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A Nation Isn’t A House

Peter Yoo asks that I again share here at Cafe Hayek my September 2007 Freeman article entitled “The Nation Is Not a House.”  A slice:

Analogizing a nation to a home creates the myth that citizens of a nation can, and do, trust each other in ways that members of the same household typically trust each other. But, of course, when I lock my home at night I do so to guard against violence and theft that might otherwise be inflicted on my family by other Americans. If every foreigner were immediately and forever expelled from the United States today, I—like all Americans—would be not one whit less vigilant in locking my home.

The fact is that the relationships each of us has with our fellow citizens overwhelmingly are of the arm’s-length, impersonal variety. They are market relationships, governed chiefly by self-interest on both sides of each exchange. They are not the sorts of personal relationships that guide decisions made within households. They are, indeed, precisely the sorts of relationships that each of us has with strangers from foreign countries.

So what value is there in analogizing a nation to a home? Very little. No one would seriously insist that each city should shut down its streets at night (on the grounds that private homes at night become inactive). No one would seriously demand that each pedestrian on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue or on New Orleans’s Bourbon Street first secure a specific invitation to stroll those famous boulevards. And very few Americans would agree to give to the government the same sort of power to govern speech and personal behavior that members of each household routinely exercise over each other.


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