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Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory

Readers of T. H. White's Once and Future King will recognize the title of this entry from the visit to the ant colony. The rule always struck me as both humorous and chilling.

I believe that Americans are coming to accept what one might call a close cousin of the rule that everything that is not forbidden is compulsory. Support for this conjecture comes from the entry Bill Luse posted about ABC's show concerning a (fake) pharmacist who did not want to prescribe birth control pills for a minor girl. The ABC announcer makes a special point of interjecting a comment when the "pharmacist" and some of the people agree that the girl should not be having sexual intercourse without the knowledge of her parents. "But in most states," intones the announcer, "she doesn't have to tell her parents anything."

Notice the sweeping implication: If she is not required by law to tell her parents anything, she "doesn't have to" tell them anything in any sense whatsoever.

Well, that settles it! If she is not forbidden to have sex without her parents knowledge, then the rest of the world is compelled to aid and abet her in doing so insofar as it falls within their scope, and particularly within the scope of their public and commercial activities.

In this view of the world, there is no space between legal and social penalties. If the law says that you are not forbidden to do something, that is the only thing that matters. It is only the "opinion" implied by the law that ought to have any power over you. Others are not permitted to engage in shunning or refusal to associate with you. Only the State has a right to express disapproval--in the form of making your activity illegal. No other effective form of social discouragement ought to exist.

Thus the power of the State is increased many-fold. On the one hand, this view encourages us to outlaw anything we disapprove of, with obvious implications for the increase of government power. On the other hand, this view encourages an absolute uniformity of thought, opinion, behavior, and association, dictated by the common denominator of what is legal. If it isn't illegal, it is wrong for you to try to discourage it even by the passive means of refusing your cooperation or approval. Such disapproval and non-cooperation is wrong-thought and wrong-act; it is, in fact, discrimination, than which nothing worse can be conceived.

The State giveth, and the State taketh away, and don't you forget it.

I do not know whether liberals will be the long-term beneficiaries of the resultant soft totalitarianism. In the short-term, since they are currently in a position to make the rules, the benefits to them and to the spread of their view of the world are considerable. And perhaps I should not try to warn them to be careful what they wish for lest they get it. Maybe all such pragmatic considerations tend to favor their side of the culture war anyway.

Conservatives, however, would do well to consider the benefits of greater freedom and, in particular, of a public space in which purely social penalties can exist. When our overlords really have everyone convinced that whatever is not forbidden is compulsory, it will not be a pretty sight from our perspective.

Comments (19)

"Conservatives, however, would do well to consider the benefits of greater freedom and, in particular, of a public space in which purely social penalties can exist."

There is only one pharmacy where I live. The next closest one is a hundred miles (and a mountain range) away and we have winters.

I have terminal cancer and am in home hospice (a nurse from the state visits on a regular basis). The local pharmacist has serious concerns about the levels of pain medication I now require as she feels they might wind up hastening my death.

Is this any of her business or, as a licensed professional whose interactions with her clients are critical but literally at arms length, should she be required, as a condition of keeping that license, to do her job?

As for those sex-crazy youngins, why, we can have a group of the neighbor women get together and paint scarlet A's on them.

If all of this is real rather than hypothetical, my prayers for your soul, Al.

Yes, it is her business. Her "job" is not to be a robotic medicine dispenser.

In fact, part of what we need to get back to is a realization that just because some activity is a "job" or an economic activity, it is not therefore devoid of moral content and meaning. In fact, notions like health, doing no harm, etc., are part of what it _means_ to be a professional in medical areas. When liberals are talking about "green" stuff, they understand this notion of moral content in the business, job, and economic world. Otherwise, not so much.

Painting A's on people isn't what I would call a purely social penalty. But refusing to let them do a bunch of stuff--like, say, refusing to let them work at your business, refusing to let your kids hang out with them--those are.

I am sorry to hear you are not doing well al.

Oh, that was a hypothetical? I guess some cancer ridden patient who needs dangerous levels of pain killers residing in a remotely populated area does exist (if she is in such poor condition, shouldn't she be closer to medical attention?).

Can't your doctor make arrangements for the visiting nurse to bring your meds? Your home hospice can stock then for the winter.

IF the pharmacist is aware of these circumstances, I don't see why he can't fill the scrip. See, the hypo the ABC segment was setting up is where the avowed use of the prescription was for an immoral purpose.

If the patient tells the pharmacist I plan on using this scrip to off my mom for the inheritance, should he go ahead and fill the scrip, you know, to do his job?

P.S. I'll still bet there are at least two Starbucks within walking distance of your secluded mountain hospice.

This isn't the same thing that you describe in the entry but the title made me think of it (yes, I'm picking on modern Christians again). Many of our Christian friends take an attitude that anything that isn't explicitly (in direct language that a 10-year old couldn't confuse) forbidden in the Bible is permissable. And if you say otherwise you're adding to God's law. I don't know what you call this but it doesn't seem right to me.

I can give a direct example but it's not something I'd say (or write) in front of a girl.

Everything that is not (explicitly) forbidden is permissable?

obviously, our al is doing his best to dramatize a hypothetical case.

So I figure, too, Steve.

Al, sorry to hear about your health problems. And if it makes you feel any better, I think you should be allowed to take all the death-hastening pain medication you want.

Lydia: "I do not know whether liberals will be the long-term beneficiaries of the resultant soft totalitarianism."

