Tipping the Scales for Liberty
By Tibor Machan - January 23, 2010

It has been my experience that people who take politics seriously tend to want to have their idea of a good or just system of laws fully implemented. Yet these people aren't ignorant about the poor prospects of achieving their goal. Unless a society is being ruled by some incredibly powerful individual or tight knit group, the public policies and laws will be a reflection of a hodge podge of ideas, principles, objectives and so forth. Largely democratic societies are not hospitable to just some given system of justice but will routinely be a reflection of many different notions of how human communities ought to be configured.

Nonetheless, those of us who are serious about politics will not just settle for the plain fact that we cannot have exactly what we judge best, namely, that their pure system of this or that political economy will come to dominate the realm. It would require silencing or making impotent all those with whom one disagrees, something those who strive for liberty may not even consider. Because people aren't likely to be persuaded of a particular view of how a community should be arranged — something that is true even if there is such a system that has been conceived by some of them — the best that can be achieved is some kind of a mixed political order. And no such mixed system is likely to remain in place for very long because the percentage of those who favor some one way of doing things will keep fluctuating. No sooner will a population emerge with a certain number of socialists, communists, libertarians, monarchists, theocrats and whatever combination of these can be conceived, another one will replace it, one with different percentages exerting influence over laws and public policies.

Nonetheless, despite the truth of the above, it is not futile to strive to bring about the correct, proper, truly just political-economic order. The reason is that the prospect of getting things right about how people ought to live together in their communities is so vital that the mere but real possibility of its actualization makes the striving worth it all. It's a little like striving to be as healthy or fit or, especially, as good a human individual as one can possibly be. Even without the likelihood of success it is worth giving it all a try. One way to see this is to think of it as a pursuit that is worth undertaking because were it to come to full fruition, nothing much greater could be achieved. That is how important justice is in human communities, as important as moral excellence is in a person's life.

Sometimes this outlook is deemed to be idealistic or utopian, a virtual guarantee of failure. And, yes, failure is more likely than not, although even the bits of success in this or that human community, for a more or less lengthy period of time, is by no means negligible. And without making the effort to bring about a just society, even such partial accomplishments are going to be absent from most human communities. Just as one's regular exercise routine undertaken reasonably frequently will not make one perfectly fit or healthy, it will do much more than nothing. The fight for justice is similar — even the fight itself has its valuable results and if one adds the practical accomplishments that come from even a failed effort, its value cannot be disputed.

It is important to come to terms with all this in mixed systems such as those that dominate most of the developed world. Indeed, it is coming to terms with these points and following their practical implications that has made the beneficial development of that world possible. So for those who might be tempted to become discouraged with where the fight for liberty is headed just now it should be pointed out that even a little bit of progress (or prevention of regress) is significant. Yes, the statists are making headway toward re-establishing a coercively run society in many parts of the world but those who understand how destructive this is need not despair. They need to keep in mind that without their vigilance statism would be far more extensive than it is. So they need to keep it up, and not relent, ever.

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