Published in The Tennessean October 11, 2009
Peace without freedom is no source of pride
By Richard J. Grant
"Peace" can mean different things to different people. At the superficial level, we speak of being at peace when we do not see actual war or acts of violence. But peace comes in at least two forms. There is the peace of free, voluntary cooperation; and there is the peace of subjugation.
The first is the idealized American version: As individuals, we are free to associate or disassociate with others as we choose. We are free, and "have the right," to defend ourselves and our property against aggression, but we do not have the right to initiate the use force against those who respect our rights to life, liberty and property.
Such a social environment fosters cooperation between fellow countrymen, even though they may be strangers. I might be friends with the local butcher, but loathe the baker; and I might never have met the candlestick maker. But I can find common interest with each: We trade; we share our talents; we help each other to grow and to prosper. No force is necessary to make this happen.
Compared with the opportunities available in such a country, crime rarely pays. Violence is the method of the loser, ignorant of the benefits of cooperation.
The second form of peace, the peace of subjugation, stands not on the natural incentives of cooperation, but on the constant threat of state power, the threat of violence always implicit.
This is the peace of the totalitarian regime, where the trains might run on time but only at the expense of many things that we would prefer to have instead. In such a society, the politically favored see "rights" much differently. They assume the right to take from others, and to impose obligations on others — all in the name of the public good.
Justice, responsibility lose meaning
Such societies tend to stagnate and disintegrate. Their failure to economize on the use of state power is expensive; it takes its toll on the trust and character of the people. But how do such regimes come into existence in the first place?
A free society is not itself immune to disintegration. The first signs appear as a perversion of our notion of "rights." The rights of freemen are purely defensive. But suddenly we find that the politically favored are granted rights to offend, to make claims against us. Fewer transactions are voluntary; real justice is replaced by fluffy notions of "social justice." The freedom to decide for oneself is replaced by "freedom" from personal responsibility. The private life is replaced by the political life. "To each his own" becomes "winner take all."
Those who protest against this rising, officially sanctioned aggression will themselves be described as "unreasonable" and "violent-tempered." But the protesters in this case are defending what was once considered to be rightfully theirs. There is something unnatural about living in the peace of subjugation.
If the Nobel committee truly understood the nature of peace, then the award of their prize to our president would, indeed, be a great honor.
Richard J. Grant is professor of finance and economics at Lipscomb University and a scholar at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.
Copyright © Richard J Grant 2009