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The human personality, just laws, and laissez faire

By Gennady Stolyarov II
web posted February 28, 2005

All too often, definitions of justice have been slippery, ambiguous, and disrespectful of individual ability and initiative. However, in a new era of individualism and self-responsibility, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., provide guidance for future government policy. Dr. King's words, "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust," can only be affirmed in a government practice of absolute laissez-faire, except in the punishment of criminals and foreign invaders.

The human personality is foremost expressed in every man's autonomous exercise of his own free will. Inherent to human nature are volitional consciousness and the capacity of every man to interact rationally with the facts of reality. The human personality is the sum total of the decisions that each individual makes with regard to his own existence; some of these decisions can result in more beneficial and productive consequences than others, and, whenever a man makes such decisions, this adds moral credit to his personality. Thus, every man is capable of autonomously rising to the highest possible level of prudence, wisdom, and justice, or descending to the lowest possible depths of sloth, misery, and suffering. This is the beauty of the human personality: it is tabula rasa at birth, and left entirely to the individual to determine.

Any law affirming the human personality must, ultimately, affirm the ability of every individual to rise to Olympian heights through his own decisions. Any just law must not intervene with the individual's ability to be prudent and moral. However, morality cannot be severed from choice. According to philosopher Ayn Rand, "The moral is the chosen. Morality ends where a gun begins." Forcing an individual to be "moral" is a contradiction in terms and devalues both the human personality and the very significance of morality, for no longer does the fortitude of an individual's character determine the degree of his morality, but rather the caliber of the gun implicit in every bureaucratic compulsion for an individual to follow certain prescribed norms. Enforced morality stifles the uniqueness of every individual personality and imposes a one-size-fits-all straitjacket on the most precious of individual abilities, the ability to entirely chart one's course in life. So does any law which purports to limit the scope of an individual's decisions, or to "protect" individuals from the consequences thereof.

Whenever a government imposes affirmative action initiatives, it devalues the human personality, because it informs "protected" minorities that they are powerless to rise through their own efforts, that they must have the crutch of the State to uphold them. It devalues the human personality, because it announces to innocent white males that, no matter what their individual levels of intellect, civility, and toleration, their chances of rising through their own efforts will be skewed against them by the sheer fact of their race or gender. Whenever a government regulates the economic decisions of individuals, it devalues the human personality, sending the signal that people are not competent enough to ensure their own standard of living and to dispense of the fruits of their mind's labors, their property, as they see fit.

Whenever a government imposes compulsory service or military conscription, it devalues the human personality, proclaiming to the youngest, brightest, and most industrious members of the population that their individual success is a privilege, not a right, that they can be sacrificed as menial laborers or cannon fodder at a bureaucrat's whim. Whenever a government seeks to stifle the ability of individuals to legally ruin their lives through drugs, prostitution, poor financial planning, or vulgar pastimes, it degrades the human personality, by informing all those prudent men who do not engage in such destructive activities that they are not in fact morally strong enough to abstain from them, that they require the eternal vigilance of Big Brother to keep them in line.

As a general rule, any government law that intends to compel the entirety of the population, regardless of individual qualities, is unjust. If certain businessmen behave fraudulently and deceive their clients, this is a travesty of justice, and ought to be punished. However, to implement one-size-fits-all preventive regulations against all businessmen is an insult to the human personalities of those honest businessmen who commit no fraud and interact genuinely with their customers and shareholders. If certain men decide to loot, rape, or murder others, such acts deserve the most extreme retribution. However, to seek to prevent such acts by compelling every individual to certain norms of obedience, through gun control, airport profiling, spying on private conversations, and laws of implicit consent to search and seizure, is an affront to those individuals who have no criminal intentions, and who would live peacefully and benevolently if left alone. Such policies, in effect, inform those virtuous men that they are in fact criminals by nature, that only the watchful eye of Big Brother can prevent them from indulging in vice. Such laws are unjust by their very presumption of man as inherently prone to evil, and incapable of being perfected through his own decisions.

The only just laws are those that punish particular individuals for particular offenses which coercively degrade the human personalities of others. An act of robbery, murder, fraud, or invasion demeans the role of the human personality, for, like regulation by the government, such an act amounts to sheer compulsion, to the placing of a gun to the individual's head, and telling him, "Your money, or your life; your mind, or your life." Criminals and invaders prevent an individual from making full use of the property he had earned and of the life that is his by natural right. Thus, they must be restrained and penalized by the government, but only if they are known to have committed rights infringements or to be planning a criminal action. Just laws, therefore, can only exist to govern the behavior of three branches of government activity: the police, to protect against domestic rights violations, the army, to defend against foreign aggression, and the courts, to deal punishments to criminals and arbitrate civil disputes in an equitable fashion.

The only manner in which a law can uplift the human personality is by ensuring that every individual is let alone. Free will exists within every human being, and no external force can be substituted for its power to impact the human destiny. The only way an individual can genuinely rise in his moral character and material prosperity, without falling prey to chance or parasitism, is through his own rational interaction with the facts of reality. This is the most beautiful and powerful of human abilities, and no law should "protect" anyone from the responsibility it entails. The only worthwhile state for human beings is one of continual striving, action, deliberation, and accomplishment; no law can guarantee that an individual will pursue such an existence, but a just law can abstain from interfering with individuals' decisions to improve themselves. This insight is applicable to all spheres of human activity: political, economic, esthetic, social, and personal, for all these are subject to the supreme government of free will.

Men can be gods, but restrictive laws can reduce them to slaves. Yet godliness is not something that can be legislated or imposed. It is not something that a man can discover outside of his own will. The full implication of Dr. King's advice regarding government policy necessarily states: Let men be gods. Let men alone.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to The Autonomist, Le Quebecois Libre, and Objective Medicine. He is also Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the Western principles of reason, rights, and progress. Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's newest science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus here.

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