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Harvard 'Caring' Destroys Personal Worth

The Last Glance Askance

By Liam T. A. ford

AFTER FOURS YEARS of writing for The Crimson, I have come to think that there is one question above all others which Harvard students must answer: Does the individual person matter?

Most Harvard students seem to think they answer this question in the affirmative. Once they elaborate their expression and justification of the principle of personal worth, however, the conventional Harvard answer frightens me. In trying to ungroup people, they inevitably group individuals into arbitrary categories. Then, they invoke these categories to fashion an egalitarian society. The interests of the individuals they would equalize are pitted against one another instead of reconciled. This artificial reconstruction emasculates the worth of the individual, depriving the answer of any sound basis and of all concrete meaning.

Pondering Harvard's answers to the question, I have tried to discern what it is about those responses that repulses (and attracts) me. In what way does this standard prove deficient? How exactly does it deprive the individual person of worth? And what might be offered to correct the deficiencies I see in Harvard's solutions to problems relating to this question?

PERSONS ARE HARDLY isolated individuals. We define and are defined by our relations to others, relations to friends and especially to family. Romantic love seems forever a goal of many Harvard students, and for most members of our culture. Recently, several non-Harvard friends of mine have culminated their romances in marriage. Even some of my Harvard friends are engaged now, and are thinking about having children.

One old friend of mine married on December 28, I attended the wedding and spoke with several of her seven siblings. At the reception I ran into the father of several friends of mine whose youngest daughter also married recently.

These marriages merit mention because of their connection with children. The bride and groom of the wedding I attended met at the annual January "March for Life" in 1990. (Two years ago today.) Both, obviously, are committed anti-abortionists. They are marrying young, but they have considered their options long enough and seem ready to start the fusion of two lives which marriage entails.

In contrast, the older sister of my recently married friend had a child out of wedlock many years ago. She gave their child up for adoption. Not the best way to bring a child into the world. And a classmate of my brother's married early last year because his girl-friend became pregnant. Not the best reason to get married.

But the lives of these less lucky friends of mine are not ruined. The couple who decided they must get married have merely had their lives changed and their options narrowed.

These friends' families are all as religious as the Pope. What separates them from many families in our society is that they realize that morality, to be pertinent to life, must be person-centered. They are against pre-marital sexual intercourse. But instead of making their children anathema when they get pregnant or get their girl-friends pregnant, they choose to help them.

At Harvard we hear much about "choosing" whether or not to become sexually active. We rarely hear that there might be something wrong with the way our society makes use of sex. (We do hear about women being treated as "sex objects" as something wrong. This is only part of the story, however.) The discussion also rarely considers that sexual activity might involve the question of what to do with the person who might be created by sexual intercourse.

The Harvard administration fails to respond to its students' need for guidance in all aspects of this issue. We at Harvard pretend to care. We pretend to be liberal-minded about sex and all its aspects. As a recent Crimson Opinion piece noted, though, we still think there's something wrong with Harvard women getting pregnant. And with their taking a few months out of their academic careers to have the children which result sometimes from even contraceptive sex.

Those Harvard women who have abortions, about 40 a year (extrapolating from the cost of abortion and the funding which goes to UHS-referred abortions each year), might be helped with more than just abortion services. Harvard does its students a disservice by providing no special programs which might encourage women to have their children. Peer Contraceptive Counselors (PCC) frequently posters the campus with titillating slogans about sex and contraception. PCC has UHS backing.

If there is a similar Peer Maternity Counseling group, I haven't seen it advertised. Why not? Harvard takes the easy way out, that's why. And encourages its students to do the same. By putting its resources and support staff into stopgap measures like abortion counseling, Harvard shows that it cares about appearances. (The administration, perhaps, doesn't want to have to deal with a bunch of pregnant women.)

It doesn't appear to care about its students--or the children who might result from its students' actions. By not insisting that something more be done to help make motherhood more attractive (while still ensuring the completion of a Harvard education) we students show our own lack of concern.

We think, in other words, that if we respond with caring to whatever someone does, we have fulfilled our obligations to help to protect her individual worth. But if Harvard students actually cared about individuals, they would be beating down President Rudenstine's door, demanding help for those who, with help, would want to have their children.

HARVARD STUDENTS ALSO endorse stopgap measures in national social and economic policy. Not entirely, of course. We hear much about "curing the causes of poverty." Phillips Brooks House Association and the Harvard and Neighborhood Development program do admirable work in many aspects of social service.

Few at Harvard seem to realize, however, the primary reasons why poverty occurs. Every so often, Marxist exploitation theory, in diluted or concentrated form, pops up as an explanation. Exploitation occurs, of course. But exploitation theory fails to explain why workers who should have continued to grow poorer with the rise of capitalism have instead continued to rise into the bourgeoisie.

