Challenge from a Social Democrat
An interview with Sidney Hook
In the fall of 1970, at a political philosophy conference, I first met Professor Sidney Hook. One night several of us found ourselves in a lengthy intellectual battle with him. There was no question that Professor Hook was prepared for a number of the points we advanced in support of political liberty. Last year, as a national fellow at the Hoover Institution, I again had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Hook, who is a senior research fellow at Hoover. It was especially noteworthy that although many of the other scholars at Hoover could be described as free-market or libertarian, I found Dr. Hook far more understanding and appreciative of the political and social issues involved, despite the fact that he does not share my particular views on those issues.
In view of Dr. Hook's familiarity with Objectivism and libertarianism and his life-long concern with political matters, and because he is on record as a supporter of human reason in human affairs, we thought it would be valuable to interview him for REASON. I, along with Davis Keeler, director of the Law and Liberty Project in Menlo Park, California, visited him in his office one afternoon, and the result is this issue's interview.
Sidney Hook was born 76 years ago. An energetic man and scholar, who still writes prolifically, he was a student during the intellectually and politically tumultuous 1920's. He earned his master's and doctorate from Columbia University under the guidance of John Dewey, James Montague, and the famous Aristotelian philosopher Frederick Woodbridge. He was a pragmatist from his early school days on, but with a difference from his mentors, needless to say. Later he spent time abroad, including in Moscow at the Marx-Engels Institute, pursuing his "interest in the theory and practice of the working class movement." Some of the results of his work include books on Marxist philosophy such as Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx: A Revolutionary Interpretation (1933), which challenged the orthodox (Soviet) interpretation of Marx way before the currently faddish humanistic Marxism spread throughout the West. Hook was an early critic of Stalin and took it on the chin, as it were, from many of the notorious "dupes" who embraced Stalin up to and even after the Stalin-Hitler pact. Hook's commitment to democracy overshadowed his socialism, so that in a review of his Reason, Social Myths and Democracy (1940) the Nation observed that, in his assessment of Marxism, Hook was "moving from heresy to apostasy."
There is no room here to list the numerous books Sidney Hook has written and edited during the last 50 years. In addition, he has contributed widely to popular forums and to scholarly journals. Always antidoctrinaire, Hook never quite became the leader of any radical group or political movement, and his pragmatic commitment to openness, the possibility of error, the need for critical self-scrutiny, has led him to oppose some of the positions and actions taken by those who might otherwise have been thought his intellectual and political companions. Indeed, he has been accused of lending the establishment too much respectability, especially in connection with his firm opposition to the spread of Soviet Communism and his support of a strong American defense posture.
REASON readers can see for themselves the way Dr. Hook approaches many of the crucial issues of our (or any) time, although to gain a dear understanding of his ideas it would certainly be necessary to pursue his thought far beyond the confines of this interview. The questions taken up here perhaps receive their fullest treatment in his Pragmatism and the Tragic Sense of Life (1975).
REASON: Dr. Hook, thank you for the privilege of interviewing you. As you may know, REASON is edited and read by individuals who consider themselves consistent supporters of a free society. This will explain the direction of many of our questions. Nevertheless, we encourage the exchange of ideas with serious advocates of other positions as well as critics. First we would like to ask you about your political views. You are widely known as a socialist, but also as an advocate of democracy. How do these come together in your political views?
HOOK: Democracy as a way of life entails the rights of an individual to all the freedoms of the Bill of Rights, and possession of those things or properties which we normally assume further the expression of one's personality—the right to acquire a home, a piece of land, and other forms of personal property. But with respect to property I make a distinction which probably will create uneasiness among some of your readers. I distinguish between personal properties and public properties, and it is only with respect to the latter that I want to introduce some control over means of production.
REASON: What do you mean by public properties?
