually, belonged to themselves. This notion directly countered the prevailing belief that one's body belonged to the state and that one's soul belonged to the church. One could be granted privileges from the state and purchase indulgences from the church, but the "rights of man," both here and hereafter, belonged to the state and the church.
- The idea that humans owned their own lives and had certain freedoms simply because they existed was central to the Enlightenment. The great minds of the period saw the logic and the fundamental reasonableness of individual liberty and natural rights.
- If we are free, then, and if we have natural rights, why should we give some of these rights over to a government? The only reason for doing so, Locke explained in his Two Treatises of Government (1690), was that people get more from the government by surrendering some rights than they would by keeping them. Individuals form communities because it serves the individual.
Every tyrant who has lived has believed in freedom for himself.
- For example, a community might agree that, if bandits come, everyone will join to fight off the bandits. Even if only one person in the community is attacked by bandits, the entire community agrees to rise up and protect that one member. In this way, each member of the community is giving away a natural right (the right not to risk your life to save someone else) for a benefit (protection from invaders).
- Another example: Within the community, everyone might agree that what one grows or makes is one's own and cannot be taken away without the owner's permission. Being part of this community, then, means giving up a certain right (taking all you can) in exchange for a benefit (keeping what you've got). You agree not to take things from people weaker than yourself in exchange for knowing that you will not have your things taken by people stronger than you. For Locke, government was
for the regulating and preserving of property and of employing the force of the community in the execution of such laws, and in the defense of the commonwealth from foreign injury, and all this only for the public good.
- Noticeably absent from this plan is religion. Prior to Locke, religion was usedsometimes for good and sometimes for illas the fundamental moral principle behind government. During the 1600s, the Catholic and Protestant monarchs played musical thrones in England, which only led to suffering and waste. Locke saw firsthand the inequity, impracticality, and downright unreasonableness of the state based on the ruler's religion. In his A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke began the process of separating church and state. A trained physician, he knew this would be a delicate but necessary operation. The letter was first published in 1689 and revised by him several times prior to his death in 1704.
Civil laws against adultery and fornication have been on the books forever, in every country. That's not the law's business; that's God's business. He can handle it.
|JUSTICE THOMAS G. KAVANAGH|
- Locke, who trained for the clergy, did not attack religion. He used the arguments of religion to show that both church and state would, in fact, be better off apart. The state has its job; the church has its job; and, when both are left to do their jobs, everything is fine. When the government tries to do the church's job and the church tries to do the government's job, all sorts of mischief arise.
- Just as he argued in Two Treatises on Government that an individual's body and property belong to the individual, in A Letter Concerning Toleration Locke argued that the individual's soul belongs to the individual, not the church. "The care, therefore, of every man's soul belongs unto himself and is to be left unto himself." Thus the basis for freedom of religion was established.
- But what if a person is clearly off the path and headed for unhappiness in this lifetime and hellfire in the next? Shouldn't we do something to make that person change course? No, argues Locke, if we are compelled to help another, that help must be limited to persuasion. "It is one thing to persuade, another to command," wrote Locke; "one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties." If these wayward souls fail to heed our arguments and continue to harm themselves, placing their afterlife in danger, then should we not physically alter their course? Absolutely not, Locke maintains:
If any man err from the right way, it is his own misfortune, no injury to thee; nor therefore art thou to punish him in the things of this life because thou supposest he will be miserable in that which is to come.
- The government, Locke explains, must have the power of physical force to protect people and their property from the physical violations of others. Using the government's physical power, however, to enforce a religious belief is wrong:
Let them not supply their want of reasons with the instruments of force, which belong to another jurisdiction and do ill become a Churchman's hands.
In a civilized society, all crimes are likely to be sins, but most sins are not and ought not to be treated as crimes. Man's ultimate responsibility is to God alone.
Archbishop of Canterbury
- If we can't win people over to our belief in God by reason, we shouldn't ask the government to back up our failure with physical force. This is unseemly, Locke maintains, both in the eyes of reason and in the eyes of God.
- But what if we don't insist that people do things to save their souls? What if we only ask them to do things which are good for them in this lifetime? Don't we have the right to make people take good care of themselves in this world? No, says Locke. "No man can be forced to be rich or healthful whether he will or no." To which Locke makes a significant addition: "Nay, God Himself will not save men against their wills." Obviously, God can keep people from doing things that harm themselves in this life but, for whatever reason, does not do so. How dare we, as humans, presume to know more than God? By what arrogance do we interfere with other people's lives by force, when God chooses not to do so? In other words, far from helping God's work by using the force of government to enforce "His laws," government interference may be hindering that work.
- Locke's thoughts on the separation of church and state and the purpose of government influenced the minds that shaped the government of the United States. In 1825, while creating the University of Virginia, Jefferson acknowledged the authors who most influenced the American experiment:
. . . that as to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke in his essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government and of Sydney in his discourses on government may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of Virginia and the United States.
For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?
1 Corinthians 10:29
- The next significant year in the history of consensual crime was 1859. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Charles Dickens first published that in 1859, the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities. (He forgot to complete the thought, however: It is the best of times and the worst of times all the time.) Among 1859's "worst of times," the Supreme Court upheld the Fugitive Slave Act, which said that slaves who escaped to free states had to be returned to their "owners." (In 1857, the Supreme Court had declared that slaves were property and not human beings.) Georgia passed a law in 1859 stating that slaves freed in wills were not free, and that legitimately freed slaves who went into debt would be sold again to satisfy the debt. Nevertheless, the hit song of the year was "I Wish I Was in Dixie's Land." (Away! Away!) Fundamentalists were infuriated by the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, but were comforted by the introduction of "Nearer My God to Thee."
