Unchallenged Premises

For decades, statists have confronted Houstonians with a seemingly endless series of policy proposals allegedly intended to make our city better. From outlawing billboards to zoning, from historic preservation to anti-discrimination, activists and politicians have claimed that without more government controls and regulations Houston will descend into depravity and economic ruin.

Underlying all of these proposals and claims are certain premises that the statists refuse to justify. Unfortunately, the victims of these proposals seldom challenge those premises. And the primary reason for that failure is the fact that the victims generally accept those premises. As a result, they can only bicker over details and complain that a particular proposal goes “too far.”

The anti-billboard ordinance is one example. When it was first proposed, the billboard industry responded that the ordinance was too draconian. They didn’t oppose the premise underlying the ordinance, merely its details.

The anti-smoking ordinance is another example. Restaurants and businesses originally opposed the ordinance, claiming that it would impose too many hardships on them. Like the sign industry, they didn’t oppose the premise underlying the ordinance, merely its details.

It both instances, the victims accepted the premise that government has the right to regulate and control their activities in the name of the “public interest.” Having accepted that premise, they could only argue over what constituted the “public interest.” It is no surprise that both ordinances were adopted and eventually expanded. The victims had morally and intellectually disarmed themselves.

The pattern will continue until Houstonians challenge the premises that underlie government’s steady expansion of power. Until Houstonians challenge collectivism and its moral base–altruism–government will continue to assert more control over their lives and businesses.

Altruism holds that individuals have a moral duty to self-sacrificially serve others. According to altruism, we must place the welfare and interests of others before our self-interest.

Collectivism holds that individuals must subordinate themselves to the group, such as the community, one’s race, or the State. The individual must put aside his self-interest in deference to the “public interest.”

Every statist proposal is founded on the alleged virtue of self-sacrifice. And the opponents of those proposals are denigrated for putting their self-interest before the public interest.

Those who value their freedom must begin by rejecting altruism and collectivism. Those who wish to defend freedom must challenge the statists to justify self-sacrifice and subservience to the collective. Until they do, they can only bicker over the details. Until they do, they will continue to lose the debate, and with it, their freedom.

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