Principles, Not Coercion, Are the Source of Unity

October 22, 2021

Living in rural America requires my wife and I to travel several hours to make a major shopping trip. About 3 or 4 times a year, we head down the interstate to Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the Co-op. The bounty we are used to was less plentiful on a most recent trip. At the Co-op, many bulk bins were empty; their wholesale suppliers have been out of stock for over a month. At Whole Foods, Costco, and Trader Joe’s, staples we routinely buy were also unavailable.

Human beings desire order in their lives. We experience order, Friedrich Hayek explained in “Cosmos and Taxis,” when our expectations are proven to be correct. The world we experienced on that shopping day was unexpectedly less orderly; typically, our expectations are almost always 100% met.

Most of us think little about order until it is not there. Many believe order generally comes about by “deliberate arrangements made by somebody.” Hayek writes, “According to this interpretation order in society must rest on a relation of command and obedience, or a hierarchical structure of the whole of society in which the will of superiors, and ultimately of some single supreme authority, determines what each individual must do.”

We are less aware of order when it arises as a spontaneous phenomenon. Hayek describes it as “an order that is of nobody’s deliberate making.” Spontaneous order is beyond the control, or even the understanding of anyone or any group of people. With spontaneous order, there is no threat of coercion; a harmony of interests emerges naturally. We fulfill our separate interests by cooperating with others. Cooperation harmonizes the interests of producers, suppliers, shopkeepers, and customers. That shopping day, in any of the stores we visited, it’s safe to bet that there were no two shopping carts filled with the same items. Shoppers were free to pursue their own purposes as they shopped.

Think of the planned order in Soviet-era Russia. Shoppers stood in line in the bitter cold with the hope of purchasing low-quality sausage. In the Soviet Union, there was coerced unity, but there was little harmony of interests. History teaches that central planning in food distribution resulted in the starvation of millions.

Authoritarians Coerce Unity

Dr. David Galinsky is sure that those who have chosen not to vaccinate against Covid are revealing “a cynical lack of unity and resolve” in America. Galinsky reasons that the unvaccinated “have been primed not to believe us because they do not identify us as belonging to the same country as them.” Galinsky believes an economic class divide and “scurrilous politicians who are whipping up…anger and resentment” as well as “doctors and nurses who have promulgated falsehoods have done the priming.”

Galinsky tries to be conciliatory, but he paints a version of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables.” The vaccinated don’t want “sickness to spread in their own communities;” those who make different choices are painted as misinformed or uncaring.

While Galinsky sees his opposition to the Vietnam War as righteous, he is sure the opposition to his view about vaccines is not at all righteous. In his view, the unvaccinated are killing the vaccinated; and one day in his “utopian fantasy,” he hopes with the aid of neighborly pressure, Galinsky’s “deplorables” will make a different choice and be redeemed.

We could ask a hundred questions of Galinsky beginning with the obvious. Many experts disagree about boosters, natural immunity, and the safety of vaccines especially for younger adults and children at risk of myocarditis. Whose “unity” are we to follow?

A new poll shows 48.6% “are not confident that the COVID-19 vaccines are necessary and appropriate for children ages 5-12.” When the vaccine is approved for that age group, will those parents wary of vaccinating their children be demonized for being in the way of “unity?”

Galinsky says nothing of those with natural immunity after having contracted Covid. If he did, he might understand why fired healthcare workers, some of whom contracted Covid while putting their lives on the line during the pandemic, are not “primed” to share his view of unity. To be sure, many benefit from vaccines, but medicine is never one size fits all.

Galinsky thinks those who have views differing from his own have nothing to teach him. Medical professionals who disagree are summarily dismissed as spreading “falsehoods.” Would Galinsky say that global unity has been undermined by medical authorities in Denmark and Sweden who have now stopped the use of the Moderna vaccine for those under 30?

The vaccine mandate is causing shortages of health professionals. To cope, the governor of New York has ordered new graduates from medical and nursing schools be permitted to practice without the required post-graduate training, such as medical internships. Does Galinsky wonder how unseasoned, inexperienced nurses will learn with fewer senior nurses to help guide them through the perils of those early years? Worse, in New York State, the idea of deploying the National Guard as healthcare providers was trotted out. Are citizens in New York State better served by doctors and nurses fired for their lack of unity around mandates?

You, like me, had probably never heard of Galinsky, but his mindset—that unity requires that all follow the same medical path—is shared by many.

Galinsky’s false unity begins with the notion that he and his favorite experts have God-like power to know what is best for you. They will assess risk for you and expect compliance with no challenges. Yet, estimates of risk are subjective and political.

