Two current events I have selected have nothing in common, except for being in the news. Well, they also pertain to underlying rational values that are at risk of being destroyed by their own best advocates. Why? Because their champions are trying to operate under contradiction.
On the heels of the joyously-resounding defeat of Colorado’s “personhood” amendment comes another threat to abortion in Colorado. This time a private citizen, Mark Hotaling, is suing Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Boulder Valley Women’s Health center for violating the state’s constitution. He claims that federal dollars received by these clinics are illegally being used to perform abortions. Hotaling says he’s just standing up “for the will of the people and the constitution.” For this, he’s getting moral support from Ms. stand-up-for-the-people Kristi Burton, the evangelical who got Amendment 48 on the ballot “to empower the citizens to have a choice” about when life begins. And he’s getting financial and legal support from the influential Religious Right group, the Alliance Defense Fund.
In the other story, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the $700 billion bailout plan won’t include the purchase of troubled assets from banks after all, a turn-around from the original plan. And unlike the rescued financial sector, the American auto industry might not get the additional help it’s been asking for. Stock exchanges revolt in their roller-coaster tumble with daily bad news about the economy and over worries of how governments will fix it.
What values are at stake here?
In the first story, the value is the right to abortion. As writers on this blog and on Politics without God have argued, abortion is an absolute, inviolable right. Ayn Rand explains the right to abortion in her famously clear and pithy way: “An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being.”
In the second story, the value is free trade. Free trade is the unencumbered right for free individuals and companies to voluntarily exchange goods or services with each other to their own mutual benefit on terms they both agree on. Because humans must create what they need to survive and thrive, and because they can’t individually make everything they need, a market for such exchange is required. It reflects the sum of “all the economic choices and decisions made by all the participants,” thereby creating wealth.
In a society based on rational principles, it is possible to protect the right to abortion under any and all circumstances; and it is possible for free trade to proceed to any degree of wealth that can be created by human ingenuity. But not so in a society where contradiction is introduced and enforced.
In the first story, the women’s health and abortion clinics vociferously defend a woman’s legal right to abortion as granted by the Supreme Court in Roe v Wade. Yet they are willing to accept the expropriated earnings of wealth from others in society in the form of government grants in order to survive. While the clinics in the lawsuit deny directly using federal funds for abortion, they still must play by the arbitrary and ever-changing rules of those who hold the monopoly on force (i.e., the government). In the end, the right to abortion becomes conditional.
In the second story, the biggest intervention in the marketplace in American history has just happened. But decades of regulation, restrictions and biased preferences haven’t led businesses to rise up and crusade for their right to free trade. It’s led to just the opposite: the despairing cry for help using the expropriated earnings of others in society in the form of bailouts. Business are boldly proud and assertive when things are going well; but when things are not, they crumble under pressure and want a quick fix by any means from those who hold the monopoly on force (i.e., the government). In the end, the right of free trade becomes conditional.
It is a contradiction that we can uphold and pursue rational values that require freedom while accepting the conditions set by those who hold the monopoly on force. We have nobody to blame but ourselves: American citizens, with their endless special-interest appeals to their legislators, have allowed this untenable situation to unfold.
You can’t be free and sleep with the devil. Or, as Ayn Rand more eloquently puts it: “a contradiction cannot be achieved in reality and… the attempt to achieve it can lead only to disaster and destruction.”
Abortion rights are being chipped away every year. And we are in a worsening financial crisis of unprecedented proportions. The only way out is to eliminate the contradiction. The only way out is to hold government to its proper, non-contradictory function of protecting individual rights. And it is the citizens who must take this corrective action.