Market economics--at least some strains of it--understands a little more. The basis of a productive economy lies not in the amount of resources available to a country (the mind-boggling poverty of the dead Soviet Union should convince us of that). Nor even does it lie in the political freedom of a country, although political freedom may be an important element. What is necessary for a prosperous economy is the freedom from coercion and the protection of private property, the freedom of individual persons to make use of personal knowledge for their own benefit and the benefit of others.

Such a formulation of freedom may sound at first like political freedom. Democracy, however, provides only an instrumental freedom in the fulfillment of any human needs. It is a freedom fraught with danger, if democratic government lacks restraints upon its power to direct the individual person's destiny.

If whatever powers the citizens of a democracy delegate to their representatives seems allowable, these citizens may, if they wish, destroy their freedom. And endanger their prosperity in the process.

Although most Harvard students would deny it, this is the very situation which faces the United States today. Our country may indeed be a bastion of individual political freedoms, but our true personal and economic liberty withers further every day.

The freedom of the market necessary for prosperity entails much. What it never should include is the freedom to use the government to protect a group from the results of economic progress. If, as is so much the case in the world today, this "principle" of protection becomes enshrined in law, the power of government becomes (and must become) over-arching and destructive.

Protection of economic interests lies at the heart of many of the world's current problems. In the 19th century, businesses, protected in the interest of economic progress, were isolated from having to pay the costs of their destruction or despoilation of others' property. Allowed to pollute the environment without due regard for others' personal right to property, industry the world over has caused untold environmental damage.

At the same time, exorbitantly high taxes on the accumulation of wealth have, since the end of World War II especially, protected already established businesses from competition. Smaller businesses have been able to open up new areas of wealth creation as new technologies developed. The bumbling corporate giants failed to anticipate these new markets, and smaller firms have been able to grow in these areas into industry leaders. But in many cities, for example, high taxation and other barriers to entry, such as absurdly complicated zoning regulations and high licensing fees, have stunted the growth of small businesses.

In the automobile industry, "voluntary" quotas on the import of foreign vehicles have protected U.S. auto manufacturers from competition, costing consumers tens of billions of dollars and allowing the fossilization of an already stagnant industry to continue.

These same quotas have, in turn, kept Japanese auto manufacturers from competing in the U.S. market with less-established manufacturers from other countries such as South Korea and Yugoslavia. Honda and Toyota, not just G.M., Chrysler and Ford, have thus been able to keep their prices artificially high. Where the money consumers have spent "protecting" these businesses might have gone, in the free market, is anyone's guess. In any case, it would have gone to other productive enterprises, or even into savings or investment.

Protectionist voodoo dominates more than just the auto industry, however. The economic policies of the United States which protect vast portions of our markets harm U.S. consumers and workers, especially the poorest. And they harm the third world economies whose products we often exclude in the name of protecting American jobs.

Clothing and shoe manufacturers, sugar and citrus growers, microchip manufacturers and dairy farmers, all receive some sort of protection or subsidy from a U.S. government seemingly bent on ignoring the long-term prosperity of its people. These economic pressure groups obtain the force of law for the coddling of their interests. In turn, they harm the purchasers of their own products and those in other nations who depend upon these industries for their livelihood.

Domestically, they hurt those businesses and individuals that would market and sell these goods. And "dumping" of cheaply manufactured goods on the U.S. market may harm the short-term interests of some. But it provides underdeveloped or developing nations with sources of capital for fledgling industries. When this occurs, the national and world economies benefit. Only with such attention to allowing the market, which is made up individual persons, to function, can we assure prosperity and economic progress.

If the individual persons who make up the U.S. economy are to benefit, we must remember that those who create our wealth are not the bureaucrats in Washington. The persons who own and create millions of businesses of all sizes do that. And these millions of businesspeople and consumers are adversely affected by every tax and every protectionist and regulatory measure the bureaucrats administer.

INDIVIDUAL PERSONS MUST, of course, value things other than money if our society is to make any progress. Economic security of the individual person and that person's family provides, like democracy, an instrumental good, one which shores up the individual person's value. Those who lack a certain minimum level of economic goods will, perhaps, find it difficult to act morally, and will find little reason to value their fellow human beings.

Fyodor Dostoeyevsky, however, tells us that the definition of the human being (he said "man," but in the sense of "the human person") is the creature who can get used to anything. Thinkers as far back as Aristotle, though, recognized how debilitating to one's moral character extreme poverty can be. Only the most moral of human beings, that is, can remain untouched in their integrity by the immorality or privation of their circumstances.

