Once the moral revolution in the Western world picked up steam, it was but a small step to the next plateau of the revolution — the “anything‑goes society.” What is an anything‑goes society and how does it work?
To answer these questions, it is instructive to recognize that man is a creature of infinite desires, all of which he wishes to be fulfilled. However, he is smart enough to realize that merely saying he wants something is not likely to get it for him, especially if he’s dependent upon someone else to provide it.
How much better to simply proclaim that the thing he desires is something he truly “needs.” Need is perhaps the cleverest word ever appropriated by thieves and power mongers. It is, in fact, the key to an anything‑goes society. Through the use of this seemingly innocuous four-letter word, all acts of aggression can be morally justified.
The big question, of course, is who has the wisdom, the omniscience, and moral authority to determine who is in need? The progressive’s answer is “the majority.”
What is conveniently ignored is that the majority’s decision is nothing more than an opinion, because there is no such thing as an absolute need. I may think I need a Rolls Royce; you may think I need a bicycle. Neither of us is right or wrong. It’s just a difference of opinion.
But my desire for a Rolls Royce is another matter altogether. There is no opinion involved in desire. If I desire a Rolls Royce, that’s my business. It only becomes your business if I arbitrarily decide that you have an obligation to purchase it for me on the grounds that it is a “need” and that I am therefore entitled to it.
The fact that I refer to my desire for a Rolls Royce as a need is, of course, sheer poppycock. I may just as well call it a wart. No matter what word I assign to it, I still have no moral right to force you to help me acquire it just because I happen to want it.
Unfortunately, that is not how a majority of people now view the matter. Through the gradual evolution of lynch‑mob rule, fueled by the titanic forces of media‑induced guilt and envy, the word need has successfully emerged as a camouflage for desire.
This camouflage, however, is not the final step in the evolutionary process. The final stage of an anything‑goes society comes about through the further elevation of needs to rights.
Today, we are a society whose people believe that every individual has a right to a “free” education, a right to a “minimum” wage, a right to “free” medical care, a right to “decent” housing — a right to virtually anything he can establish as society’s obligation to him. By contrast, we were once a society whose people believed that no one had a right to anything except his life, his liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness.
As alien as it may now seem, most of our grandparents, and even many of our parents, actually believed, before the moral revolution was won, that every individual had a right to keep everything he earned, and, even more important, the right to be left alone. Not coincidentally, they believed in charity, but charity was recognized as a matter of personal morality, to be decided by each individual rather than by government force.
Today, by contrast, talk of individualism is dismissed as impractical or unrealistic in a “complex world.” This is the ultimate triumph of gradualism — that our culture has reached the stage where freedom is actually considered to be unrealistic.
Sadly, our civilization has devolved to the point where the use of force and fraud can be justified on the grounds that such measures are necessary to make certain that people’s rights are not violated (i.e., that their individual desires be fulfilled). And that is the bottom line of an anything‑goes society — the acceptance of the use of any means necessary to satisfy individual desires.
There is, quite obviously, one glaring problem with this otherwise beautiful piece of nonsense: In order to fulfill the self-proclaimed rights of one person, someone else’s rights must be violated, because any product or service that an individual may desire must be produced by someone else.
And if the product or service, or the money to purchase it, is taken from a productive member of society against his will, then his rights are sacrificed to the desires of the person who receives the largess.
Thus, through the not‑so‑discreet use of majority rule, individual rights can be ignored and government becomes a legal mechanism for implementing force and fraud. In effect, government takes on the role of a hired gun for the plunderers. And who are the plunderers? Frederic Bastiat gave us some insight into this question:
When plunder is organized by law for the profit of those who make the law, all the plundered classes try somehow to enter — by peaceful or revolutionary means — into the making of laws. According to their degree of enlightenment, these plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.
The problem, of course, is that the majority of people are not at all enlightened, thus they choose to share in the plunder. Further, the typical false‑prosperity addict does not want to be enlightened. He’s too busy enjoying his $15,000 home (for which he paid $200,000), his two state-of-the-art, flat-screen TVs (which he is paying off over three years at the legal‑limit interest rate), and his new 10-by-20-foot swimming pool (financed by a second mortgage on his already drastically overpriced home).
All this leads me to believe that someday historians will look back and note with curiosity that as Western Civilization slipped quietly down the moral drain, no one particularly noticed. People simply were not enlightened enough to understand that to take part in the plunder rather than put an end to it was only in their short‑term best interest.
They were not able to comprehend that in the long term, as a result of the crumbling of their political democracy, even the cleverest of the plunderers would lose. Thus, they coalesced into a massive voting class whose objective was to gain control of the lynching mechanism.
As a result, everyone now claims to qualify in some way as truly needy, a term that is conveniently undefinable but both intoxicating and intimidating. After all, who but a cold and heartless person could possibly deny the truly needy their rights?
Today, the mass thefts in our desires‑to‑rights society are carried out under such euphemistic labels as “humanitarianism,” “social justice,” or just plain “reform.” This immoral madness has now escalated into an avalanche of government social programs that not even the most ardent socialist could have hoped for fifty years ago — food stamps, school lunch programs, Medicaid and Medicare, federal employee retirement benefits … the list goes on … and on … and on.
The unenlightened masses have, indeed, chosen to plunder, and in Part IV of this article I will examine the mechanisms used to accommodate the plunderers’ insatiable thirst for free stuff.