The quote from Ron Paul is profound. Paul recognizes that the “goal of government isn’t to mold society and mold the people.” I would go further. I would contend that the goal of society isn’t to mold the people. People mold society to fit their purpose. If their purpose is strictly cooperative, society thrives on a large scale and individuals enjoy the benefits of private property, liberty and peace. If, however, their purpose is to proselytize others to some particular moral point of view, society may thrive but only on a small scale. When moral zealots gain control of a large, diverse society, whether by means of politics or culture, that society will either crack up and balkanize or drift into some variation of theocracy.
Despite its predominantly Christian heritage and culture, American society has always been secular, tolerant and cooperative. It’s why America is not Europe. Any effort to change this tradition, whether by Christians, Islamists or militant “progressives,” is in effect an effort to destroy American society as we’ve known it.
My comment begs the question: What are the hallmarks of a "strictly cooperative" society? The answer to this question requires a bit of tedious reasoning.
Man acts, i.e., he uses means available to attain a particular end or goal. This is the premise of the reasoning of Ludwig von Mises and all of Austrian economics. When a man seeks to attain a particular end which he cannot attain or cannot attain to his satisfaction acting alone, he seeks to use the means of cooperative action, which is mutual or coodinated action. He seeks out a potential cooperative partner (or partners), who is like-minded with regard to the end sought. He strikes an agreement to use means available to both himself and his partner in order to attain their mutually desired end.
We may ask ourselves, what type of agreement must be struck by the cooperating partners, to ensure not only that proper means are used to attain the end sought in common, but also that both partners will actually benefit from the end sought once attained?
The first part of this question is largely technical and practical. The partners must agree to an arbitrary set of rules of cooperative action which they believe will attain the end sought, a set of prescribed and proscribed individual actions, if you will, that both agree are appropriate to attaining the end sought. If no agreement can be reached, cooperative action cannot proceed. If an agreement is reached, cooperative action can proceed, but there is no guarantee that the agreed upon prescriptions and proscriptions of individual action will, in reality, attain the end sought. Life is nothing if it is not uncertain.
The second part of the question is most critical. Assume the joint means devised will indeed attain the mutually sought end. How do our prospective cooperative partners ensure that each will benefit from that end, once attained?
It seems clear that each partner could prevent the other partner from attaining the end sought by either killing his partner, once the end is attained, or by simply taking it entirely for himself. Thus, it follows that our prospective cooperators must agree to proscribe two individual actions in order for their cooperative action to commence and be satisfactory to both. The cooperative partners must agree to proscribe murder and theft and all their corollaries (assault, battery, extortion, embezzlement and the like). These proscriptions imply that our cooperative partners have individual rights of life and property guaranteed by the cooperative agreement. It is absurd to believe that a cooperative action could end satisfactorily without such proscriptions because such a notion contradicts the premise that man acts with purpose, i.e., to attain a particular end.
Does such a cooperative agreement require some sort of mutally agreed upon enforcement mechanism to ensure that both parties actually abide by the agreed upon prosciptions? Not necessarily. A final agreement presupposes that both parties are either confident they will attain the end sought or that one or both parties are imprudent. Either way, a cooperative action can commence. Whether it will end satisfactorily for all depends on the means agreed to and the integrity and honesty of the partners involved. The salient point is in order for the cooperative action to commence and succeed, both partners must believe they will attain the end sought in whole or in some agreed upon portion.
It should be clear from all this that cooperative actions do not always succeed. However, excepting the stupidity and naivete on the part of particular partners, cooperative actions cannot commence without proscriptions against murder and theft. All other criteria for cooperative action are secondary and arbitrary. What other conclusions can we draw from all this?
First and foremost, that the title of this post contains a redundancy. Society, by definition, is and must be cooperative. Second, that a society which proscribes or outlaws murder and theft, but little else, will be generally open and intolerant, and will have widespread appeal to prospective cooperators. On the other hand, a society which not only proscribes murder and theft, but also prescribes and proscribes a host of other individual actions for moral, religious, cultural or other reasons, will be generally intolerant and closed and will have a narrow appeal to prospective cooperators.
So the hallmarks of the closed and intolerant society will be some degree of tyranny, tenuous property rights and conflict, while the hallmarks of the open and tolerant society will be property, freedom and peace.