Good post. I agree with everything you say. Traditional mores or taboos would, in a sense, prohibit someone from doing something. Modern legislation has undermined these mores as much as possible (at least the ones liberals do not like), creating tacit approval of the acts. Thus, in a sense, by not forbidding something the state is encouraging it.

As a corollary to your observations, let me add this. Sam Francis once wrote that soft totalitarianism ultimately benefits the managerial state. He called it anarcho-tyranny. The idea is that the state refuses to do things it legitimately should do (such as defend the U.S.-Mexico border) but is involved in areas where it should not be (e.g. education, health, affirmative action, etc.). Also, the anarchy created by the government not doing what it should do (e.g. keeping people from entering the U.S.) actually increases the power of the managerial state (e.g. in the need for ESL programs, ethnic-conflict resolution, increased need for prisons, jails, public health programs, etc.) and is quite costly. Ultimately, the working middle-class suffers the most. The managerial bureaucrats gain the most.

Don't be quotin' Sam around here MAR. Jeff once insinuated that Francis wasn't vocally anti-abortion like the rest of Rockford because abortion meant less black people around.

.... after Sam was dead and couldn't defend himself.

Goodness, Bruce, even if I knew that about Francis (and I knew nothing about his views on abortion, because I just never followed them), that still wouldn't mean that I couldn't recognize that he was right about something _else_.

I think the anarcho-tyranny point is well-taken, MA. What I think we often see is that the people who try to be law-abiding are the people over whom the most power is exercised. Obviously, the criminals don't care. On a sort of out of the blue side note, compare the anarchy in Haiti: Real kidnaping by gangs, for money, is evidently a normal part of the GDP there. But who got locked up for months? Some poor fool innocent Christian kids who were trying to rescue children after the earthquake and didn't have the right paperwork. I'm not saying America is that far gone, nor perhaps will we ever be, but it's one of those slightly sickening ironies that reminds me just a bit of our present bureaucratic regime.

The thing is, though, I think our present government is going even farther than tacit encouragement to the point of criminalizing a refusal of approval of various sorts of behavior by the rest of society.

I didn't mean to be too subtle: In part, the main post is about public accommodation laws and where their logic has now gone. The law regarding pharmacists and the requirement that they fill every prescription, while not dropping directly out of public accommodation laws, is in the same family.

He didn't know that about Francis. He speculated.

As far as I know he didn't have a public view on the subject that one could follow.

You misunderstand. The reason for posting that was that if he's gonna comment here MAR should know the tendencies of some of the thinkers here are (or those they've displayed in the past).

I'm a rampaging pro-lifer myself and gnash my teeth at those (e.g., David Frum) who insist that conservatism should ditch the emphasis on pro-life issues, but that just doesn't happen to be what this post is about.

If too many people try to make everything they disapprove of illegal,and this is allowed, it won't be too long before virtually eveything is illegal.

Didn't George Orwell use this in"1984"?


If birth control is not forbidden, it should be compulsory.

Why? The argument:

1) It is wrong to bring someone into the world if that person is going to have AIDS or cancer or live in extreme poverty, so that he or she will suffer.

2) But even the best lives are a source of unremitting pain. Because...

2) ..pain is part of the structure of the world and by bringing someone into life you are, ipso facto, exposing that person to serious harm because.

4.) ..joy can only be attained against a backdrop of pain. Which is to say that

3) happiness is but a temporary absence of suffering and dissatisfaction. And, if you had never existed, you would not feel pain.

In conclusion: someone who hasn't been introduced to life, who technically isn't even a person yet, has a clear advantage over someone who has.

Ergo, it is wrong to be the cause of someone else's life.

What country are you all living? The US sloths more and more to oblivion with each passing day. The secularist have invaded all aspects of our lives and continue to advance in new areas not yet conquered. The US looks more and more like Europe by social humanism to defacto laws at the state and national level.

This brilliant piece is trying to remind us not to end up like Sodom and Gamorah. That is the irony of secular thinking, the more they want to make the US a socialist brothel, the closer they get to their own demise. Moronic, really. But who ever said Bolshevism was intelligent?

Great piece. Great Blog,

Sursum Corda

Al writes "The local pharmacist has serious concerns about the levels of pain medication I now require as she feels they might wind up hastening my death. Is this any of her business or, as a licensed professional whose interactions with her clients are critical but literally at arms length, should she be required, as a condition of keeping that license, to do her job?"

Insufficient information. YOU have decided how much medication you require; you fail to mention a doctor. The pharmacist should dispense what the doctor orders. On the other hand, I do not fault a pharmacist that doubts the veracity of a doctor's orders or even questions the doctors accurately transcribed order in the case that the pharmacist considers fraud a possibility or probability.

A similar principle exists in the military. I took an oath to obey lawful orders. I am not required to obey unlawful orders. That imposes a serious burden on me to make that distinction and my superiors might very well not agree with me. But the intention is to avoid things like the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

More to Al's comment

"should she be required, as a condition of keeping that license, to do her job?"

This expresses very well "everything not forbidden is compulsory" -- without a license, you cannot participate in medicine. WITH a license you must do exactly as you are told.

In other words, "everything not forbidden is compulsory" ALREADY in medicine.

If you are not licensed, you are forbidden from dispensing medicine.

If you ARE licensed, dispensing medicine is compulsory. Even if the doctor is wrong.

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