HOOK: Let me illustrate the distinction in this way. I believe that each individual is entitled by his efforts to own a home and land. But suppose someone acquires a vast tract of land in an area or society in which no other land is available—which could soon be the case in this country—and the only way other human beings can earn a livelihood is by working that land. If it is necessary to work that land to stay alive, and if property, adequately defined, implies the right and power to exclude others from the use of what is owned, then, I would argue, the right to such kinds of property is tantamount to giving the owner a right over the very lives of other individuals who must use that property to stay alive. When that is the situation, it is morally legitimate to introduce some social control. Analogously, if the owner of a factory that provides the sole employment in a town decides to close it down because he can make more profit elsewhere, in the absence of other opportunities of employment, the community should provide some form of unemployment insurance for those able and willing to work.
I do not contrast property rights with human rights. Property is a human right; but since no right is absolute, it must sometimes yield to other, overriding moral rights. My desire to enhance human freedom will lead me under certain circumstances to introduce some control on public property.
REASON: You prefaced this example with an assumption about the economic situation—if the people could live only by being able to work on that land. I take it that you would entertain a factual demonstration to the effect that everyone would in fact be better off if one person had the ability to exclude others from the land.
HOOK: Yes. I'm glad you raise the question. I must confess that I've taken my economic history for granted. I was very much impressed by an argument—I don't know how valid the evidence is—made by one of my colleagues at Hoover, Dr. Robert Hessen, some years ago. He asserted that despite the hardships resulting from the industrial revolution, which we were all brought up to regard as unmitigated evils, the only historical alternative to the factory system at the time was mass starvation. If that was truly the case, then it seems to me that on moral grounds we would have to accept the factory system as the lesser evil. But not all the evils of the factory system were necessary to its continuance.
REASON: But either result is compatible with your philosophy, based on examination of the facts?
HOOK: Yes. I am open always to the empirical argument that if you want to further the maximum welfare of the community, then recognition of unrestricted property rights will result in the most equitable economic system. But the relevant historical evidence, it seems to me, points the other way. But if under an unregulated free-enterprise system, the personal and social needs that are involved in the free development of personality can be met, then the government should act only as an umpire. Even then it's very complicated: for purposes of defense—in a hostile world—and to provide equal opportunities, the government may have to go beyond this role.
REASON: Let's go back to something else. You said at the beginning that a democratic society is one which would enable a person to develop to his fullest potential as a human being. Now, what do you mean by "as a human being"?
HOOK: In some of my books I have indicated what those qualities are which define a human being. I can't elaborate here, but briefly, when I speak of developing oneself to the full stature of one's personality, I'm assuming that there are certain qualities that human beings possess potentially which can be brought to actuality—intelligence, imagination, courage, capacity for empathetic identification, sensitiveness, capacity for friendship, etc. A democratic society as I understand it, in the moral not strictly political sense, is one whose institutions make it possible for all members of that society to enjoy equal opportunity to develop those powers within themselves that further these values, exercised in such a way that they don't interfere with the similar exercise on the part of others. Equality of opportunity to develop these powers is the only sense in which I accept equality. I do not believe in equality of results or in egalitarianism.
REASON: So your conception of rights is based on the rights that a person should have in order to develop as a human?
HOOK: Yes. In fact, to put it more provocatively, I maintain that people do not possess any natural rights in the way in which they possess physical or mental identifiable characteristics. To me, natural rights, human rights, are morally justifiable claims that, on the basis of reflection, we think human beings should have. They do not exist in rerum natura. They are social. And they are normative. The greatest difficulty in moral life is not enumerating the rights and values that should be part of our moral economy but in determining what choice we should make when these rights and values conflict.
REASON: In that case, isn't it a problem for you to maintain, as you do, the high priority of reasonableness, or rationality? If goals almost invariably conflict, if there's always a whole host of almost equally weighty goals to pursue, how could anybody be rational about his conduct?
