In tribute to our recently departed friend, I thought I’d begin posting a few of the many columns Tibor Machan wrote for our ‘Free Radica’l magazine back in the day. Today, an old post about a threat that’s increasingly topical …
Many moons ago, when I would now and then check out the very popular TV comedy show M*A*S*H*, I noticed that whenever their rightwing villain Frank Burns (played by the late Larry Linville) acted badly, the good guys, lead by Alan Alda’s character, Hawkeye, had no compunction about physically assaulting him. They set traps that would clearly injure him. It was not enough to ridicule him, show up his views as asinine, no. The writers, directors and actors had no problem at all with hurting him.
A few days ago I decided to check out a new legal drama, Raising the Bar, and lo and behold the second show featured one of the extremely politically correct guys—you know, the one with the long hair and oozing with sentiment for the little guy, never mind what made him little or how guilty he or she is—punch out one of the politically incorrect ones—you know, the guy who comments on women’s physical attributes and makes nearly racist or ethnic jokes. Evidently, here too, it mattered none that the offence was confined to words. These words deserved to be punished and punished not with equally painful words but with out and out physical assault.
Interestingly both of these shows appear to be emblematic of the political ideology of contemporary liberalism. If something is objectionable, it deserves to be punished good and hard, never mind that no one was actually made to physically suffer, no one’s rights were violated, nada.
In the 1980s there was a wing of feminism that made this feature of modern liberalism quite explicit. The University of Michigan law professor, Catharine A. MacKinnon, wrote a book laying out the position. It was titled Only Words and published by Harvard University Press. The thesis put forth was that pornography and other insults toward women need to be banned or punished, if need be by prison sentences. Never mind that the offense consisted only of words. It needed to be dealt with harshly, with physical force.
I mention this because it is often claimed that the Left in America would never go so far as, say, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, in dealing with opponents to its ideas and policies. But there is reason to think that the American Left can easily degenerate into using physical force when it encounters opponents. M*A*S*H* indicated as much, as did this episode of Raising the Bar and, of course, Professor MacKinnon’s book.
But, you might say, no one in government, however Left leaning it might be, would ever resort to silencing the opposition, not in America. Well, think again.
A little while ago, when the hysteria about global warming was at its highest pitch, when Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth made the rounds and garnered its Oscar, some “liberal” members in Congress—and I have to put quotes around liberal since it so perverts the meaning of that term—tried to institute certain measures against people in business who would make contributions to think tanks and researchers who were skeptical about global warming. Several such organizations were actually named, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., which had received, I believe, some little support from certain corporations. Whatever governmental favours these corporations received—and, mind you, I think no corporation should receive any such favours—were to be withheld from them if they continued their support of global warming skepticism.
This is worth observing when it is widely believed that only those on the “extreme Right” would use coercive force or its threat against their adversaries. Such policies are usually associated with extreme right wingers or fascists, not with extreme Left-wingers or socialists. But this is entirely mistaken.
In fact, both of these wings, Left and Right, believe in using coercive force to try to have others follow their ways. What else does redistribution of wealth or faith based government funded support amount to than the use or threat of extreme physical force (jail, prison, major fines, etc.) against the non-compliant? And if such non-compliance were to be effectively advocated--say by those who support tax dodging or other means of withholding their support of various public policies the government carries out, be it run by the Left or the Right--certainly the attitude exhibited in M*A*S*H*, Raising the Bar, and Only Words could triumph right here in our supposedly free society.
When the libertarian considers both the Left and the Right dangerous and immoral, it is for these reasons, among many others. Right and Left do not want to leave it to free men and women whether their ideas of community life will be adopted. No, both Right and Left want to make sure their ideas will triumph, even if its takes depriving people of their basic right to live as they choose, just so long as they let others do the same.
Philosopher and polymath, communist defector and independent Objectivist, Tibor Machan (1939-2016) was one of nature’s gentlemen and liberty’s great men.