Whenever I argue in favor of individual rights, individual liberty or economic freedom, I often make reference to the right to be free from force.

If something is against the law, or if some action is required by law, then you are being forced to engage in that action. It’s a fact, regardless of what conclusion you draw or attitude you have about that fact.

Take, for example, the payment of taxes. If you don’t pay your taxes, you are arrested, prosecuted and, if found guilty, will go to jail. You have no choice about this fact.

However, a lot of progressives and others don’t seem to believe the government is actually forcing people to do things. How can they say this? Government laws and coercion are, by definition, an act of force. I’m not commenting here on whether force is or isn’t justified. I’m simply stating what should be an obvious fact: that force is force.

Here’s an example. Sally Kohn, a popular progressive writer, recently wrote a piece entitled, “Hey, Christian Business Owners: The Government Isn’t ‘Forcing’ You To Do Anything.”

In that piece she says,

You may have heard that the government is forcing businesses not to discriminate. It isn’t. If you chose to run a business, you have to follow the laws. If you don’t, that’s a choice—and you choose to suffer the consequences. The government isn’t forcing [a] business to do anything other than follow the law. Which is what we expect of all businesses, equally. [see Ben Shapiro’s truthrevolt.org, “Kohn: Government Force Isn’t Really Force”]

This is an astonishing example of evasiveness and rationalization. Kohn is essentially saying that if the government outlaws something, or compels you to do something, you still have  “choice” — whether to obey the law, or not. Imprisonment/fines/civil lawsuits — or do as the government says. The “choice” is yours.

On what planet is that a choice? For anyone, in any context, regardless of what the issue is?

What if the government passed a law requiring women to wear veils over their faces? Or what if the government passed a law requiring citizens to kill gay people, or refuse to do business with gay people? Wouldn’t Kohn object to such a law, calling it monstrous and claiming, “The government has no right to force me to do those things”? By her reasoning, the government could turn around and say, “Well, you have a choice, Sally. We’re not forcing you to do anything. You can choose to disobey the law, and suffer the consequences, or follow it.”

How about a law forbidding gay people from having consensual sexual, romantic relationships with one another? (That has been most of history). Would we call that a “choice”?

If the government seized control of the media, a government official could demand that Kohn write articles in support of positions opposite from the ones she holds. Everything in her would probably scream out, “You have no right to force me to do that.” It would be the greatest travesty imaginable, for a writer. Yet by her own logic, the government official would be entirely consistent in telling her she has a “choice” to follow the law … or deal with the consequences.

This is truly madness.

The horrifying thing about Kohn’s rationalization is that it’s the same mentality as that of a totalitarian dictator. A dictator could impose force on you to do anything he or she demands on the premise that, “It’s not force. You can follow orders — or off with your head.” It’s no different in principle, and to leave this blatant error and evasion in thinking unchallenged is to make the world that much safer, ultimately, for dictatorship.

I have wondered, for some time now, how progressives (and other advocates of government-initiated coercion) can deny that most of their policies involve the initiation of force. (I’m not saying conservatives and others are never guilty of this; however, progressives run most of the show, particularly since Obama.)

I’m not talking primarily about the issue of religion in Indiana, although it applies to that. It also applies to anyone who runs a business who does not wish to cater to a particular customer or group.

Like it or not, the freedom to associate with others (or not associate) is a natural, individual right. We all want and relish that right, when it’s convenient and where it applies to us personally. However, if we find the choices of others to be offensive or even irrational, then automatically it becomes a legal issue. That’s probably how Kohn would defend her inconsistency, in fact. “If government passed a law requiring people to do irrational, hateful or wrong things, then it would be bad government; but a government forcing people to do the right thing — well, that’s a progressive government, and that’s the law.” But what happens when people disagree? Are they allowed to follow their own consciences, so long as they don’t commit fraud or impose force themselves? This is the question that’s evaded, and raising the question usually gets you called a “hater.” Loving the principle of freedom of association is not hateful.

If you’re prepared to use government force to require people to do something, you have to be prepared to rationally and morally justify the use of force. You cannot say, “Well it’s not force,” when it plainly is. That’s quite literally a child-like, pre-conceptual assertion that doesn’t stand up even on its own terms. It’s downright Orwellian to claim that force isn’t force.

Much better than George Orwell, consider Ayn Rand’s ideas on the subject, articulated in her novel Atlas Shrugged and elsewhere:

“Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others.

To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival; to force him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight. Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man’s capacity to live.

Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins. When you declare that men are irrational animals and propose to treat them as such, you define thereby your own character and can no longer claim the sanction of reason—as no advocate of contradictions can claim it. There can be no “right” to destroy the source of rights, the only means of judging right and wrong: the mind.”

Rand’s comments illustrate what’s really at stake here. To take away people’s choices is to take away our most important tool for survival and happiness: Our own minds. It’s a subject that should be equally important to the religious, the nonreligious, the gay, the heterosexual, and absolutely everybody else. We are sovereign over our own minds and choices. Nobody owns those. It’s neither “liberal” nor “progressive” to claim otherwise — unless your definition of progress is movement towards a totalitarian dictatorship.

The moment we stop calling force what it is, is the moment we have, in effect, rolled over for what any right-wing or left-wing fascist dictatorship seeks to impose on us. It starts out as the psychological equivalent of suicide, and ends up as the literal end of civilization.