For Americans of limited means, and that includes many Houstonians, public libraries are more than just a cozy place to spend a rainy day curled up with a good book. They're necessary tools to access the Internet, to find out about job and education opportunities, to seek out needed social services — in short, to better one's lot in life.Consider what the paper lumps together as a way to improve one's life: Searching for job opportunities and learning about social services. The Chronicle believes that looking for work and looking for a hand out are the same. The paper sees no distinction between those seeking to be productive and those who want to live at the expense of the productive. But this is hardly the only problem with the editorial.
The editorial goes on to ask a number of questions that it says needs serious debate:
- Is our democracy actually put at risk by so many incremental decisions in so many different states and cities to shrink library schedules or close them altogether?
- Is there a cumulative effect we're overlooking?
- Are they really "extras" in public budgets?
- Or do they belong in the category of core services?
As is so often the case, these questions assume answers to more fundamental issues. The editorial does not raise these issues, apparently assuming that they are beyond question. The most important of these issues is: What is the nature and purpose of government?
The Chronicle has long made clear that it believes government should provide for the needy, regulate the economy, and control our lives. As evidence, simply consult virtually any editorial printed by the paper. But this is not the purpose of government as envisioned by the Founding Fathers or by the facts of reality.
The Founders held that all men possess "certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." They held that the purpose of government is "to secure these rights"--to protect the rights of individuals from violation by other men and by government. And the Founders were correct.
Rights are a sanction to act without coercion or the permission of others. Rights recognize the fact that the sustenance and enjoyment of life require action. Rights recognize the fact that each of us want different things from life and should be free to pursue them as we judge best (so long as we respect the mutual rights of others). Government's purpose is to protect this fundamental moral right. Nothing more, and nothing less.
The Chronicle sees it much differently. The paper believes that government should compel or prohibit certain behavior. Whether it is forcing individuals to subsidize the health care of others or prohibiting certain types of land-use, the paper believes it proper for government to make it illegal for individuals to act according to their own rational judgment. And whose judgment should decide what is legal and illegal? The paper makes that clear: The majority.
Mistakenly believing that America was founded as a democracy (it is a constitutional republic) the paper believes that the "will of the people" should reign supreme. If the majority favors enslaving doctors or dictating how property owners may use their land, that position is proper and just merely because the majority supports it. This is--as the Founders correctly noted--nothing more than mob rule. It is a tyranny of the masses, in which truth and justice are determined by taking a vote.
Public libraries--like public education, public health care, public parks, public roads, and a litany of other public services--violate the rights of individuals by compelling them to provide financial support regardless of their own judgment. It matters not how many people support these institutions or believe that government should provide them.