The Mandatory Mind

The Biden administration, following through on a campaign promise, has issued a mask mandate for all public transportation users in America, suddenly making it a federal crime to refuse to wear a mask in a train station, airport, bus or ferry terminal, and the like. Rather than getting bogged down in questions about whether universal mask-wearing is effective against this pandemic, or even the constitutional question of whether the federal government has any legitimate power to issue such a mandate, let us take a moment to step back and examine the psychology of mandates. For in an age of runaway authoritarianism, quibbling over the loss of one’s “rights” is less important to those of us who see what is happening, and where it will inevitably lead, than the supra-political imperative of seeking the superior vantage point of the free soul, which is to say the untouchable perspective of understanding.

Mandates, in the sense of authoritative commands or dictates which may not be refused, are the perennial urge of the spiritually weak, the frightened, and, somewhat paradoxically, the dependent. The itch to force actions where one cannot persuade, or to restrict them where one cannot dissuade — along with the inability to simply forebear when others are unwilling to bend to your best admonitions and advice — bespeaks an essential lack of maturity, honor, and dignity. In short, he who quickly and easily succumbs to the mandatory urge is severely deficient in those character traits that people in more civilized ages referred to as “being a gentleman.” Though the term is typically used in specifically political contexts, the sense and sentiments involved derive from apolitical life.

The man who, unable to earn a good woman’s devotion, or even to entice a bad one’s lust, lowers himself to rape, is succumbing to the urge to mandate. Likewise the husband who intimidates or abuses his wife to prevent her from working or meeting friends outside of the home; the wife who routinely threatens in a sobbing fit to leave her husband or to harm herself, as a means of subordinating his independent will; the cult leader who demands absolute and unrivalled loyalty at all times from his followers, and uses looming threats of social ostracism and group hatred to control their thought and behavior; the teacher who browbeats children with the promise of painful or embarrassing punishments merely to keep them quietly sitting in their tidy rows, stifling all their best energies, in an attempt to mask his own fear of losing their interest and enthusiasm.

In all of these cases, and a thousand similar ones, the individual is expressing an immature, which is to say childish, demand to have his will obeyed without having to acknowledge, let alone contend with, the alternative wills of the other individuals whose minds and actions he would compel.

I describe this urge to mandate as “childish” partly to emphasize that it has roots in human nature, or more precisely in underdeveloped elements of our nature. Will, desire, and wish are all terms denoting essential motives of life, without which we would do nothing, and could not develop ourselves in any way. As the experiences of earliest life begin to reveal to the child some links between the needs he innately feels and various objects or conditions in his surroundings that seem to answer to those needs, the natural primordial impulse is to grab those objects, or alternatively, when immediate possession is not within his own power, to demand that others provide him with the conditions he feels he needs. He cries until someone satisfies his aim. He screams if the crying does not bring the desired effect. If this too proves ineffectual, he stomps his feet and fumes with indignation. At last, if he still feels his desire is being thwarted or disobeyed by others, he punches or kicks at them in a fury. Though he may lack the physical power to achieve it, his goal at this stage is clearly to coerce others to provide him with the needed result, disregarding any concern for the wishes — the independent will, the free choice — of those others.

This is the simplest and least appealing childish expression of human will. Because it is natural in its origins, and merely the product of irrational immaturity, we may smile or laugh admiringly at the child’s “willfulness” or tenacity. Nevertheless, any responsible adult also knows that this inclination to forcibly control others’ actions without respect for their moral agency is a symptom of the child’s feeling of weakness, his lack of reasoning and communication skills, and his deficient appreciation for the independent lives and wills of other humans, whom the child still tends to perceive primarily as (“good” or “bad”) facilitators of his own well-being.

This childish expression of will, including the implicit assessment of humans as good or bad on the basis of whether or not they comply with one’s own desires, is indicative of a soul lacking character, continence, and/or the basic intellectual sobriety to perceive others as independent agents in their own rights, separate from and equivalent to oneself. Part of the essential function of any child-rearing strategy worthy of the name of education is to moderate this mandatory urge through demonstration and habit, and then to gradually supplant it altogether in favor of the methods and attitudes of self-reliance and rational discourse. An education process which fails to lead the child to this more elevated perspective of mature humanity is deeply corruptive of civil society. An education process that intentionally entrenches and justifies the childish urge to issue mandates on the pretense that it bespeaks a proper expression of advanced moral feeling is tyrannical, in the sense of deliberately honing a society for the rule of coercive demands, government by collective temper tantrum. 

The proper role of government in a free society is primarily to protect the citizens against this urge to mandate if and when it appears within adult social interaction in a manner that disrupts civil life. A free republic, the state suitable for adults, is in effect a negative mandate, i.e., an overriding mandate against mandates. A system of government, by contrast, which identifies itself as an issuer of mandates, rather than a protector of the people against the irrationalism of compulsion, is fundamentally childish and despotic in nature — for despotism is at heart nothing but childishness with control of the weapons. This is true whether the despotic tendency manifests itself in the overtly draconian oppression of whips and chains or in allegedly benign efforts to “correct social problems.” Indeed, as the leading despotic movements of our late modern age amply demonstrate, the mandatory urge has no more effective mask than the rationalizations of “equality,” “progress,” “compassion,” and “caring.” Redistributive justice is mandatory property-sharing. Hate speech laws are mandates on right-thinking. Anti-discrimination laws combine the previous two types of mandates. Universal compulsory schooling is mandatory mental retardation and emotional indoctrination, in addition to being the mandatory disintegration of private families and local communities. One may continue on and on with more examples of this same principle. 

A society in which politicians, bureaucrats, and their intellectual backers routinely advocate mandates as solutions, and moreover in which the people “willingly” vote to elect leaders promising such mandates, which is to say promising the tyranny of childish irrationalism — promising to disregard the adult wills of all individuals in favor of the arbitrary desires of those who claim to “represent” the interests of the majority — is a society of slaves. Such a society has relinquished its soul to rule by force, rule without reason. It has succumbed to lawlessness and power lust. 

It has reduced itself from the liberty of adult self-determination and limited government to the servitude of the immature and increasingly limiting world of mandates.

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