It is because we wish as many persons as possible to act towards others in a moral manner that we allow them to produce as much wealth as possible. The more wealth some individuals create, the more the wealth of all tends to rise. The history of the last 300 years bears this out. The poorest members of our society have luxuries available to them which few could dream of two centuries ago.

No society, however, can long stand in prosperity without the requisite moral values which make social life possible. We should value the free market because it benefits the persons in society and allows an opportunity for all to make use of their talents to the fullest extent possible.

The market requires more than just free competition, however. It requires that people act honestly in fulfilling their obligations to others. It requires that the members of society take responsibility for their own actions. Above all, it requires that the individual person's personal integrity matter to the other members of society.

Personal integrity includes the ability to make many free decisions and to determine many of one's own choices in life. It also entails the freedom to participate in organizations which reflect the morals that one values. This should be put in practice in the vast public and private spheres which do not infringe upon others' personal integrity through government coercion.

Primary among these larger organizations which embody and succor moral values are religious organizations. Religion is too often made a second-class citizen. Certainly, in a free society, religious freedom is important. But this cannot, and should not, mean that religion's meaning and pertinence in shaping public values should be dismissed. The marketplace of ideas becomes devoid of meaning if religion, one of the forces which has most defended the integrity of the human person throughout history, is banned from public discussion and denied public relevance.

The Christian religion tells human beings "to love your neighbor as yourself." All religious institutions provide functions other than the formation of moral values such as this one, however. They are usually in the forefront of private charitable work, typing those in need to those who are able to give help.

Non-governmental charitable organizations can provide a large portion of the help needed by those who the market will inevitably leave behind. If we allow them and encourage them to do so, private organizations should be able to provide most of what many Harvard students think the government should provide, without the intrusiveness of government bureaucracy.

Private action may be found lacking at times. The free market is not a utopian ideal. But the idea that government can, through coercion, create a utopia or eliminate all human suffering is itself utopian. If we value freedom from government coercion, we should attempt to foster as many private solutions to social problems as possible.

MORAL VALUES, of course, need not be religious values. We can avoid making the individual person into a mere cog in the bureaucratic or economic machine by valuing the person for the person, as a Kantian end, not a utilitarian means. More and more often, however, this valuation is disappearing from our society.

As we become objects of government control for others' economic ends, we are becoming these cogs. Even though this occurs because we attempt to alleviate human suffering, this does little to increase the value of the human individual.

Some elderly parents are encouraged by their children to commit suicide because their suffering is too devastating, or because the economic benefits accrued by their death would allow their children to live more prosperously.

Such problems will not disappear if we allow euthanasia, which would allow medicalized killing of the elderly. Nor will they disappear if we create a national health care system which would decide according to cost who receives what care when, making exorbitant outlays for those who would die without extraordinary treatment.

With euthanasia, more people would die who really wished to go on living, or who could not make the decision to go on living for themselves. With national health care, human beings would become merely burdens on the system when they passed a certain age. (Now, at least, those with the funds to pay for life-prolonging treatment make their own decisions about whether to they pay with their own money--not the government's.)

Who can say that the two trends would not converge? Why, if we allow doctors to kill their patients at their patients' request, could not the national health care system, whose funds would pay for treatment, decide that some people were a burden on the system and mandate that they be euthanized?

Such a scenario is far-fetched. It gives a little insight, however, into the interconnection of the value of the individual person, the freedom of the economy and the moral values which govern our society. A government, even a democratic government, which controls our economic decisions for us also controls what moral decisions we can make. It controls, ultimately, the values which we hold dear. It controls us as individual persons.

HARVARD STUDENTS do not, I believe, wish to see poverty increase. They do not wish for a government which devalues the individual person. But without a morality which holds the individual person dear, and with ideology which believes economic freedom may be separated from personal freedom, most Harvard students end up devaluing the worth of the individual person.

Freedom means more than writing whatever one wants in a newspaper. It requires more than believing "freedom from want" can come from a massive welfare state. It requires a freedom to live, a freedom to screw up and know you are the one that erred, and a freedom to do good for others, through investment or through charitable giving.

Only individual persons can do good for one another. If we ask the government to do all for us, we will lose our prosperity, lose our ability to do good for others and, finally, lose our dignity as individual persons. We will have become mere instruments in the hands of others. Books, automobiles, printing presses, factories and plows are instruments for the fulfillment of human happiness. But beyond these tools, human beings are the only ones who can freely help each other and value each other. If we let them.

It's time Harvard thought about letting them.

Liam Thomas Aquinas Ford '91-'92 will turn in his thesis in two days, and thinks, therefore, that he will graduate. The Editors hope he finds a job that suits him. Like running the Libertarian Party.

Democracy provides political freedom, but that freedom is fraught with the danger that citizens will delegate too much power to their government. That's happening now in this country.

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