A good friend who wished to remain anonymous sent this along to me.
Anyone who subscribes to a philosophy of personal freedom has accepted that individuals have a right to their persons and property, and that so long as their actions do not infringe on the rights of others they should be free to pursue happiness in the manner they see fit.
If this broad approach to human relationships were adopted, it would clear up a great number of problems that exist in our society today. It is a failure to follow the libertarian Golden Rule that causes most problems; redistribution of wealth, for example, actually violates the right of one person to the ownership of his income — albeit for allegedly beneficial purposes — causing resentment and a sense of entitlement, and often encouraging irresponsible behavior.
If I have a right to my property, then whatever I do with that property short of infringing on your right to do what you wish with your property should be acceptable under the law — even if it completely alienates those around me.
But does a free society have to be an unneighborly society?
Often it is argued that just because something is immoral doesn’t mean it should be illegal. This is most assuredly correct.
We should also accept then that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is necessarily good. For example, if I run a business and demand that anyone who enters my store shout “Heil Hitler” upon entering, this is my right. If they do not comply I can tell them to leave. I understand that in a free society people can choose to not frequent my store; I likewise understand that market forces will likely be sufficient to end this silly requirement — people won’t do business with me, and I’ll go under. What I’m driving at here is not whether I have the right to this behavior, or whether others have a right to avoid me, but rather, in the course of demanding my rights, am I being a good neighbor?
My wife and I like to ride mopeds around Portsmouth, Rye and Newcastle. These wonderful communities are perfect for such outings. By law we’re allowed to park on city sidewalks, provided we don’t block pedestrian traffic. Some spots around Portsmouth, however, are narrow, making it difficult to facilitate both of these ends (I’m aware that this is a failure of government).
One afternoon we wanted to have a drink, but it was a particularly nice day and there were lots of people out walking around town. So rather than take up space on the sidewalk we moved around to what could best be described as a “dead spot” on someone’s private property — space that simply couldn’t be and isn’t used for anything, thereby not blocking pedestrian traffic or in any way preventing foot traffic. In short, we thought we were being good neighbors by parking in an unobtrusive place.
After a couple of drinks we returned to our mopeds. As I was unlocking them someone shouted out a window, “Hey, you can’t park there!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Why not?” I asked.
“The owner has a right to not let you park there,” she said. “If you do it again he’ll call the police.”
Here is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Of course the owner of that establishment has this right! And I told her that. “But,” I added, “that doesn’t mean he isn’t being an idiot”. I don’t think she got my point. I understand that in losing patience with this person I was not taking my own advice.
We expend a great deal of energy, and rightfully so, demanding that government get off our backs, out of our bedrooms, out of our pockets, and generally out of our lives. This is a just and noble goal. Yet we shouldn’t lose sight of the value of being a good neighbor, and asking others to do the same. Just because someone has the right to do something doesn’t make it a good idea. Insisting on one’s right to certain behavior, especially socially unacceptable behavior, while the High Road of libertarian political ethics, is likely a Dead End when it comes to fostering good relationships with those around us.