Liberty and Hard Cases

Friday, May 17, 2002
Liberty and Hard Cases
Liberty and Hard Cases

Our free society rests on the fact that human beings are first and foremost sovereign individuals with the capacity for self-rule and self-directedness. But what do we do when disaster strikes? Could a fully free society preserve its liberty while also handling emergencies effectively? Natural calamities—earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and the like—seem to warrant an expansion of governmental authority beyond what a free society would sanction. But principles, says Tibor Machan, are tested by such hard cases. Despite the temptation to abandon the principle of limited government in the face of calamities, we might do well to encourage the development of institutions that could handle these problems without the involvement of government. Liberty and Hard Casesexplores whether government action is in fact indispensable under such circumstances and what might be done to restrain the expansion of the scope of governmental power if indeed emergency circumstances warrant governmental intervention. The contributors examine

  • The role of government in responding to national catastrophes: how the state exploits its role to expand the scope of its authority beyond its original justification
  • Whether it is in any way possible to preserve our liberty in a society where we authorize government to protect us from natural disasters
  • Why government involvement in catastrophe insurance forces a redistribution of risks and costs that is morally indefensible
  • The role of the free market in dealing with natural disaster—and why economic development provides the best protection against natural hazards
  • The case for fully privatizing catastrophe insurance—and how to make it work
  • Ways to reduce—though perhaps not completely diminish—the scope of government in disaster relief

In emergencies—especially those that have a wide impact on a society—the opportunities for demagoguery abound, as those who administer public policy become the ultimate arbiters of what will be acceptable public policy. Liberty and Hard Casesoffers a refreshing approach to maintaining our individual freedom in the face of calamity.

Copyright 2002.