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Thursday, June 25, A.D. 2009
Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12

(This is a continuation of my posts on Jame Burnham’s liberalism test from A.D. 1964. You may access the related posts at the bottom of this entry.)

7. The government has a duty to provide for the ill, aged, unemployed and poor if they cannot take care of themselves.

I address this matter in “Redistributionism” and in “A Place for Us.” In a nutshell, I think that private charity, extended families, and voluntary, local assistance work far better in addressing the needs of the weak in a society. The posts explain my reasons more fully.

8. Progressive income and inheritance taxes are the fairest form of taxation.

I touch upon this topic in “Redistributionism,” and I could not disagree more with this statement. “Progressive” taxation is unjust theft through the violence of the state.

Moreover, inheritance taxes are a statist intrusion into the bonds of families and of generations. People do not simply work for themselves; they work for their families. When they die, they want the fruits of their labors, ingenuity, and good fortune to pass to their descendants. Inheritance taxes, estate taxes, and the treatment of inherited assets as income whittle away at this good and natural concern that public policy should help to foster rather than discourage. As it stands, people aim to spend all of their assets before they die lest the government take their wealth. Such encourages an irresponsible and inefficient use of money. The extremely wealthy have developed methods to maintain family fortunes, but the laws invite all sorts of dysfunctional behavior that result in undesirable consequences.

One of the many unfortunate results of this socialist inheritance policy is the dearth of family controlled companies and institutions. Given the tax laws, families choose or are forced to make their companies public. However, stockholders rarely care about a company in the same manner as family owners. Stockholders look for profit, and the corporate boards that govern companies only care about the bottom line. However, a family that has built and maintained a company has connections to and interests in the company that go well beyond profit. Their self-image is intertwined with the company, and they want it to succeed as a matter of personal glorification. “Success” here extends beyond profits to a company’s place in the community, its relationship with its employees and customers, and the pride in and value of the company’s products or services. As with monarchy, a family company’s “ruler” is more likely to identify his own good with that of the ruled. When one adds the dynastic element to the mix, a family company exists through various generations, and the legacy of a company influences family owners in positive ways.

Reductionist economists consider all non-economic values unimportant to a company. For them, commerce involves resources, production, and profits. Who cares about the stability of a community or of workers’ lives when maximum efficiency is all that matters? However, I think that there are more important things for public policy than economic efficiency, even if it means that American workers in northern Ohio make automobile parts in a less efficient manner than factory slaves in the Third World. A family owned company is far less likely to choose to close up shop unless driven by necessity to do so.

Furthermore, the ultimate decision maker in a family owned business is the family or head thereof, who is likely to know the community and the company’s workers and customers personally. Such awareness is awareness of the truth. A company is not simply an economic being; its reality in the world touches many lives. By contrast, corporate governance is far more likely to reduce a company to such an inhuman, abstract level.

9. If reasonable compensation is made, the government of a nation has the legal and moral right to expropriate private property within its borders, whether owned by citizens or foreigners.

As I wrote in the answer to the third question of this test, I do not believe in rights. Thus, I do not think that individuals have an unalienable right to their land regardless of the circumstances. Like Thomas, I hold that private property exists, ultimately, for the sake of the common good. However, making good on that end is the responsibility of the property’s owner. Furthermore, communally assured protection and respect of private property are necessary foundations of a healthy society, and the community should only abrogate such respect in dire circumstances. “Progress” is not such a justification. I therefore find the policy (if not the ruling) of Kelo v. City of New London very disturbing.

10. We have a duty to mankind; that is, to men in general.

This statement is ambiguous. Does it mean that we have a duty to all men, all living men, the human species, human nature in the sense of essence or form, or to some other abstraction called “mankind.” Moreover, what does this duty entail?

I think that our minds and wills ought to value things according to their real worth, esteeming higher things above lower things. As all men have some intrinsic worth, we have a corresponding duty to all men—to treat them as having such worth. Yet, I would argue that such duty applies to all creation, accordingly.

At the very least, we have the duty of goodwill to all men. Yet, I do not think that our duty to each and every man is the same. Unlike Kant and the universalists, I think that kinship, proximity, and a host of other factors involve varying levels of duties and of claims.

11. The United Nations, even if limited in accomplishment, is a step in the right direction.

I like the idea of a global meeting place where states can air their grievances and work through problems with diplomacy rather than war. However, the United Nations is problematic in many ways. First, the General Assembly is dominated by dysfunctional Third World regimes, and the largely powerless body lends respect to such states that deserve none. Second, the bureaucracy of the various U.N. agencies and initiatives is one enormous, Leftist monster that works to poison all the nations of the world with its sick ideology. Third, the United Nations causes further confusion about international law, which is an already confusing mess. How can there be a law without an executive to enforce it? The hard fact is that Hobbes was right; states exist in the state of nature with respect to each other. The United Nations simply offers a veneer behind which states maneuver for their own self-interest.

12. Any interference with free speech and free assembly, except for cases of immediate public danger or juvenile corruption, is wrong.

My answer to question 2 also addresses this question. Censorship is necessary for a regime that wishes to cultivate virtuous souls. Custom is the better guardian of society, but communal control through the organs of the state should supplement the regime of the heart. If all men were wise, intelligent, and virtuous, unrestrained freedom would be sensible. Lacking such a state, social control is required lest society descend into anarchy.

Admittedly, however, I harbor many liberal tendencies on this issue. A democracy cannot be trusted to empower the wise to lead it, and, thus, these liberal freedoms become indispensable in a democratic regime so that the mob cannot silence the wise. However, I am answering these questions with regard to a second best regime, and such a regime would not be a democracy that could not be trusted to monitor speech.

Links to this series of posts:

“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, June 25, Anno Domini 2009
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