Arguing With Statists

by Stuart K. Hayashi

As Stephen Hicks points out, philosophy professor Sarah Conley of Bowdoin College has written a book entitled Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism to explain to you why she is morally correct to use the force of law to impose her will on you. If it sounds like I’m exaggerating, by all means look to the author’s own official description:

Against Autonomy is a defense of paternalistic laws; that is, laws that make you do things, or prevent you from doing things, for your own good. I argue that autonomy, or the freedom to act in accordance with your own decisions, is overrated—that the common high evaluation of the importance of autonomy is based on a belief that we are much more rational than we actually are. We now have lots of evidence from psychology and behavioral economics that we are often very bad at choosing effective means to our ends. In such cases, we need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation—to keep us from going wrong.”

As a defender of capitalism and individual rights, one often finds oneself in entirely civil, intellectual  conversations with another person in which they try to rationally convince you that they are correct to have the State use violence against you for not doing as they wish. There is an internal contradiction in this kind of thinking.

Suppose I’m a legislator. I introduce a bill stipulating that you will be conscripted to work in a soup kitchen for the homeless for two years. The bill is ratified and then goes into effect. Imagine that you do not want to comply with this. I will therefore try to persuade you logically through polite discourse why you should be happy to comply with my legislation. Regardless of how it arrives there, the conversation has only two possible outcomes:


  1. You end up agreeing with me, and will go to the soup kitchen for two years without being subjected to force
  2. You do not agree with me, and refuse to comply. Therefore I call the cops, and they come after you with their weapons.

If you comply willingly with my demands, I’m happy and I have my way. If you do not do as I say, then I call the police on you and I still have my way. Therefore, regardless of whether you consent to it or not, I expect to have my way and for you to bend to my will.

Note, then, that it is a contradiction for me to say that I am going to rationally persuade you to consent to my forcing myself on you. If I believe I can pass a law to force my will on you, then, in the final analysis, I find your consent to be beside the point. Why, then, should I even bother with this charade of trying to get you to assent to my program, when in the long run your assent will not be required? It is contradictory to *consent* to someone passing a spoliative law against you — that spoliative law, by its very nature, treats your consent as irrelevant.

Likewise, if a philosophy professor truly believes that it’s okay to have the government impose its will on you, why should this professor even bother explaining the correctness of that to you? The professor should just skip the debate and immediately impose her will on you by force.

It has to do more with appearances than fact. If you disobey me, and then I have armed men sent after you, the brutality of my statute will become viscerally obvious. However, if everyone complies with my statute without my having to send armed enforcers after them, then it looks like everything is peaceful and . . . well, voluntary. If we have a “civil, cordial debate” about whether I do or do not have a right to force my will on you, then that helps disguise the fact that the threat of force was ever involved at all.

You are therefore at a disadvantage from the outset if you participate in a civil, polite conversation with someone about how he is wrong to threaten government force on you for not doing as he says. He considers his authority to impose his will on you a foregone conclusion. Your politely providing him your “input” on the matter mostly dresses up the entire situation, making the procedure appear more humane and pleasant than it truly is. The man who says he wants to rationally convince you of his entitlement to force you — and who will force you if you end up not agreeing — is one who abides by a motto apocryphally attributed to a famous gangster: “You can get more done with a kind word and a gun than you can with a gun alone.” When you try to participate in a “civil conversation” with someone already convinced of his duty to force you, you are offering what Ayn Rand called “The Sanction of the Victim.”

I predict there may come a time in the near future when a politician tries to have a civil, pleasant, peaceful conversation with you about how he’s right to employ the force of the state against you if you disobey him. To him, I ask that you say what John Galt says: “Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites…”

Also remember what Hank Rearden said to such officials: “If you believe that you have the right to force me — use your guns openly. I will not help you to disguise the nature of your action.”

If a politician asks for your input on whether he is right to impose his will on peaceable people, that gesture is not evidence that he respects your opinion or your consent. It evinces the opposite. Anyone who respect your opinion and your consent would not have, in the first place, passed a law to dictate over the choices of peaceful people.

Stuart K. Hayashi is a freelance journalist residing in Mililani Town, Hawaii.  His writings have appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser and Ideas in Action.  He also contributed chapters to the nonfiction anthologies Genetic Engineering:  Opposing Viewpoints and Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”:  A Philosophical and Literary Companion.  Most recently, his essay on the philosophy of fiction has been published in Scout & Engineer, Issue No. 2.


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