Russ Roberts, of EconTalk fame, has written a wonderful defense of small governent, resting on the respect of others and humility in light of the difficulty of knowing the desires and dreams that they hold dear. I urge you to read it in its entirety.
The first few paragraphs:
A fan of liberty writes me of her struggle of being surrounded by people with a different world-view–people who make her feel that in defending liberty, she is greedy, selfish, and uncaring. I wrote a novel on this issue–here’s a shorter answer…
Are you greedy, selfish, and uncaring? A little. We all are. Even people who oppose liberty. But I don’t think self-interest explains your view of the proper role of government intervention.
But it’s not surprising that you worry about your motives. In our daily interactions, motives are nearly everything. I want friends and family that care about me and whose motives count me in, alongside their own concerns.
So we pay a lot of attention to motives because they’re important. But the motives of strangers are much less important. For starters, by definition, it is hard to know strangers as well as my friends and family. So their motives will be much harder to read. But there is a much worse problem which is that by definition, strangers don’t have much information or knowledge of my needs, desires, and dreams. They can’t. They’re strangers. It’s hard enough for my friends and family to know me well. But strangers can’t know me well. So even with the best of motives, they may not be able to help me. In fact, they may end up hurting me despite their motives. We know that we sometimes hurt our friends and family even with the best of motives because of our imperfect knowledge of who they are.
This suggests a humility for intervening in the lives of strangers.
It is out of a fundamental respect of the humanity of others that we must let them make their own decisions, even if we disagree with them or believe they will come to regret them. Indeed, even if, in fact, they will come to regret them.
Yes, there are exceptions. But we must try to keep the insight of Roberts’s text at the front of our minds, while discussing how to handle them.