ISSUES IN FOCUS
Week of June 21, 1998
PREVENTION VERSUS PROTECTION
Is it right to deprive someone of some of his freedom in order to prevent him from doing something wrong? Do your neighbors have the right to deprive you of some of your freedom in order to prevent you from doing something wrong, from making a mistake, honest or otherwise? If your answer is yes, then you are supporting an idea that is the mother of all dictators.
Prevention is the act of the government forcibly stopping an individual from making his own choices about his life’s activities. Prevention is implemented through regulations. A regulation is a legal prohibition and/or command of certain acts enforced by the state's initiation of force.
Is the proper role of government prevention or protection? The distinction between the two is profound and the answer to this question leads a nation either in the direction of totalitarianism or freedom. Prevention leads to totalitarianism. Protection leads to freedom. There is nothing in between, except in a society, such as we have today, which is in transition to one or the other of these conclusions.
For statists, to ask a question is to find an immediate answer. Want to prevent someone from smoking? Enact legislation which will wipe out your freedom to make the choice to smoke. Want to prevent someone from doing something unsafe? Create laws which eliminate your freedom to choose to do something risky. Want to prevent the suffering of poverty? Obliterate your freedom to decide how your money is to be spent and force you to fork over your money to the needy. Want to prevent drug use? Eradicate your freedom to make your own choice about drugs, including drugs which might save your life.
Is it a noble goal, as Republican Senator Lott recently declared, for the state to prevent teens from smoking? It may be noble for private individuals to attempt to persuade a youngster he should not smoke, but it is an evil goal for the state to seek the use of force to prevent such activity. Prevention requires that the state abolish your freedom to decide what is best for your child, restrict your freedom of speech and violate property rights. If your neighbor’s kid is smoking, it’s none of your business, not your problem and you have no right to pick up a gun and stop the activity.
Statist prevention always fails—and statists know this. They do not hide this fact: they use each new failure as their justification for even more preventive actions by the state. As each step to prevent something fails, that failure generates the momentum for the creation of even more severe and restrictive measures—and on and on and on, until freedom in a certain area of your life is entirely destroyed. Statists count on most believing that what has failed in the past will work in the future if the preventive measures are more stringent.
Consider crime—not the made-up "crimes" of statism, but real crime: murder, robbery, rape and so on. While it is reported that we have had a temporary drop in crime, the fact remains that crime, which is caused by ideas of statism, is many times higher than it was fifty years ago. Statist preventive measures against crime have failed and have brought us: the seizure and forfeiture of your property before your guilt has been established, the suspension of trial by jury for many alleged crimes, curfews, police check points, no-knock searches of your home, and warrantless surveillance of your mail and phone conversations—all in the name of preventing crime, yet it has not worked.
Prevention destroys the liberty of all in order to prevent the evil of the few. It shackles the innocent in order to prevent the potentially guilty from committing a crime.
Prevention by government is immoral—it rests on the idea that your life is not yours, that you do not have the right to live as you wish (so long as you do not violate the same right of another)—it rests on the notion that statists have the right to forcibly restrict your life, to forcibly substitute their judgment for yours, to forcibly prevent you from making your own choices—it rests on the initiation of force. With prevention, there are masters and slaves, rulers and the ruled, regulators and the regulated, dictators and obedient followers.
In a free society, you are only punished for the acts you actually commit—specifically, the act of using force against another individual, using force first. You are not punished, by the loss of your freedom, for the wrongdoing, real or imagined, of others. You are not regulated, but protected: your freedom of action, your freedom to make your own choices about your life, is defended, not violated, by the state.
June 21, 1998
© Copyright 1998 Fulton Huxtable