by | Oct 29, 2005 | Foreign Policy, LAW, Racism

Earlier this year, when the Ward Churchill essay became news, my initial reaction was that he should be charged with a crime such as ‘treason’ or ‘aiding and abetting the enemy’. But through discussion with friends, I realized my reaction was wrong, and that his comments were covered by his right to free speech – […]

Earlier this year, when the Ward Churchill essay became news, my initial reaction was that he should be charged with a crime such as ‘treason’ or ‘aiding and abetting the enemy’. But through discussion with friends, I realized my reaction was wrong, and that his comments were covered by his right to free speech – no matter how despicable his ideas were.

So, since it would be improper to prosecute him criminally, the alternative is to ostracize him. (By ostracize I mean to exclude someone from society by neither communicating nor dealing with him in any form.) Now, in a truly free society, there would be many types of immoral actions which would nonetheless be legal, so I think the concept of ostracizing, or shunning, is one worth exploring. Consider for instance another type of immoral action which would be legal: that of a man who abuses and tortures animals for no reason other than his own sadism and cruelty. Since animals have no rights, such a man could not be charged with a crime, yet he certainly could be, and should be, shunned.

When people are informed that this is how a free society would deal with such immoral men, many object that ostracism is both unrealistic and unpractical. But there is historical precedent for the practice – the Greeks did it all the time, both formally by vote (which is not what I would advocate), and informally by consensus and common values. It is this latter type that I consider a model for a free society. In fact, the example which got me thinking about the whole subject comes from Herodotus’ Persian Wars. In it, he recounts the story of the famous battle of Thermopylae, at which two Lacedaemonians (Spartans) were ordered out of the battle due to them suffering from eye disease. One of them, Eurytus, upon hearing that his compatriots were in the thick of battle, rushed to join them and was killed. The other, Aristodemus, remained on the sidelines and survived. He was the sole Spartan survivor of the battle, and when he returned home he was shunned. In Herodotus’ words:

“When Aristodemus returned to Lacedaemon, reproach and disgrace awaited him; disgrace, inasmuch as no Spartan would give him a light to kindle his fire, or so much as address a word to him; and reproach, since all spoke of him as the ‘craven’.”

Now personally I wouldn’t shun a man who didn’t fight because he was afflicted with a disease(!), but the point is that ostracism is both realistic and practical. All it takes is a society of individuals who value morality and who have the right to act in accordance with it. The Greeks had both. As I noted in a previous post, they valued honor and acting for the good above all else. And they had no government regulations to prevent them from honoring those whom they found noble nor from shunning those whom they found immoral.

In today’s world both requirements for successfully ostracizing people are not only lacking, but even reversed. Consider that the subjectivists on the Left continuously cry that free speech means not just respecting a person’s right to voice his opinion, but actually respecting the opinion itself – no matter what its content (“everyone’s opinion is equally valid”). In so doing they don’t just deprecate morality, they actually eradicate it completely. For if every opinion is equally valid (which means that there is no truth), there can be no science aimed at discovering and defining the proper code of values necessary for man to succeed and prosper on earth – i.e. there can be no morality or ethics.

And when they’re not busy attacking morality, they’re assailing property rights by claiming that only by providing a man with the means to express his views, can he truly have free speech. So in the case of Ward Churchill, they not only defend his vitriolic attack on America as morally equivalent to those who defend it, but then they advocate the transfer of private property (via taxes) to allow him the podium and position by which he makes those views known. And to the vast majority of us who do not want our property stolen to support such an atrocity, they say that such is the price of free speech (with the implication that property rights are not valid, but their version of the right to free speech is).

Similarly, if all the inhabitants of the town in which Ward Churchill lives were to decide to ostracize him – say by not serving him at the local markets, gas stations, restaurants, hospitals, and not providing him with electricity, gas and water – under current law he could sue them for discrimination … and win! When a government prevents people from using their property as they see fit (of course excluding instances where they use it to initiate force against others), the government violates property rights and thereby indirectly allows abominations such as Ward Churchill to exist.

Reflecting on these issues confirms to me yet again that only a proper definition and implementation of rights, viz. prohibiting the initiation of force, and a general appreciation for the role and importance of morality in life, can foster a good and benevolent society. For in a truly free society, one in which men are held accountable for their actions and views, a Ward Churchill would never have the moral support, nor the material means, to attack that which makes life possible. Only when morality is abandoned, and individual rights violated, does a monstrosity such as Churchill continue to survive and spew his venom to the detriment of us all.

Amit Ghate is a guest writer to the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and Capitalism Magazine and regularly blogs at Thrutch. He is a full-time trader who often speculates and shorts.

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