What exactly is agency? It’s another way of saying not only do you have liberty as an inherent right but you have the right to choose how you exercise that liberty. It is the right to consider alternatives and make choices without compulsion.
This sounds like a pretty basic idea and hardly one worthy of much exploration. Of course no one can tell you what to do! But it’s not that easy actually. Not to mention it’s actually a fairly new idea.
Not that long ago the king was considered “The Sovereign”. That meant his authority was supreme even over your own. You could make choices on a day to day basis which likely made you feel in charge of your own life but the king could overrule any of them.
This is much the same as occurs in communism. You may want to grow up to be a baker but instead you’re going to be a bricklayer because the state is supreme. Ayn Rand, who lived under communism’s boot famously said, “There is no difference between communism and socialism, except in the means of achieving the same ultimate end: communism proposes to enslave men by force, socialism – by vote. It is merely the difference between murder and suicide.”
English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes who was born in the latter end of the 1500’s spent his time intellectualizing on human society, or perhaps civilization; particular he studied that part of it concerning how humans can live together in peace. He very much thought that the default condition of man was war, “everyone against everyone”. While I don’t personally subscribe to that point of view it did set up an excellent baseline from which Hobbes could explore. I don’t see war as the default state of man but rather a symptom of it. I think a desire for power is actually the default state of mankind. When he seeks to exercise that power over others is what leads to war.
Hobbes put it this way, “I put for the general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.”
So here we have two seemingly contradictory ideas. On the one hand man is his own sovereign and on the other hand his natural inclination is to seek to be sovereign over others as well.
Hobbes said, “All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” and that should familiar. It informed the Founding Fathers as they set up a new form of government.
The default state of mankind isn’t war, it’s freedom. War only arises as a symptom of the desire some men have to take that freedom away from others. They may say it’s for your own good, that they know better, but regardless of the reason they give it’s really about their desire for power. Power over you that they somehow feel they have a right to exercise. But no such right exists. No king or president has the right to violate your rights and we must be strong in our conviction that any effort to do so is evil.
In all that you hear coming out of Washington or from any mastermind who wants to shape society listen only to the things they say that would violate your rights or the rights of others. If you hear a single thing then you’ve been alerted that their proposal is wrong even if it sounds good.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt rather ironically said, “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” Ironic because he then proposed his so called Second Bill of Rights which expanded government control. What he wrongly considered rights were really just a path to power.
FDR thought a man had the right to a good paying job, to medical care, to food, to clothing, and to recreation. These things likely sound familiar. But the right to a good paying job means that a business owner looses his right to pay what he can afford. The right to medical care means that those offering the services of medical care are enslaved by that right. After all, medical care is only given through the education and continued labor of others. If you have a right to it then that’s saying you have a right to make them work for you. That’s not a right, that’s slavery. All of Roosevelt’s terrible “rights” were only possible at the expense of someone else. Though we often think of the men oppressing and taking as being from among the wealthy the modern tyranny of social justice makes those who have slaves to the needs of others. It should send a wave of disgust through every free man to hear it declared by one man what another man “should” do and use that as the basis for forcing that man to do it.
Ayn Rand called the root of this thinking “Altruism” a word which often engenders the scene of man helping man but which Rand saw differently. She said that Kindness and good will, noble things, should never be confused with the evil of altruism.
What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value. – Ayn Rand
I see her point. I help others and I most certainly think it’s the right way to act. But I don’t think sacrificing myself on the alter of others is a moral duty, or the right way to act. That’s the part of her point that often confuses people and leads them to misunderstand her point on this issue. If you think the highest ideal is to sacrifice yourself to others then you have no problem sacrificing your rights for the common good. That’s dangerous and not the same as charity.
Thomas Jefferson said it well, “…rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” That does mean that someone may go without a job, or food, or medical care if (and this is a big if) they can’t help themselves and no one steps forward to offer voluntary assistance to them. I say that’s a big if because American’s give over $375 billion annually to charity. So it is quite likely that absent government forced help that people would still find help for their needs from the generosity of others. This highlights that money given to the needy from the state, if its collection was forced, does not represent charity, or generosity, it represents theft and slavery. We cannot say the poor are more equal than the rich or the well off.
FDR failed to understand that freedom, not riches, honor the dignity of the individual. Perhaps, as a wealthy man from a wealthy family, he looked down on the poor as being less than him. This seems to me the only way he could have been thinking. He equated human dignity, not with the actual human being, but with the things that human being possessed.