By Leonard E. Read
Compulsion is contrary to nature – QUOTED BY ARISTOTLE
If it were obvious to Aristotle that compulsion is contrary to nature, why is it not obvious to more of us? For if it were obvious, then the number of us who act contrary to nature might decline. That’s reason enough to reflect on this most serious of all social matters.
In Psychopathology, compulsion is defined as “an irresistible impulse to perform some irrational act.” In the pathology of our everyday life there are numerous examples of compulsory programs such as food stamps, social security, price controls, wage and hour fixing, tariffs, the Gateway Arch, on and on.
How many irrational acts are invading our society today? Count – if you can – the persons who are advocating compulsion for this or that type of special privilege and then multiply them by the number of compulsions they sponsor – from one to hundreds – and there’s the answer. Compulsions by the millions, a massive affront to nature.
Aristotle was unquestionably correct when he said that compulsion is contrary to nature. And no one, to my knowledge, ever commented on nature more brilliantly than Goethe:
Nature understands no jesting, she is always true, always serious, always severe; she is always right, and the errors and faults are always those of man. The man incapable of appreciating her she despises and only to the apt, the pure, and the true, does she resign herself and reveal her secrets.i
iFrom Johann Peter Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe.
Goethe used the term “nature” as virtually synonymous with God (righteousness), as had Spinoza before him. Compulsion, therefore, is contrary to the highest we know – against the will of God!
It is self-evident that irrational acts are spawned by irresistible impulses. If the perpetrators could resist such impulses, no doubt they would do so! The reason they cannot resist is that they lack the insight and foresight to see where their own interests lie. The unknowing ones see as gains ignorant of the fact that this procedure must eventually ignorant of the fact that this procedure must eventually lead to impoverishment of themselves and everyone else.
All “gains” by the compulsive political process – like and act of looting – result first in losses to the victims – those from whom taken. But matters do not stop there. When governments start the process of redistribution, certain consequences follow. Up go the costs of government beyond what can be collected by direct tax levies; inflation ensues; the dollar buys less and less. Merely witness what’s going on right now in this and other countries. For a striking example of inflation and its consequences, there is the example of Germany after World War I. By August 1923, five billion marks wouldn’t buy a loaf of bread!
Were these irrational persons attuned to nature and guided by enlightened self-interest, they would realize that those individuals gain most who serve best.
Receiving and giving – reciprocity – are two sides of the same economic and moral coin. Were they gifted with this understanding, they would not be impelled to perform irrational acts. And how much better off the whole world citizenry would be!
Compulsion, the worst of all social follies stems of course from foolish acts of individuals – actions contrary to nature. Goethe’s observations about nature, if understood will enlighten any of us who wish to learn. Here follows my attempt to grasp his insights
Nature understands no jesting – A jest is “a mocking or bantering remark.” And a jester is “a professional fool employed by a ruler in the Middle Ages to amuse him with antics, tricks, jokes.”
Must we go back to the Middle Ages for examples of jesting? Antics, tricks, jokes are as rife today as then! Observe our own political rulers and the professionals they employ to amuse the masses with double talk and folderol. And the rulers, no less than the masses, are amused, and for the identical reason; they don’t know any better! To them it is a way of life.
Today’s mass media are jammed with mocking or bantering remarks – jest, in the worst sense.
If one falls in step with these jesters, then there is no attunement with nature, with righteousness, with Creation. Nature – the will of God – tolerates no jesting.
She is always true, always serious, always severe – All truth has its source in nature – Creation. We do not know all that Creation is, but we do know that it is.
The best we are capable of, with our finite awareness, is to acknowledge Infinite Wisdom as the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth.
Taking one’s self too seriously is fraught with danger. But not to take nature seriously is to deny Creation; it is to deaden that quality which responds to, and draws one toward, Infinite Wisdom.
Always severe? Indeed! As already noted, compulsions – acts contrary to nature – results in inflation and, thus, mass poverty. There is no escape. There are countless examples, more that we’ll ever know, of how severe are the penalties of defying nature’s immutable laws. For instance, defy the law of gravity by jumping off a tall building! Kersplash! And if that isn’t severe, pray tell, what is!
She (Nature) is always right, and errors and faults are always those of man –It is easily demonstrable that the more one knows the more he knows he does not know. Why? Nature – Infinity – has no boundary, thus, is beyond human comprehension. The more one knows, the greater is his exposure to the unknown or incomprehensible.
But an awareness of infinity is possible. How? By becoming aware that we cannot even comprehend finite space, a point in space beyond which there is no space. Or a point I time beyond which there is no time!
Approach the problem mathematically. Take the integer one. There is no point beyond which another one cannot be added. The same applies to the infinitesimal. Divide the integer one; ½, ¼, on and on. There will never be a fraction so small that is not divisible.
Is it any wonder that nature – Infinite Wisdom – is always right and that the faults and errors are always those of finite man!
The man incapable of appreciating her she despises – The word “despises” bothers me. Nature which is always right – Righteousness – does not despise. I suspect that the translator of Eckermann’s Conversations from German to English used a word that has different implications than Goethe had in mind. Perhaps “disregards” was meant, for that makes sense.
Who, then, are incapable of appreciating nature? The victims of the greatest of all faults and errors; the notion, seemingly on the increase, that there is nothing beyond their finite minds. The infallible I! Call it egoism or atheism or what you will. Were a speck of dust to compare itself to a galaxy, the comparison would be absurd.
Nature disregards – passes by – such absurdities!
Only the apt, the pure, and the true, does she resign herself and reveal her secrets – The apt, the pure, and the true – what a glorious combination of virtues!
The apt; “quick to learn or understand”
The pure; “free from sin or guilt”
The true; ‘the rightful, faithful”
I shall conclude by quoting Adam Smith, that remarkable individual to whom nature did resign herself and reveal her secrets to an extent seldom recorded:
The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.
Compulsion is contrary to nature, it is hostile to human liberty. My prayer is that the understanding of liberty and faith in free men may so develop that government will be limited to keeping the peace and invoking a common justice. Then, and not before, will the unimaginable wisdom of the free and unfettered market prevail to bless each and every one of us.
Then and not before will nature, on a grand scale, resign herself and reveal her secrets.