Yesterday I finished a class offered by the Independence Institute, taught by Penn Pfiffner, and titled Free People Free Markets: Principles of Liberty. (It will be offered again starting June 27.) Penn gave us copies of his freedom reading list, which included The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein.
I first read this book, and a lot of others he wrote, when I was in junior high or high school, and I’ve been rereading it the last few days. The following exchange struck me more this time than when I’ve read it before. Manuel Garcia O’Kelly, Wyoming Knott, and Professor de la Paz have just decided to start a revolution against the governing authority on the Moon, and the Professor is trying to determine what Mannie’s political philosophy is. (I took out the extraneous dialogue and identified each speaker for the sake of clarity.)
Prof: “For example, under what circumstances may the State justly place its welfare above that of a citizen?”
Mannie: “Prof, as I see, are no circumstances under which State is justified in placing its welfare ahead of mine.”
Prof: “Good. We have a starting point.”
Wyoh: “Mannie, . . . that’s a most self-centered evaluation.”
Mannie: “I’m a most self-centered person.”
Wyoh: “Oh, nonsense. Who rescued me? Me, a stranger. And didn’t try to exploit it. . . . Mannie was a perfect knight.”
Prof: “Sans peur et sans reproche. I knew, I’ve known him for years. Which is not inconsistent with evaluation he expressed.”
Wyoh: “Oh, but it is! Not the way things are but under the ideal toward which we aim. Mannie, the ‘State’ is Luna. Even though not sovereign yet and we hold citizenships elsewhere. But I am part of the Lunar State and so is your family. Would you die for your family?”
Mannie: “Two questions not related.”
Wyoh: “Oh, but they are! That’s the point”
Mannie: “Nyet. I know my family, opted long ago.”
Prof: “Dear Lady, I must come to Manuel’s defense. He has a correct evaluation even though he may not be able to state it. May I ask this? Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?”
Wyoh: “Uh . . . that’s a trick question.”
Prof: “It is the key question, dear Wyoming. A radical question that strikes to the root of the whole dilemma of government. Anyone who answers honestly and abides by all consequences knows where he stands–and what he will die for” (63-64).
The Professor is right: That is the key question about government. If it’s wrong for me to use force to take money or land from another person, how is it right for the government to do so?
Work Cited: Heinlein, Robert A. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1966.