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“The perfect is the enemy of the good”

Voltaire, a favorite philosopher, said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” So did Gustave Flaubert. And apparently also Joseph Addison.

Plagiarism or just “great minds”? No matter. It’s a fine thought, and I try to remind myself of it when I’m otherwise inclined to say, “Oh, to heck with even trying.”

Perfection and procrastination are evil twins. Unfreedom is their kissing cousin.

Because we can’t have perfect results, to heck with it; we just won’t bother. This losing game is as true in self-liberation as it is in learning to draw, building a house, running a marathon, or attempting to lose weight.

For instance …

I’m a libertarian. Specifically, I’m a member of a sub-category of libertarians who call themselves anarcho-capitalists, individualist anarchists, or free-market anarchists. (“Anarchist” doesn’t mean we throw bombs or smash Nike stores while wearing Nikes. It just means we believe peaceable people can govern themselves better than politicians can govern anybody — a proposition whose veracity grows more obvious every day.)

“Ancaps” are often a brilliant bunch. But when it comes to the real world … well, sometimes we’re an idiot breed. We’re often fixated on being “philosophically purer than thou” — to the point of self-destruction. I’ve heard my fellows declare, for instance, and declare loudly, hotly, and with vast self-righteousness, that they will absolutely, under no circumstances, consider themselves free until they can do exactly what they want with their private property with zero interference from governments, neighborhood groups, homeowners associations, laws, rules, regulations, peer pressure, or social convention.

Well, good luck with that, guys.

I’m sure most people hereabouts aren’t so pig-headed. But how often have we assumed that we’re only free if laws and regulations “allow” us to be?

If you’re not going to consider yourself free until you’ve got the whole wide world — or even a majority of its v*ters — or maybe a majority of its paperwork — in agreement with you, you’re never going to be free.

Voltaire said lots of other things I like. Many of them are at that link. Here’s another one: “Man is free at the instant he wants to be.”

Of course, Voltaire also famously said, “Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.” Which is usually translated these days as, “It’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.” Yeah. Ain’t that the truth?

So there’s one of our chief balancing acts as freedom seekers: Deciding to be free, proceeding to be free, and hopefully avoiding getting whacked along the way.

But if we demand any form of perfection — including “I won’t be free until I can be completely assured the government won’t hurt me” — then we’ll never be free because we’ll never seriously try.


  1. Winston
    Winston January 23, 2010 4:32 pm

    I think about this often….

    Within reason, I support most any effort towards liberty. I’m no fan of government but I’m perfectly fine with a nice free, well balanced republic with a true free market economy; that will leave me alone if I so desire…you know, kinda like the one that the US was at one time. Yet some will shoot this idea down like a lead balloon, because there’s still some taxation involved, or because there’s still government involved period. While the founders republic has it’s flaws, I mostly stick with this rather reasonable ideal instead of utopian pipe dreams. It’s not perfect, but it’s good….
    Some libertarians remind me of little kids. “I’m goin to my cabin and I’m not comin out till the taxes are gone and I can buy a machinegun!”

  2. Socalserf
    Socalserf January 24, 2010 9:56 pm

    I try not to get too fussy about ideology.

    Think and act free, it’s 9/10th of the battle.

  3. George Potter
    George Potter January 25, 2010 3:47 pm

    A point to be made is that ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good’ because, except in subjective mindsets, ‘perfect’ is [i]unobtainable[/i]. It’s also [i]dangerous[/i]. The seeking of the perfect is the heart of every glowing campaign speech and political promise. For liberals, ‘perfect’ exists somewhere beyond a misty cloud of proposed legislation and newly enforced behavioral codes. To the ‘conservative’ it exists somewhere behind the misty cloud of the past and [i]re-instated[/] behavioral codes. Both philosophies are foolish, and would be harmless if so many people didn’t buy it every time is came up on the auction block.

    Want a machine gun? Get one. Don’t want to pay taxes? Go black market or build your own. Freedom is obtainable, even in this regulated world, but it’s not easy.

  4. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal January 25, 2010 4:07 pm

    Ah…. It’s like a breath of fresh air to have Claire back! I’ve MISSED you!!!

  5. Brian
    Brian January 30, 2010 10:15 pm

    I also consider myself an anarcho-capitalist. I believe that nothing good can come of government and that it is an institution of pure evil.

    Having said that, if we could have a government that fit within the confines of its paper prison, the Constitution……I’d be happy.

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