The Need for Public Authority

Modern Age 24:1 (Winter 1980); reprinted in Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative and Libertarian Debate, George W. Carey, ed. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984; reprinted, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2004).


Some ten years ago, I resigned from Cornel1 University; at that time the university had just been taken over by students carrying guns, and first the administration and then the faculty collapsed into separate but equally ignominious heaps. My resignation then gained me some fleeting fame, which, I suspect led to the invitation to address the Philadelphia Society. At this national meeting of 1969 a speaker expressed his concern that certain elements of civility seemed to be disappearing from American society, and he called for government action designed to restore them, or strengthen them. For ex- ample, if I remember correctly, he favored such programs as school prayers, and public aid to religious education, and the enforcement of the laws against obscenity. another speaker gave a paper that might have been entitled, but was not, “the withering away of the state.” Its thesis, I recall, was that government was unnecessary, except to provide a defense against international marauders; he promised to return the next year with a paper demonstrating that this defense role, too, could be better performed by private police forces, or armies. Whether he came back to deliver that paper, I do not know.

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