… is from page 180 of Vincent Ostrom’s 1988 paper “Crytoimperialism, Predatory States, and Self-Governance,” as this paper is reprinted in Polycentricity and Local Public Economies (M.D. McGinnis, ed., 1999):
Great dangers arise whenever human beings with strong conviction about the rightness of their cause are authorized to use instruments of evil to do good.
DBx: Perhaps the single best feature of a classically liberal society is the right of each person to say “no” – to say “no” to requests that he or she perform some positive service for others or that he or she turn over to others something that he or she owns.
The libertarian celebration of this right to say “no” is not, contrary to widespread belief, a celebration of greed or even of natural human self-interest. It is, instead, a celebration of the inability of Jones to compel Smith to participate in Jones’s schemes. Smith is free to join with Jones. And if Jones’s proposed course of action is a peaceful and productive one – where “productive” here includes charitable and philanthropic acts – libertarians applaud when Smith chooses to join in with Jones. But libertarians insist that Smith not be forced to join with Jones – that Smith be free to say “no,” and without any requirement to justify his answer to any secular authority.
This protection of each person’s right to say “no” to such requests is the protection of each person’s ability to choose just how his or her own scarce resources and time will be used. The resources, time, and attention even of multi-billionaires are limited and, thus, are inadequate to address every good cause. Best to let each person – including multi-billionaires – choose how their resources, time, and attention will be used rather than turn that choice over to a third party possessing the power to force on each person a particular pattern of use that is judged best by the third party.
This protection does far more than than can possibly be done by majority-rule democracy, uncorrupt courts, widespread religious belief, rulers’ good intentions, or any other real or imagined check on tyranny to genuinely ensure against tyranny.