Over the years I have acquired a certain distaste for ideological package deals, so that it was a rather unpleasant surprise for me to find, in the Publisher's Notes of your November issue, a reference to "government fluoridation of drinking water." One of the issues packaged in this phrase is government control of waterworks—like all issues of government control, a political issue on which libertarians, qua libertarians, may be expected to agree. The other issue, fluoridation of drinking water, is not political but scientific (is there a need for trace amounts of fluorides in human physiology?) and technological (is drinking water the best way of delivering trace minerals to the organism?). There can be no "libertarian" position on these issues. Personally, as (among other things) a biologist and an engineer, I prefer to have my drinking water fluoridated. If I lived in a free society, and could choose between several water contractors, I would patronize those who provided fluoridated water. If the water in my locality were deficient in natural fluorides, I would be willing to pay a premium to have it fluoridated artificially. Another person—perhaps one less familiar with the biological evidence—might prefer water without "chemicals," and conceivably this preference might lead him to prefer distilled or filtered water if fluorides occurred naturally where he lived. In a free society, each of us could have the kind of water he preferred, as long as he was willing to pay for it. In the presence of a government monopoly on water supply, however, a successful antifluoridation campaign would have the effect of forcing me, and others who prefer fluoridated water, to drink water from which fluorides and other essential trace minerals are absent. And, of course, vice versa. So, rather than wage antifluoridation or profluoridation campaigns in the pages of libertarian journals, let us try instead to eliminate the state from the market in water. Need I state the obvious—that the elimination of the state water monopoly will make political campaigns for or against fluoridation a thing of the past?
New York, NY
We certainly agree with Dr. Reed's philosophical analysis, although it is not clear why he would prefer to drink fluoridated water, since even proponents of fluoride claim that it primarily benefits only children rather than adults. The question whether fluoridated water may be harmful is not completely resolved, but even assuming that it is beneficial to children, it is clear that elimination of the state water monopoly would eliminate the political controversy by allowing consumers to select the type of water they prefer without having to pay for the undesired variety. Our brief reference to "government fluoridation of drinking water" was not intended as an antifluoridation campaign as such, but was mentioned to illustrate stands taken by doctors who oppose socialized medicine which—by calling for the government to act in the sphere of medical decision making—are helping to accelerate government control over health care services. —M.S.K.
It appears to me, that the welfare system is the one state system most frequently attacked by conservatives and some people calling themselves libertarians. I do not defend it. However, there is much said on voluntary charity but talk is cheap: people would starve right here in super-America without some welfare service.
I would be the first to agree that the price for these programs and "services" is far too high. But consider the hundred or thousands of families who are impoverished each year by the I.R.S. (known in my neck of the woods as the Infernal Rip-off Squad, among other things), and some of the other state agencies who are not quite so direct. What happens to those people who have been impoverished? What really happens to the people who turn to public funds for help? Usually, by the time a person turns to public assistance he or she has exhausted all other means, including private charity. I am not suggesting that there are not people who abuse the system but most people reduced to this level of poverty simply have no other choice. It is not surprising that a desperate person will accept whatever help is offered from whatever source.
State welfare agencies are dehumanizing and do not respect the rights of anyone, least of all the people they "serve." If people are herded around like animals and treated like mindless slobs to begin with, it is not reasonable to expect them to behave like refined, dignified and intelligent ladies and gentlemen. If people are constantly told that they are totally devoid of value, do not be too amazed if they try to cut your throat.
Perhaps if libertarians would apply a little thoughtful consideration to this problem a suitable answer could be found. Military aid to foreign governments is the first thing I would suggest as a target to focus on. B-1 bombers, trips to the moon and super-highways also deserve more attention than they are receiving. With more and more people making their fortunes on government contracts, grants and subsidies I think it absurd and ridiculous to attack the people who are virtual slaves to the state-welfare system. Why kick a corpse?
The key is to quit looking for scapegoats (human ones), and start looking for some realistic and reasonable solutions, short-range ones as well as more far-reaching ones. There are no magic answers but the possibility exists for free-market alternatives that can be implemented now. People shouldn't have to starve, but where will you turn if and when your time comes? Anyone for a voluntary mutual defense and self-help agency, including an emergency fund for libertarians?