HOOK: In the following way. When there is a conflict between right and right, I believe we should further that right whose consequences support more effectively the structure of all the other rights to which we are reflectively committed. To give you an illustration, when freedom of the press conflicts with a person's right to a fair trial I ask: what would be the consequences of permitting freedom of the press to take precedence. In most cases with which I am familiar, I would be prepared to argue that the consequences would be to increase the dangers of gross injustice in the community. Human beings would be tried in the headlines of newspapers. A form of lynch law would prevail. On the other hand, if the press were to be prevented from discussing the case while it was being tried—if it were temporarily curbed in the interest of a fair trial, as in England—I do not fear that this would have a chilling effect upon freedom of expression with respect to public issues. When newsmen protest that the people have an absolute right to know, they change their tune as soon as the courts or citizens demand that the newsman reveal his sources.
REASON: Perhaps we could touch on a related topic. You've written about the need to balance the rights of the criminal with the rights of the victim.
HOOK: Yes, I've been very much concerned lately with the rights of the victim. The Anglo-American legal system, for a number of historical reasons, has developed a strong hedge of protection around people who have committed crimes or have been accused of crimes. And I find no objection on moral grounds to safeguarding the rights of the defendant, since we should lean over backward to avoid miscarriage of justice. But in a period in which there has been a tremendous increase in crimes of violence, of brutal, degrading, and gratuitous violence, I have come to the following view: As a potential criminal—since I agree with both Goethe and Tolstoy that there's no crime that we cannot conceive ourselves committing under some extreme circumstances—as a potential criminal, I would like to have all of these protections developed and cherished. But today as a potential victim of crime, I want my rights as a victim protected, my right not to be assaulted, not to be mugged, not to be killed. Now I myself am prepared to trade in or to mitigate some of my rights as a potential criminal in order to strengthen more than they exist today my rights as a potential victim. Since the likelihood of my becoming a victim, at a time when courts release or fail to convict individuals with records of past violence, is far greater than the likelihood of my becoming a criminal, it is only common sense to reorder the priorities and reorient our jurisprudence and philosophy of law.
REASON: Let's turn briefly to some traditional questions that our readers would be interested in. You are known throughout the world as both a pragmatist and a Marxist. In what sense are you a Marxist? Especially after these discussions, it would be interesting to see what the Marxism is here.
HOOK: Excuse me for making reference to my most recent book, Revolution, Reform, and Social Justice.
REASON: That's perfectly fine.
HOOK: In the first chapter, which is entitled "From Scientific Socialism to Mythology," I maintain that if Marx were alive today he would not subscribe to all of the views he held in the past. If one claims to be scientific, one must be prepared to modify his views in light of experience, particularly if he has empirical, historical views and believes with Engels that "the proof of the pudding is in the eating." Were he alive Marx would have to acknowledge the falsity of his predictions of the breakdown of capitalism, the increasing misery of the proletariat, and the advent of socialism in the advanced industrial nations of the West. Where Marx went wrong, I would maintain, was in underestimating the reciprocal influence of the political democratic process on the economic system, on the mode of economic production. Today I no longer call myself a Marxist because of my heretical conception of Marxism. Were I to do so, it would mean that I was the only Marxist left in the world, and that's a little too much for my sense of humor. If you ask a physicist today what his beliefs are, he doesn't call himself a Newtonian although he recognizes Newton's contributions. A biologist does not call himself a Darwinian. It seems to me that any contribution that Marx has made to sociology has been accepted independently of Marx's political program, which is something else again. Marx's historical approach is recognized to the extent to which we understand that the alternatives we face in our social and political choices depend upon the maturity of the mode of economic production.
REASON: A lot of people on the left or new left maintain that Sidney Hook, who used to be a great leader in the left in the United States, has become a conservative, and you maintain that it's quite the opposite—they have changed their position.