- In England, the House of Commons finally seated its first Jewish member, Lionel Rothschild. Although elected two years before, he had been unable to take his seat because the oath of office insisted he proclaim his "true faith of a Christian." In 1859, Parliament reluctantly altered the oath. In Man-chester, England, some were outraged at the opening of the world's first playground. Swings and horizontal bars, they determined, were far too dangerous for children, and should not be permitted. On the drug front, cocaine was first isolated from coca leaves, and the Great Amer-ican Tea Company began selling extra-potent Chinese and Japanese tea at one-third the going rate. The latter venture was such a success, it became the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, and later simply A&P. Fortunately, no one attempted to protect circus performers from themselves. Gravelet successfully crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope, and, in Paris, Jules Leotard demonstrated his discovery: the trapeze act. "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" was written about him, and the shockingly tight tights he wore were named after him. That women came to see more than his act shocked even Paris.
History repeats itself; that's one of the things that's wrong with history.
- In 1859, while the United States was about to be "engaged in a great civil war," a major event in the history of personal freedom took place in England: John Stuart Mill (18061873) published On Liberty.
- On Liberty was the first major writing since the Bill of Rights (almost seventy years before) to delineate clearly the relationship between the individual and the enormous powers of the state.
- "That so few now dare to be eccentric," he wrote, "marks the chief danger of the time." People's fear of punishment for consensual crimes stifled personal growth, thus stifling the advancement of the culture:
It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it, and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation. . . .
Where, not the person's own character, but the traditions or customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress. . . .
In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others . . .
The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it. . . . A State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposeswill find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.
We are all tolerant enough of those who do not agree with us, provided only they are sufficiently miserable.
- Mill argues, then, that the real victims of repressive laws are not just the people caught and punished for violating those laws, but everyoneindividually and collectively:
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation. . . . If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
- The solution? Discover your "own character"; become involved in "cultivating" and the "development" of your "individuality." Mill wrote:
Liberty consists in doing what one desires. . . .
So long as we do not harm others we should be free to think, speak, act, and live as we see fit, without molestation from individuals, law, or government. . . .
The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.
Republic. I like the sound of the word. It means people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose.
- Is society responsible for the moral good of an individual? No, says Mill. "Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual." Mill writes that one's independence over anything that "merely concerns himself" is "absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." Mill writes, "Neither one person, nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it."
- What are the limits to all this free expression? "The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people." Is this the loophole through which government can determine that any number of consensual activities are crimes? No, says Mill; there must be genuine "harm," "injury to others."
That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. . . .
There should be different experiments of living, that free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others; and that the worth of different modes of life should be proved practically, when any one thinks fit to try them.
A government is the only known vessel that leaks from the top.
- What can society do to individuals who practice behaviors that society finds distasteful, but do not physically harm the person or property of another? "Advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance by other people if thought necessary by them for their own good, are the only measures by which society can justifiably express its dislike or disapprobation of his conduct."
- And what should be the individual's response to excessive advice, instruction, persuasion, dislike, and disapprobation? Mill suggests that "intrusively pious members of society" be told "to mind their own business." And he adds, "This is precisely what should be said to every government and every public, who have the pretension that no person shall enjoy any pleasure which they think wrong."
There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism. . . .
If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
- "Most people don't like it" is, thus, insufficient ground for stifling unpopular thought or behavior. Protecting the minority's freedom is the purpose of government, not oppressing the minority for the comfort of the majority.
The will of the people, moreover, practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power.
No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of minorities.
|FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT|
- As examples of the majority using force to control an unpopular minority, Mill cites no less than the lives of Socrates and Jesus.
Mankind can hardly be too often reminded that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time there took place a memorable collision. . . . This acknowledged master . . . was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality.
- As to Jesus being sentenced to death for "blasphemy," and the men who took such an action, Mill says:
The high-priest who rent his garments when the words were pronounced, which, according to all the ideas of his country constituted the blackest guilt, was in all probability quite as sincere in his horror and indignation as the generality of respectable and pious men now are in the religious and moral sentiments they profess.
- For the pious who are unwilling to change their minds and who dismiss Mill's examples as ones that could not possibly apply to themselves, Mill makes this comment:
Orthodox Christians who are tempted to think that those who stoned to death the first martyrs must have been worse men than they themselves are, ought to remember that one of those persecutors was Saint Paul.(*FN)
[*FN Paul, before his conversion, was a Jewish Pharisee and Roman citizen named Saul who executed early Christians with the same zeal he later used to spread Christianity (Acts 8:3, 9:1-2).]
The policy of the American government is to leave its citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.
- Mill rejects the idea that individual expression will lead to uncontrolled atheism, hedonism, and other ism's. Those who want us to be other than ourselves are the same people who think that "trees are a much finer thing when clipped . . . into the figures of animals than as nature made them." To the contrary, Mill claims that it is only by following our inner naturethe desires and instincts that God gave usthat we discover ourselves and truly begin to fulfill our divine purpose.
If it be any part of religion to believe that man was made by a good Being, it is more consistent with that faith to believe that this Being gave all human faculties that they might be cultivated and unfolded, not rooted out and consumed, and that he takes delight in every nearer approach made by his creatures to the ideal conception embodied in them, every increase in any of their capabilities of comprehension, of action, or of enjoyment.
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