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Letter to Humanists

As a humanist and a libertarian I seek "a world in which peace, prosperity, freedom, and happiness are widely shared" (Humanist Manifesto II). I believe this goal can best be reached by reducing the power of government. There is nothing inherently humanistic about the use of government to improve society.

A serious practical problem is raised by the pervasive inefficiency of government. Wherever both private and government agencies have the same goal we see government agencies operating at lower quality and higher cost. Voluntary institutions usually spend less than a quarter of their funds on administration whereas government agencies often spend more than half. A serious ethical problem is raised by the real or threatened violence behind every government action. When is violence humanistic? Although I share humanist goals the use of violent means to advance them repels me.

Throughout history humankind has been haunted by the twin specters of church and state. The humanists enthusiastically disbelieve in the church but seem to believe all the more in the power and goodness of the state. Freeing human minds of religious shackles is admirable but what of human bodies shackled by well meaning rulers? Let us not shackle others to our dreams. The drug of political power is ever tempting to all who wish to benefit humanity but it is addictive and destructive even to the wise. Time and again powerful rulers seeking a better world cause widespread disaster. Is this the path of humanism?

A thousand years ago only radicals said people could live full and rewarding lives without religion, yet today such lives are common. A hundred and fifty years ago only radicals said slavery was immoral and should be abolished, yet it came to pass. Today only libertarian radicals decry the violence and injustice inherent in government. Both libertarians and humanists seek a world of harmony and abundance. Both are radical movements in a large and diverse society. Both have a heritage of unyielding respect for human rights. Both claim such notables as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Both revere the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. This is a call for dialogue between us.