HOOK: Well, I would not put it like that. I would hate to admit to having lived 74 years in this world without having learned something new and abandoned inadequate ideas. I must confess that in the thirties, there were two things that played a decisive role in my thinking. First was the fear of Fascism. I saw Nazism developing when I lived in Germany in 1928 and 1929. I predicted to my German socialist friends that the nationalist appeal of the Nazis would attract a great mass following, but my views were pooh-poohed. Practically every group left of center, as if they were plagiarizing each other, said that Hitler was finished in '23. But after I returned to the U.S. Hitler's party in 1930 elected 90 members to the Reichstag. We had the Great Depression in this country, and although personally I did not suffer much from it, I was acutely aware of the 16 million unemployed and the widespread misery. There did not seem to be any way out of the impasse, whatever the causes may have been. After all, to most of us, 1929 seemed to be the heyday of free enterprise and the crash seemed to be the death knell of capitalism.
With respect to Fascism, we assumed that the Soviet Union would fight Hitler. We also assumed that the Soviet Union would move toward a more humane society. Instead, our dream turned into a nightmare. As soon as Hitler came to power in 1933—I had always been unorthodox as a Marxist and critical of the Communist Party line—I realized that Stalin's theory of social fascism had been instrumental in Hitler's success. I turned very strongly against the Communist Party and all its works. It was clearly subordinating the working class and socialist movement of the world to the national interests of the Soviet Union. Then came the Moscow Trials. I helped organize the John Dewey Commission of Inquiry which conclusively established that these trials were elaborate frame-ups. What Solzhenitsyn discovered in the fifties we already knew in the thirties, but we did not have the eloquence to persuade the world.
The welfare state, anticipated by neither Adam Smith nor Karl Marx, emerged. I began to see that there were ways of achieving what I regarded as the good society that made the democratic process itself central. Since then I have regarded myself primarily as a democrat, and I support only socialist measures that I believe will strengthen the democratic way of life.
REASON: Isn't there a problem there, in that socialist measures, because they depend upon control of people's lives, pose a direct threat to democracy?
HOOK: I must admit that I have become increasingly skeptical of centralized government control. Perhaps the greatest challenge to my socialism has come from the observation of what bureaucrats can do with respect to university life with guide lines that distort the original principle of affirmative action. Initially this outlawed all discrimination on grounds of race, religion, sex, or national origin. When I saw how the bureaucrats, aided by academic timidity, transformed it into a mandate for reverse discrimination and a quota system, and when I realized that these rulings were not derived from laws passed by the Congress but were decrees interpreted and enforced by bureaucrats, it gave me an intellectual and emotional shock from which I have not completely recovered. Now I look very hard at government programs in order to see if they are properly authorized and controlled by legislative authority.
REASON: So how would you now characterize your political position?
HOOK: I try to be problem-oriented. I would like to take problems one at a time, aiming for piecemeal solutions, recognizing that some pieces can be larger than others. Today the issue, as I see it, is not between capitalism or socialism. Rather it is the freedom to choose whether to live under one or the other, or more accurately, to have more or less of one or the other. Nor is the issue, as Solzhenitsyn puts it, between religious belief or irreligion as a foundation of social change. Here the only relevant issue is the freedom of religious belief or disbelief. Similarly, the issue is not materialism or any other kind of philosophy, but whether human beings should have the right to choose for themselves, without state coercion of any kind, the philosophy under which to live. For me freedom comes first, the freedom of intelligent, rational choice for individuals, maximized as much as possible. It is for this that I am prepared to die if necessary rather than for any set of economic arrangements.
REASON: Do you believe that the threat of the Soviet Union to the kind of society that you would like to see in this country is a substantial one, that it justifies a substantial national defense establishment, a military draft, foreign intervention?
HOOK: If there's one thing that I have studied carefully and closely, it is the theory and practice of communism.
REASON: By this you mean Bolshevism, or current Communism. You don't mean the term in the sense in which Marx used it?