Medical professor Dr. Vinay Prasad decries those “who are quick to label legitimate scientific dialogue as ‘anti-vax’ or ‘dangerous misinformation.’” Prasad adds, “[t]hey are further polarizing an already polarized debate, and worse, they are simply wrong. These are real and live issues. Intelligent scientists have to discuss these policy implications openly. The stakes could not be higher.”

Limits on Power

To be fair, Galinsky says nothing about President Biden’s vaccine mandates, commanding obedience to achieve coerced unity. The idea of an all-powerful president terrified the Founders. James Madison clearly stated in Federalist 45 the limited powers of government: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined.” The 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution reserve powers not delegated to the people and states. The 9th Amendment—”The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”—is one of the most sublime expressions of freedom ever written, yet few know what it means. And so, many totally ignore the idea that rights are not granted by government but are embedded within each human being.

In his book, The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution Brion McClanahan observes that the Founders “would have never supported an executive branch that could rule by decree, and the Constitution as ratified does not allow for unrestrained executive authority.”

In Federalist 51, Madison wrote that however large the majority, minority rights remain:

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.

Coerced unity denies the legitimacy of minority views and inevitably puts us on the path to tyranny.

Unity via Our Common Nature

From Stoic philosophers to quantum physicists, many have pointed to an underlying oneness that is the reality of life. Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote:

Keep reminding yourself of the way things are connected, of their relatedness. All things are implicated in one another and in sympathy with each other. This event is the consequence of some other one. Things push and pull on each other, and breathe together, and are one.

Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations as notes to himself. He wrote “keep reminding yourself” because he knew he would forget. This forgetting is universal.

Today, like most days, it will appear as though we are separate from everyone and everything. If we don’t discipline our minds, others will appear as objects to be evaluated as helping us, hindering us, or irrelevant to us. Trapped in such a mindset, we will lose sight of the humanity of others.

Aurelius reminded himself, “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly.”

Aurelius’ solution wasn’t to correct other people but to correct himself: “Stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.”

Aurelius pointed to an important principle. He saw he was made of the same stuff as all other human beings: “They are not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine.”

Thousands of years after Aurelius saw unity in the common nature of humanity, the late physicist David Bohm offered that reality is governed by an implicate order: “Everything is enfolded into everything.” To enfold is to embrace, to come together, as all things are present in everything.

Clearly, this implicate order, this oneness, is an order our senses cannot detect. Einstein put it this way: “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”

Recognizing that we possess “a share of the divine,” Locke articulated laws of nature that stand “as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others.” In his Second Treatise Locke saw the principle of self-ownership as a law of nature: “Man is absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to nobody.”

In his Rights of Man, Thomas Paine saw Locke’s natural rights as the basis for unity:

All accounts of man’s creation agree in establishing one point, the unity of man; by which I mean, that men are all of one degree, and consequently that all men are born equal, and with equal natural right…. and consequently, every child born into the world must be considered as deriving its existence from God. The world is as new to him as it was to the first man that existed, and his natural right in it is of the same kind.

The principle of the “unalienable rights” of humanity—the basis of a true unity—is not established by government. It is only recognized, or not, by government.

Unified by Natural Rights

In his First Inaugural Address, Jefferson shared his belief that principles guide a great nation forward:

Principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which we try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.

True unity invites open conversations over our differences. Jefferson clarified, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” Near the end of his inaugural address, Jefferson acknowledged his own fallibility: “I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment.”

The authoritarians in the Covid debate admit to no “defects of judgment.” Dr. Fauci has claimed that if you criticize him, you criticize science.

A lesson from history comes to us from the Great Leap Forward in China, where millions starved to death due to Mao’s ruinous coerced unity. Mao told a 1959 meeting of his inner clique, called the “immortals” that he wanted an open conversation. When defense minister Peng Dehuai took Mao up on his offer, Mao quickly changed his tune: “You either want unity or you want to split the party.”

Mao tolerated no opposition. There were consequences for going against Mao’s false unity; “Mao’s opponents were found guilty of having conspired against party, state and people.” A nationwide hunt for those hindering unity followed.

Today, people are losing their jobs when they do not unite with the official Covid “science.” A nationwide witch hunt for heretics has begun. There will be no unity on the other side of a witch hunt. There will be no true unity built around contempt for the unvaccinated. True unity, our shared humanity, must rest on the principle of natural rights. Rights-based unity leads to cooperation and harmony based on respect for voluntary choices made by individuals, especially when their choices differ from our own.

Barry Brownstein

Barry Brownstein is professor emeritus of economics and leadership at the University of Baltimore. He is the author of The Inner-Work of Leadership, and his essays have appeared in publications such as the Foundation for Economic Education and Intellectual Takeout. To receive Barry’s essays in your inbox, visit mindsetshifts.com

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