If you were alone on a desert island you would not be able to escape the fact that you must work to sustain your life. Alone on the island you could spend your days in any activity of your choosing—hunting, fishing, building a home, swimming, or napping. But you would not be able to escape the fact that if you did not create the values that your life requires, you would not survive. If you did not make your well-being your most important concern and pursuit you would perish. If you did not act in the pursuit of your interests and welfare you would die. This truth does not evaporate simply by entering society.
Of course, you do not live alone on a desert island. You do not need to create all of the values that your life requires. Living among other men can provide great benefits—such as the transmission of knowledge and economic trade—but only if that society recognizes your right to take the actions required to sustain your life.
For example, suppose two fellow castaways join you on the island. Bob is an engineer and Tom is a farmer. Their knowledge and skills allow them to produce certain values more efficiently and with better results than you can. Bob makes tools that help you catch more fish and Tom grows more crops with less effort. Each of you can specialize in a particular area of production, and by trading with the others, each of you benefits. You trade fish to Tom in exchange for fruit and vegetables. Bob trades his tools for your fish. All of you benefit and live more prosperous and happy lives because of this trade.
But what if Bob and Tom decide they cannot or will not work? What if—by a democratic vote—they demand that you provide them with food while they build sand castles and play cards? You might protest that it is not fair for Bob and Tom to play while you toil to provide their food. And they might easily respond by invoking the morality of altruism. They might argue that you have a moral obligation to place the welfare and interests of others before your own. If you accept altruism—as most Americans do—you must agree that you have a duty to put aside your own selfish desires in service to others. Besides, they add, a vote was taken and you are bound by the “will of the people.” And if you do not comply then they will tie you up until you agree to abide by their demands. Would you find such claims and demands fair and just? Would your judgment matter?
In such a society your judgment would be rendered irrelevant. You would be forced to act according to the demands and dictates of others. You would be forced to sacrifice your values for the alleged benefit of others. This is an injustice whether you live on an island of 3 or in a society of 300 million.
Most people would reject the hoodlum tactics of Bob and Tom if they were required to implement such thuggery on their own. But they have little problem with hiring out that task. They have no problem assigning politicians and bureaucrats with the job of using force against their fellow citizens. But using government agents as a proxy doesn’t change the nature or immorality of the act. It just makes it seem a little cleaner.