HOOK: Oh no, right, I'm talking about Bolshevik Leninism. I do not believe that ideology is everything in this world, but because it is not everything it is not nothing. I still believe that the Soviet Union is a potentially expansive power. The Soviet Union has never ceased waging the cold war. I am profoundly convinced on the basis of my study of their philosophy that the leaders of the Soviet Union will never engage in a war they are uncertain of winning. Their philosophy of history commits them to a position according to which if they go down to defeat that would be the height of meaninglessness and absurdity. They worship at the altar of history. History is their god. They also are convinced that the West is going to collapse by its own immanent processes. Why, then, should they risk anything by war unless they are sure to win it? I conclude therefore that as long as the West—which basically means the United States—remains militarily and psychologically strong enough to make it uncertain that the Soviet Union will win, there will be no war. I am today rather worried about the American government's military position. I am even more worried about public psychology molded by press and media which seems to be unaware of, or indifferent to, the growing Soviet and Communist influence in Europe and other areas of the world.
The great danger in the U.S. and Western Europe is that questions of foreign policy are often sacrificed to party politics, that some thoughtless politicians are more interested in playing domestic political football than in devising prudent foreign policies.
REASON: Do you really think that this is simply party politics, or does it reflect some general lack of will to resist communism? Solzhenitsyn, for instance, argues that the West has a failure of philosophical nerve, a failure to appreciate the righteousness of its cause and so cannot come out and flatly declare that communism is evil.
HOOK: I would agree with his diagnosis but not his proposed remedy—a return to supernaturalism.
I'm closer to Sakharov than to Solzhenitsyn in my world view. I cannot share the latter's religious Weltanschauung because logically and historically it is compatible with different societies—free and unfree, open and closed. Sakharov's position is more sympathetic to me. Like his, my objections are not so much to the collectivist economy existing in the Soviet Union but to the absence of democracy, to the fact that the economy is forcibly imposed.
REASON: You say you do not object to the collectivist economy if they want it. But isn't the very nature of a collectivist economy such that it requires agreement to it? There is no way to opt out. It's the big commune. There is no little share you can take out with you and resist the pressure of the collective. So in a way—and many economists in the Soviet Bloc realize this—the moment they let their economy get a little bit more free, they will become more free politically. Yet you want to separate these two freedoms?
HOOK: I am grateful you have asked this question. It gives me an opportunity to make my position clearer. One of the reasons I'm in favor of a mixed economy—why I call myself, sometimes to provoke others, "a democratic socialist"—is that I recognize that a totally collectivized economy has the potential of being the most formidable instrument of oppression in all human history.
One might argue that a community could have a largely collectivized economy and yet preserve democratic freedoms by holding out material and other inducements to get labor to go voluntarily where it is needed, without illegal compulsion, without terror. I am highly skeptical of that and prefer the mixed economy of the welfare state. But if the Russian peoples had the right to choose the kind of economy they wanted to live under, I would respect their decision even if I disagreed with its wisdom. They would be exercising their choice between a society with a potential danger of dictatorship and one that promised a healthy, pluralistic democracy. If a people were given a free choice and they decided freely to accept Bolshevik Leninism or any other variety of totalitarianism, then I would give up my faith in political democracy—but not in freedom.
REASON: But the trouble is, "the people" is not one person voting yes or no. The people is usually several million of them. Fifty-one or more percent vote yes, and the rest vote no. And when a dictator receives the yes votes, those who voted no usually have their heads chopped off. They're not asked to secede. They're not asked to leave the country or given a goodbye check or party or whatever. Their heads are chopped off. So the whole idea of democratically voting in a dictator does in fact seem to have the very logical problems that you maintain it doesn't. Perhaps that's what you're getting at when you say you'd lose your faith in democracy.