D.E. Bear Sandahl
It might please Paul Varnell (and those who read his review of After the Good War—REASON, October 1974) to know that the utopian novel—which he pronounced "now quite dead"—has recently been reborn in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, subtitled "An Ambiguous Utopia" (Harper & Row, $7.95). This story of an idealist's attempt to establish communication and understanding between two worlds long separated by historical enmity and fundamental cultural differences, is a masterpiece of fiction. Of special importance to libertarians is the author's depiction of a functioning libertarian society (of the anarchist communal type) through the realistic portrayal of utopian individuals struggling for wisdom and happiness. Libertarians might find much to profit by in Le Guin's idea of utopian society as a permanent revolution serving human evolution, and in her statement of the relation between the individual's pursuit of personal destiny and the transformation of society. But the uniqueness of The Dispossessed is that it is a utopian novel that is moving drama.
WHO NEEDS GUILT?
I have to take exception to one view stated in Paul Varnell's review [October] of Peter Breggin's After the Good War. Whether it is a view Varnell shares or merely one he described I don't know, though I believe the former is true. I am referring to the view that guilt, shame, and anxiety lead to greater individualism and to increased capacity for love, joy, and pride. For additional arguments on this subject, see Walter Kaufmann's Without Guilt and Justice, which I have reviewed for Laissez Faire Review and for a forthcoming Invictus. However, I think my reaction can be given self-contained expression here.
I flatly disagree with the view that guilt (especially) leads to greater individuality or individualism. In my view, guilt originates in submission to an offended higher-status figure (such as a parent), which gradually becomes attached to the actions which offend that figure and the rules which forbid them. In its origin, therefore, it is a mechanism for producing conformity. It is true that individuality often is linked with guilt—but guilt is a force pushing the person who experiences himself as individual back to the existence of a herd animal. Even when he evolves some new moral code to determine when he should feel guilt, he is still trying to live by a set of rules which all men are supposed to follow. Similarly, love and joy and pride often cause guilt, but guilt characteristically acts to destroy them.
There are, certainly, painful feelings linked with increasing individuality—but these are better called alienation: the feeling of being unlike others and unable to do as they expect you to do. Unfortunately, all too many people who are alienated by one set of mores simply become subservient to another (such as those of libertarianism).
My disagreement might be put in perspective by seeing it as part of a philosophical disagreement over the nature of autonomy best exemplified by the contrasting ideas of Kant and Nietzsche. For Kant, autonomy consisted in obedience to a self-defined universal moral law—and man is centrally something apart from the world, realizing the powers of Reason and Will which exist in him alone by his obedience. For Nietzsche, man is wholly part of this world, and 'autonomous and moral are opposites'. In this, libertarians and Objectivists are solidly on the Kantian side, seeing freedom (psychological and political) in obedience to a set of rules which one has individually ratified as universal and impartial (be rational, do not violate rights, etc.); one may contrast the view (which I adhere to) that all values are personal, arising out of other personal values, and that the attempt to treat certain values as self-sufficiently true is a form of dishonesty with oneself, serving to cover up such actual motives as subservience, the desire to be loyal to some group, the fear of making important decisions (expressed by treating them all as made already, through reason and/or arbitrary subjective commitment), the impulse to conform. I notice that Varnell (and the people who interviewed Szasz) is very concerned with being a 'full human being'—this is one more example of being dominated by groupthink, seeking to live as a member of the group 'human beings' and to realize its principal characteristics rather than to live as, and for oneself, defined by one's personal values—which are themselves always subject to redefinition. Having a better existence 'as a member of [the human] species' is not at all the same thing as having the kind of life I want to have.
RIGHTS OF CHILDREN
I commend REASON for its November issue, whose reviews were uniformly well-spoken and insightful—with one exception: Thomas Johnson's review of The Twelve-Year Sentence, in which he proposes an extraordinary theory of rights.
Johnson asserts that "children, as dependent beings, possess rights which are not held by older independent adults. Since a child is…in a physical and mental condition that will not allow him…to provide for his own needs, he does have the right to actual goods and services which are necessary for his survival.…" Johnson further contends that his statements are logically derived from libertarian ethical theory. In this, he is wrong, for Johnson entirely misconceives the libertarian derivation of rights.
Although rights have meaning and application only in the context of society, they must be derived from the requirements of an individual person living in an isolated state (i.e., separate from other persons). In order to survive and prosper, such a person must act to acquire nourishment and to change their environment. Such action is possible only if the person can freely exercise their volition. Only in a condition of society is it possible for the free exercise of volition to be disrupted—by the coercive intervention of others. If a society adheres to and enforces the moral principle that each person's life should be inviolate from the intervention of others, then rights are established. This means that rights function only as a prohibition on certain kinds of action (i.e., coercion); they cannot compel any kind of specific action on the part of others. In short, one has the basic right to be free from interacting with society either in whole or in part—and nothing more!
