Sunday, May 4, 2014

What does it Mean to Say: "We'll Have to Agree to Disagree?"

I have on occasion been told, after a period of debate on some issue relating to politics, "Let's agree to disagree."

But what does that mean in the political context?

Suppose I believe that the government has no right to forcibly redistribute wealth from people who earned it to people who didn't, but the person I'm talking to believes that the government does have that right, and should do it? Clearly, the issue is either or, as is the case with any issue where morality is involved.

Now suppose that, after some time, each of us realizes that neither will convince the other of the rightness of his respective opinion. Is it possible then to "agree to disagree," and simply move on?

No. To say we should agree to disagree implies that each person will be left free to live according to his beliefs, and be willing to allow the other to freely live by his beliefs. 

But in the case cited above, how is it possible to agree to disagree when one side advocates the use of force against the other? If person A doesn't believe in government redistribution of his wealth, but person B claims the right, through the government, to forcibly redistribute person A's wealth against his will, what becomes of person A's right to disagree? 

When force is involved, there can be no resolution based on agree to disagree. The essence of liberty is precisely to protect one's right to disagree.  To agree to disagree implies live-and-let-live, which implies the renunciation of force. But if the person Bs of the world have their way, what becomes of live-and-let-live? The minute someone decides that he has the right to impose his values on others at the point of a gun, with the government as his hired gun, he is declaring that he will not let the next person live his life by his own judgment; to disagree. That is the end of peaceful coexistence. 

In the realm of politics, there is only one type of social system consistent with the principle "agree to disagree"; a social system that legally abolishes the initiation of physical force by any individual, including individuals in their capacity as government officials. There is only one social system that embodies that principle. That system is, of course, capitalism.

So if you ever encounter a person who seeks to diffuse a political disagreement with the mantra, "We'll have to agree to disagree," ask him if he is a capitalist. If he says he is not a capitalist, then tell him he can forget his phony pledge to agree to disagree until and unless he becomes one. Or, to draw on the wisdom of Johnny Cash, until he heeds the sage advice: Don't Take Your Guns to Town, Son: Leave your guns at home.

Related Reading:

The Virtue of Selfishness—Ayn Rand

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