There is one type of question, more than any other, that the
advocate of freedom is likely to be asked over the years:
Human liberty and freedom of choice are, of course, important
social and moral goods, but can't they be pushed too far? Is
it not better to work for, and accept, a more moderate balance
in society? Your position, it will be said, seems to offer no
compromise, no happy medium through which a common ground can
be found so that a reasonable amount of freedom can be
attained.  Don't you think your dogmatic extremism only serves
to work against the very goals for which you are devoting your

The first reply to this type of question, is to ask back, With
what are we asked to compromise and to offer a more moderate
position? The answer, of course, is that the advocate of
freedom is being asked to find a common ground with state
power and the use of government coercion in social affairs.

The problem is that ultimately there can be no compromise
between freedom and coercion, between social relationships
based upon mutual, voluntary consent, and human relationships
ordered by command and backed up by the threat, or actual use,
of force. There is an irreconcilable tension in a society that
is part-free and part-slave. An individual who is prohibited
from, or restrained in, his peaceful intercourse with other
free men is not his own master. And to that extent he is a
slave to the will and wishes of another.

But such a response by the advocate of freedom fails to touch
the real heart of the matter. Who, in this debate over freedom
and coercion, is the actual extremist and who is the actual
moderate? The advocate of state coercion in social affairs
cannot stand the fact that people make choices, and undertake
courses of action, of which he disapproves. He objects to the
fact that people fail to follow the paths that his reason and
values consider rational and good. Everything else is either
chaotic and sinister.

In this sense, he is like the maniac of whom G.K. Chesterton
speaks in his book, Orthodoxy. The madman, Chesterton says, is
the one "who has lost everything except his reason . . . .  He
is not hampered by a sense of humor or by charity, or by the
dumb certainties of experience. The madman's explanation of a
thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense
satisfactory." The madman has a "most sinister quality" of
"connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate
than a maze."

The advocate of state coercion has, in this sense, been driven
mad by the outcomes of a free society. If some men are poor
while others are well to do, he cannot accept the idea that
this is due to natural scarcity of resources, or is merely as
far as capitalism has yet been able to raise people's
standards of living in an on-going, and time-consuming,
process of savings and investment. No, it must be because men
have been unreasonable, have not submitted themselves to a
plan--his plan--that his reason has given him, and not others,
the superior wisdom and insight to see.

If some men receive lower pay than others, or do not have
access to all the goods and services they desire, the advocate
of state coercion--like the madman--often sees sinister
motives and dark conspiracies. If some workers receive lower
wages, it can't be because of a lack of marketable skills or
insufficient personal ambition to better themselves. No, it
must be because of the businessman's greed and unwillingness
to pay "a fair wage," or a plot among the employers to exploit
their fellow human beings. The advocate of state coercion can
see beneath the charade and he, of course, knows the
regulation or intervention to put the conspirators in their
place and remedy the problem.

The social madman has the answer and the solution for
everything. He has no patience for ignorance, good intentions
that go astray, or some natural scheme of things. And like the
madman, he has no doubts about his knowledge, the goodness of
his intentions and their outcome, or what the scheme of things
should be turned into. Human freedom and its advocates are the
irritants that he tolerates when he has to, but with which he
never compromises. He has too much confidence in his own
vision. In his mind, extremism in the defense of the state-
molded "great society" is no vice.

In his book, The Pleasures of a Nonconformist, the Chinese
philosopher and social critic, Lin Yutang, explains that, "The
aim of Chinese classical education has always been the
cultivation of the reasonable man as the model of culture. An
educated man should, above all, be a reasonable being. A
reasonable being is always characterized by his common sense,
his love of moderation and restraint . . . . To be reasonable
is to avoid extremes . . . . To say to a man, 'Do be
reasonable` is the same as saying 'Make some allowance for
human nature. Do not push a fellow too far.'"

I would like to suggest that regardless of whether or not
Professor Lin was right that this is what Chinese classical
education produced, it does capture essential qualities of
what the advocate of freedom sees as some of the hallmarks of
the free society: moderation, restraint and allowance for
human nature.

Let me try to explain this with two examples. In February of
this year, a federal regulation was passed banning smoking on
all domestic airline flights of less that six hours of
duration. The anti-smoking advocate just cannot reconcile
himself to the existence of others who gain pleasure from
something of which he disapproves, and by people who weigh the
enjoyment of the present against the consequences of the
future differently than himself. Nor can he stand a world in
which the market provides options to those with different
preferences: some airlines that permit smoking and others
(i.e., Northwest Airlines) that ban smoking on all domestic
flights as a response to what they view as a market
opportunity to get a larger share of the non-smoking public
that flies.

For the advocate of freedom, the market alternative is
precisely the reasonable and moderate one. It recognizes and
accepts the varieties and preferences among men and offers a
compromise, a peaceful resolution, of the differences among
them. And it leaves a wide avenue open for one group of men to
reason and persuade another to modify their choices and
forswear "a filthy and corrupting" habit.

Another example is affirmative action. In the old days, people
of different races were forcefully kept apart. Segregation
laws prohibited various forms of voluntary interaction among
men and women of different color. Now the laws forcefully
require the interaction of different races both inside and
outside the workplace. The enemy of racism, just like the
advocate of racism, abhors tolerance and refuses to restrain
himself when he objects to the foolish and perverse conduct of
his fellow men.

Neither is willing to allow for human nature: the racist who
could not stand the fact that opportunities created incentives
for people of different color to peacefully and voluntarily
trade and interact with each other; and the anti-racist who
cannot stand the fact that obstinate people without atavistic
ideas may be willing to pay the price of lost market
opportunities so as not to associate with people of a
different race.

The advocate of freedom, with his deep belief and faith in the
sanctity and uniqueness of the individual, has always been
repelled by the evaluation of a human being on the basis of
his skin pigmentation. But he has also appreciated the danger
of pushing a fellow too far. A good society is not produced by
forcing one person on another. The freedom advocate has known
that this may only cause a backlash of the very type of racist
sentiment that the affirmative action laws were meant to

To be reasonable, the free society must avoid extremes, and it
does so through the diversity of free men that it both permits
and fosters. It restrains the practice of "extreme" personal
behavior because it imposes costs and consequences upon
everyone who practices them--loss of economic opportunity,
social ostracism by those who are repelled by it. And it
teaches the advantages of moderation--courtesy, good manners,
tolerance and "socially acceptable" conduct.

In other words, the free society, accepting human nature,
nudges men toward better behavior rather than compels it. It
teaches rational and moral conduct through reason and example.
It fosters compromise by demonstrating the personal costs of
being too extreme in one's personal actions. And it raises the
ethical conduct of the society by the discovered advantages of
personal improvement through time.

Is liberty too extreme? Quite the contrary. Freedom is the
epitome of moderation. And it is its moderation, its tolerance
and diversity that drives some men mad. But madness, by
definition, is not the normal condition of a healthy human
being. The history of western civilization is the story of
man's slow escape from the madness of political and social
extremism. Our dilemma and our challenge is that this sickness
still controls the minds of too many.

Professor Ebeling is the Ludwig von Mises Professor of
Economics at Hillsdale College in Michigan and also serves as
Vice-President of Academic Affairs of The Future of Freedom
Foundation, P.O. Box 9752, Denver, CO 80209.

From the August 1990 issue of FREEDOM DAILY,
Copyright (c) 1990, The Future of Freedom Foundation,
PO Box 9752, Denver, Colorado 80209, 303-777-3588.
Permission granted to reprint; please give appropriate credit
and send one copy of reprinted material to the Foundation.