Because there can be nothing more, Johnson's thesis of "rights to dependence" is without foundation. This is not the first instance where Johnson has misconceived the function of rights. In his letter in the September 1972 issue, he argues against abortion on the grounds that a fetus has a right of life coextensive with the like right of developed human beings. Even if a fetus were to be adjudged human, this fails to recognize that the right of life can only mean the right of being actively responsible for one's own existence, free from the interference of others—but not the "right" of parasitism (as with a fetus) or the "right" of coercive dependence (as with a child, in Johnson's theory).
The principle at stake in this matter is that human beings have maximum freedom and self-responsibility in an isolated state, a condition that it is the function of rights to preserve in society. If Johnson cannot fully accept this principle of freedom and self-responsibility, he ought to reconsider his avowal of libertarianism.
But not only is Johnson's thesis bankrupt theoretically, it is monumentally unworkable! If the primary consideration is "dependence", how and why are we to define the term in such a way that children are the exclusive beneficiaries? How are we to define "necessary for survival", when it may be argued that anything beyond a cave, a loincloth, and a haunch of meat are luxuries? How do we define "education"—and by whose theory do we define it? In essence, how are we to give objective meaning to terms that are inherently qualitative and subjective?
And it is not even true that children are inescapably "dependent", as Johnson implicitly presumes. Only the cultural strait-jacket of contemporary society prevents children from attaining to independence faster than they normally do. Furthermore, I thoroughly reject Johnson's pessimism that a free society would be so callous and indifferent to children that it would ever be necessary to institute such "rights to dependence".
The implications of Johnson's proposal are grave, inasmuch as they would entail proliferation of state oppression in the name of an altruistic appeal to the needs of children. Lapses of this kind should not go unremarked. If libertarians are willing to subordinate their advocacy of a consistently radical theory of rights to emotional rationalizations of conventional cultural attitudes, then the movement will be doomed to a compromise of its principles—hence, to eventual failure.
PROFESSOR JOHNSON replies: What Mike Dunn and many other libertarians (and Objectivists etc.) fail to consider when dealing with the issue of rights is the metaphysical fact that human beings go through two very definite stages of development during their lives—a dependent stage which, by gradual transition, leads to an independent stage—and that one must consider both of these stages if one is to construct a fully rational (i.e., moral) concept of rights.
Rights are not "derived from the requirements of an individual person living in an isolated state" (it makes no difference if one is isolated or among millions, although rights can be protected only in a societal situation), and it is not the case that "rights function only as a prohibition on certain kinds of action." Rights are determined solely by man's nature, nothing more, nothing less. (And it is only humans that possess rights. Rights do not pertain to other organisms, neither plants nor animals.)
Tragically, in her article entitled "Man's Rights", Ayn Rand discusses the concept of rights only as it would apply to independent humans (except for the general definitions). She states that "The concept of a 'right' pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action." But, unavoidably, a very young human (a baby, for example) is simply unable, by his nature, to take the action necessary to sustain his life and must therefore depend on older humans for certain requirements. But Ayn Rand does correctly note that "Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival." And it is a fact that these "conditions" are entirely different when a human is quite young (both before and after birth) than they are at a later, independent stage.
I don't believe that anyone would argue with the fact that the right to life is the basic right and the "source of all rights" (Rand). Every human being (as determined by his biological nature) has the right to life, whether this human is living in an aquatic environment in the amniotic sac within the uterus of the mother—a nonparasitic (a parasite is an organism of one species living in or on an organism of another species) dependent phase of development which all humans have to experience—or existing in a gaseous environment outside the mother. And it is this right to life that must be protected above all other rights.
What Mike Dunn, and others, would choose to do is merely leave to chance (to whim) the protection of the right to life (and it subsuming rights) of young humans who are not capable, either mentally or physically, of sustaining their own lives. He simply hopes that in a free society that people would not "be so callous and indifferent to children." But one does not leave to chance the protection of such a vitally important right as that of the right to life (or any other right), and thus the inevitable need for a government. (Dependent humans, whether unborn or born, are neither physically nor economically capable of purchasing protection of their rights from a private protection agency—thus anarchism is simply untenable, for this as well as other reasons.)
Yes, young dependent humans, because they possess the right to life, but are not endowed by nature with the capability of sustaining their lives, do possess the right to actual goods and services to be provided by those who, by their own free choice, brought these humans into existence. It is perhaps unfortunate that humans, by nature, must inexcapably begin their lives, both in-utero and ex-utero, as dependent beings. But this is the nature of the human, and it is to nature that one must always turn in the search for the fundamental truth concerning rights. —T.J.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".