ISSUES IN FOCUS

Week of September 20, 1998

 

PRIVACY ENDS WHERE DISHONESTY BEGINS

 

If there is a bright spot in the controversy swirling around Clinton, it is the fact that it has forced to the surface, from the subterranean bowels of our culture, some of its worst ideas.  It has also laid bare some confusion among those who seek to defend freedom.  Take the notion of privacy, a concept which has largely been used in defense of Clinton.

Privacy is one of those terms everyone uses but few bother to define.   It is one of those rubbery words which can be stretched to cover almost anything—which means: the word is largely meaningless to most who use it—which means: any comments about undefined privacy are empty babble, not a meaningful statement.

But the problem goes beyond simply not having a definition of privacy.   Even with a clear definition, one needs a principle by which to determine what one may properly keep others from knowing about your life.

What is privacy and do you have a right to it?

Privacy is the state of being free from unjustified intrusion into your life by another person, of keeping from others that which they have no right to know.   Take special note that "unjustified intrusion" is the key to the definition.  The very definition of privacy places a clear limit on its nature and does not provide for it being a blanket under which you have a right to hide anything and everything about your life: you may keep from others only that which they have no right to know.

You have a right to keep anything in your life private so long as your doing so does not perpetuate a fraud upon another.  If you engage in dishonest, hypocritical action, action which violates an agreement you have with another and/or which results in fraudulently obtaining some value from another, then you have no right to keep such action a secret.

If you, a man, cheat on your wife by engaging in an adulterous affair, you have no right to keep the knowledge of that affair from your wife.  You are violating your agreement, your marriage vows, with your wife and she has the right to know if you are cheating.  Others may also have the right to know of your behavior if you have been hired by them to perform a certain job, since knowledge of your wrongdoing may have bearing on your continued employment.

If a candidate for public office lies to voters about his beliefs and/or his actions, past or present, in order to gain their votes and support, this behavior is a fraud perpetrated upon those voters who otherwise would not have voted for the candidate.   He cannot claim his right to privacy has been violated if someone makes public his deception.

Honest individuals are the only ones who can properly lay claim to privacy, which is why Clinton, and anyone else like him, cannot claim the right to hide dishonest actions.  Privacy ends where dishonesty begins--this is the principle which determines what an individual may or may not properly keep private.

There is a poetic justice to Clinton’s current predicament.  He has become the victim of the very statist laws he has spent his entire life promoting, such as laws regarding sexual harassment.  Sexual harassment laws should be repealed.   In a free society, Clinton’s alleged behavior in the Paula Jones case would not be illegal.  It should not be illegal for Clinton to have asked Paula Jones for a certain kind of sex.  Such laws, in fact, are an abridgment of freedom of speech.   But as long as they remain on the books, they are the law of the land and must be obeyed.  To do otherwise would be to undermine the rule of law.

If the supporters of statism are truly concerned about privacy, then let them wake up, let them begin to realize where their doctrine has taken, and is taking, this country.  In a statist society, virtually everything in your life becomes part of the public domain without you ever having a say about it.  In a free society, your life is yours and you may keep any part of it private so long as you do not engage in dishonest, fradulent behavior.

Fulton Huxtable
September 20, 1998

Copyright 1998 Fulton Huxtable

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