HOOK: Well, first let me say that although I believe in democracy, I don't believe it is valid or feasible in all possible historical circumstances. After all, a large family with small children cannot really be organized along democratic lines. A necessary condition, not a sufficient but a necessary condition, of democracy is majority rule. Lincoln pointed out that it is unlikely that a functioning democracy will elect a dictator. Even Hitler did not have a majority vote of the population. The Bolsheviks did not have a majority. Mussolini did not have a majority. Some people say that if you socialize your economy a necessary consequence of that will be the destruction of political democracy, but we must remember that historically it was the other way around in every country in which the economy was socialized. First political democracy was destroyed, only then was a collectivized economy introduced. But now, to go back to the unlikely situation where a truly free election results in a majority vote for a dictatorship—I would find myself at war with that society or with its majority.
REASON: Because you have a higher value, which is freedom?
HOOK: Yes. I hate to paraphrase Churchill, for it's been done so often, but historically, democracy is the worst possible form of government except for all the others that have been tried. Therefore, I repeat, were a Hitler or a Stalin to be elected to office through a genuinely democratic process, I would surrender my belief in such a political process and opt for some Platonic variant of society in which knowledge and wisdom and love of intellectual freedom were the qualifications for rule.
REASON: You know, democracy may be a rule for making social choices, but it does not tell what choices are social choices. It may be that having dictatorship or democracy is not a proper area for the majority to decide for a society.
HOOK: I disagree. We can determine what a social choice is before we determine what the right social choice is. Even though I can't draw absolute lines of separation, I should like to preserve and enlarge an area of life beyond the social and political. To me, a good society is one in which man does not suffer on the plane of the pitiful, but, if suffer he must, on the plane of the tragic.
I grew up in a society where many people went hungry and cold in the winter, and fried, a little less hungry, in their tenements in the summer. I thought their suffering was meaningless and socially unnecessary. I never deluded myself, as so many socialists did, that all the other forms of human unhappiness derived from the afflictions of poverty. Very many of the people I know in our affluent society are fundamentally unhappy, some really miserable—but they are not suffering from material want. They suffer from the disproportion between their ambitions and their talents, because they're unhappy in love, because they're frustrated in the pursuit of an ideal, because of an injustice that has been done them in their profession—a promotion denied, a recognition postponed, even when it doesn't make a dollars-and-cents difference. This tragic dimension in life seems to me to be inescapable.
REASON: Isn't it a threat to democracy when groups of people ask the democratic process to somehow bring about a solution to what you admit are basically personal, nonpolitical, nonsocial kinds of problems? Say they're obese, don't like being obese, but they maintain that somehow they are owed relief of their obesity, which is of course an impediment to some sort of progress that they might very well desire. So they turn to politics. But if democracy allows the translation of personal tragedies into political problems, isn't that a self-destructive possibility?
HOOK: You have raised a number of complex problems, and it would require considerable time to do justice to them. Democracy as a way of life commits us to the sort of institutions and practices that will enable all members of the community to develop to their full capacity. But from that I do not derive any program for groups. In fact, I am opposed to groupism, as I'm interested only in individuals. If an individual suffers from some ailment which gets into the way of his education or his development, I believe we have a moral obligation to offer to do something for him if we can. But the tragic problem would still remain. He may have to undergo a severe regimen of preventive or corrective treatment. He may cry out in pain, "Why do I have to suffer this way in order to develop myself as a person?" But there is no alternative to the price that must be paid. That's the tragic element.
If one has children, one will find that they vary widely from each other. Yet intelligent and sensitive parents desire that each one of them develop himself or herself to their fullest stature as human beings. To enable them to do so one can't treat them all the same way; they have to be treated differently or unequally. Yet underlying these differences must be an equality of concern, an equal opportunity for them all to develop. Sometimes, of course, we will have to embark on special, apparently privileged, treatment. Even you, I'm confident, if a crippled person entered a crowded room, would expect someone to get up and offer him a seat. It is not a question of a right on his part, but somehow or other we feel we ought to do something to mitigate his discomfort since we cannot equalize human suffering.
REASON: Wouldn't that be a matter of private morality?
HOOK: To me, private morality is not merely private. It depends on whether and how the expression of private morality affects others. I don't think one should be legally punished for failure to act in such circumstances, but I believe it is objectively wrong for us to permit a crippled person to stand if we could stand without any or much discomfort.
Let me mention one other thing that I suspect will reveal our differences. I am quite sure you believe that individuals should be protected from the violence of others by the police power of the State. Would you agree that this right to protection should be enjoyed by all citizens independently of their individual ability to pay for it?
REASON: Probably if you don't pay anything you should not be provided with the service, but as to how much you pay, that may be a very different issue. That's a problem for political science, for a libertarian public finance.
HOOK: Aren't you saying that a poor man should be protected against a robber or a murderer as well as a man of means, that all citizens should be protected from the arbitrary violence of human agents regardless of their capacity to pay?
REASON: No, it can't be completely independent of payment. And you see, the issue is not that they "have to be protected." The libertarian point of view is that the police protection given by government is simply a collectivization of the individual right to self defense. An individual hires the State to do something he is entitled to do himself.
HOOK: When you say that an individual "hires" the State do you really mean that because a particular individual has no money to hire he has no right to police protection? At any rate, I would maintain that the individual ought to be defended not only against human elements guilty of violence but against natural elements—disease, plague, earthquake. The community ought to provide these services, within the limits of our social means, regardless of individual ability to pay. Just as a person would say, "Look, I am in danger of losing my life at the hands of a cutthroat and am entitled to protection even though I haven't anything in my pocket," he can say, "I have been stricken by pneumonia—haven't I the right to some medical care even though I can't pay for it?"
REASON: No, because in libertarian political theory, to say that I have a right to be protected against other people's actions means that other people should not take those actions and they may be stopped when they try. Now, there is no other agent with free will, with moral responsibility, to which the remark "you oughtn't to do this" applies in the case of diseases or an earthquake or any kind of natural disaster. A right against something that has no capacity to say "I will" or "I won't" is meaningless.
HOOK: I doubt whether you would hesitate to protect a man from criminal assault until you were convinced the assailant had some free will in the matter. After all, an insane man may be the assailant. Can't we invoke police protection in such cases? You are taking a rather odd Kantian view and asserting that you can only uphold the right to be free of criminal attack when the attack is itself a rational voluntary action.
REASON: No. The point is to distinguish those cases in which there is no question whether you have the right to stop what is happening. For example, a mad dog is attacking you and a killer is attacking you—with the killer, you first have to determine that he is in fact attacking you.
HOOK: I would say that if you have the right to be protected against that murderer…
REASON: No, you have a right to protect yourself.
HOOK: I hold that the community has an obligation to protect you against the murderer, and if you have the right to be protected against the violence of a murderer, you have the right to be protected against the violence of a mad dog.
REASON: Yes, if you buy yourself a bouncer who watches out for mad dogs in the neighborhood. You have every right to hire this guy to watch out.
HOOK: No, I am just an ordinary man walking down the street. Someone attempts to murder me and he's stopped by a policeman. I say, "That's as it should be. I am a member of a community in which I enjoy the same kinds of protection from would-be murderers as a millionaire, even though I am a pauper." Then I walk down another block and a mad dog tries to attack me. Why shouldn't the policeman stop that mad dog?
REASON: Because that is not his job.
HOOK: It should be his job. And I'm maintaining that the major diseases that strike us down are comparable to the mad dog.
REASON: Well, we are not going to resolve this difference here. There's a fundamental disagreement about whether individuals have a right to receive protection from certain things or whether they have a right to buy such protection—and maybe not all of it from the State.
REASON: Let's ask you something more personal now. What are you working on, and how long do you plan to stay at Hoover?
HOOK: I will be here officially another year at the most. I am working on a number of things—a collection of essays to be entitled On the Battlefield of Philosophy or Philosophy and Public Policy, a short book on the nature of human rights, and my political autobiography, whose title is Out of Step.
REASON: Well, you keep busy! Thank you very much, Dr. Hook.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Challenge from a Social Democrat".