Perspectives: Good intentions backed by force are not good intentions

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — Trying to help others better understand the proper role of government can be a lot tougher than it sounds.

It’s easy to get bogged down in philosophical abstractions or political slogans such as the “greater good.” Most of us are taught, starting around age 5, to think of government as the great protector and overseer of our lives.

The fact that this compulsory conditioning takes place in a facility that is funded, staffed and run by the government should raise a few eyebrows. But it seldom does.

This learned dependency trains us to obey without question and to always seek permission from someone in authority, no matter how mundane the matter. As a result, many people today tend to put deeper contemplation into the type of shoes they wear than they do to the systems they allow to rule their lives.

Sometimes, however, the mask of benevolent force slips, revealing the authoritarian nature of the state in all its awfulness. When it does, there’s a lesson there that even the most deliberately obtuse will find difficult to justify.

Recently, Prince George’s county authorities in Maryland filed a legal case against an elderly Laurel couple in their 90s who had failed to get bureaucratic permission to build a wheelchair ramp at their home.

A surprising number of otherwise decent people will already be reflexively trying to think of the good intentions as to why this punitive action was necessary. So, let’s spell out a few more facts of the case and see if it can be justified.

Evelyn Strahle, 91, is wheelchair bound. Her 94-year-old husband David Strahle can no longer lift her up and down the two front steps to the home they’ve owned for many years. It’s now a two-person job.

Their son, Bob Strahle, is a builder and was able to build a perfectly sound ramp for his mother’s wheelchair at roughly one-third of the $5,000 cost that an outside contractor would have charged. Unfortunately for them, a county inspector soon came by and told them that they’d have to tear the ramp down because they hadn’t secured the proper permit.

Bob Strahle asked the inspector if he’d inspect the ramp and let him know if there were any modifications that would be required. The inspector refused, simply because the ramp had already been built and there was a bureaucratic process to be followed.

Even when he submitted plans and tried to file for a permit, the county denied him because he hadn’t first sought their permission. Instead, the county mailed an order to his parents demanding they show up in court or “be subject to fines and imprisonment, or both, for contempt of court.”

Rather than subject his parents to potential criminal consequences, Bob Strahle tore down the ramp, effectively limiting his mother’s freedom to leave home in her wheelchair.

Let’s review, for the sake of those engaged in the mental gymnastics necessary to try to make the county’s actions seem reasonable and right.

An elderly couple added a safe, functional and needed wheelchair ramp to their home — on their own property — at no expense to anyone but their own son. No one was injured in the creation of the ramp nor were they endangered by its use.

The ramp caused no harm to any person or their property. It provided a wheelchair-bound 91-year-old woman with a newly found degree of mobility to get in and out of her home safely.

What possible reason was there for government to get involved in the first place?

Why did the county feel the need to clip the wings of a 91-year-old woman? Because their bureaucratic rules demanded that the Strahle family come to the county first, with hat in hand, to beg permission and pay the requisite tribute before being allowed to solve their own problem.

In the face of the reality of what they’ve done, county officials are now backtracking and insisting that “something went awry” in how their functionaries handled the situation. But the truth is out there for anyone with eyes to see it.

The county inspector made a conscious decision to initiate the threat of force and cause harm to the Strahle family, just because the rules said he could. Rather than back away from a situation that would obviously harm this elderly couple, the inspector chose to keep going after a fat paycheck and hiding behind the mantra of “just following orders.”

It’s the perfect illustration of how good intentions, backed by government force, are no different from bad intentions enforced at gunpoint.

Each of us has personal responsibility for our actions. We cannot do bad things — even when ordered to — and still be a good person.

The “greater good” does not give us a free pass to threaten or coerce others who have caused no harm.

Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events and liberty viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!


  • NotSoFast July 30, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    Good example of force. I’m the boss over you buddy! See my badge? Common sense be damn. It’s going to take awhile to correct. Start with some of the ‘good old boys’ in Congress, EPA and working down to the local levels. There’s Socialism creping into the country at every level. Everyone really knows it.
    (Of course that’s just my opinion). Others might have a different opinion. Right?

    • comments July 30, 2018 at 7:37 pm

      muh socialismsssssss!!!!! does the ghost of pres. obongo haunt your dreams?

  • dogmatic July 30, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    I’m sorry but there is a part missing in this article, the part where somebody reported the elderly couple had a ramp built. with my experience city authorities do not drive around looking for trouble, it’s usually a neighbor that had a complaint.
    there is more to this story than they are willing too reported the story smells like the writers are leaving stuff out so as to support the narrative.
    With that being said I think that authorities can keep their stinking hands of what’s on my property.

    And I really don’t like the why the article

    • desertgirl July 31, 2018 at 6:39 am

      You override the obvious point, dogmatic. Doesn’t matter if a neighbor reported the ramp; the government shouldn’t regulate this couple putting a ramp on their own property. Period.

    • statusquo July 31, 2018 at 9:06 am

      Did you miss the part where the “county officials are backtracking and insisting that something went army”? There is nothing missing from the article as written. The government screwed up – as is typical for the government.

  • commonsense July 30, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    Anyone who thinks the government can underwrite our mistakes is a fool. The government is a cruel taskmaster who giveth and taketh away. We best be able to provide and protect ourselves.
    Thank goodness there is legal recourse when the government oversteps its bounds for it is the nature of man to abuse his power.

    • desertgirl July 31, 2018 at 6:41 am

      I agree with you commonsense. Problem is ridiculous regulations cost people money they often cannot afford (hiring a lawyer often). Therein lies the further abuse of power.

      • bikeandfish July 31, 2018 at 8:37 pm

        I actually agree with you on the first point. Too many Americans don’t have viable recourse against government errors and/or abuse. Even the best intented regulations and law can be abused or misapplied and citizens need to have readiky available solutions.

  • desertgirl July 31, 2018 at 6:45 am

    The greater good is subjective; that is why the founding fathers intended, via the constitution, to give the individual the greater power, not government. Greater good is expression used by people who want power.

  • Snarkles July 31, 2018 at 9:14 am

    If the son is a builder, then why didn’t he call the city and ask if they needed a permit for the wheelchair ramp before he built it? He should have known better. Not everyone builds things safely, that is why we have building inspectors. The city handled this badly, but so did the son. Good intentions do not put you above the law.

    • Mike P July 31, 2018 at 11:24 am

      Snarkles, I understand what your saying but it still amuses me that building “inspectors” have all this power and get off telling people what to do, but when something they “Inspect & Approve” goes wrong, they take ZERO responsibility.

    • LocalDad July 31, 2018 at 12:08 pm

      The good Samaritan law does protect people who’s intentions are good, just fyi. But what law are these people not above? You are not talking about the 10th amendment, so it must be the sterling codifier’s laws that the county adopted. Because either way, someone thinks they are above the law here. Is the county is above the law for enforcing their unconstitutional regulations or is the lil’old couple above the law for putting the Constitution before the good’ol boy’s local legal consortium?

  • Mike P July 31, 2018 at 11:19 am

    The nerve !! Who do they think they are, doing something on their OWN property !! Something they want and need? So silly that one would think you own something that’s yours to do with what you want. You never truly own real property. Just try not paying your taxes for a few years !

  • bikeandfish July 31, 2018 at 11:45 am

    The case Hyde uses is one most can agree on regarding an abuse of power. Clearly the inspector and municipality were focused on the letter of the law and not its spirit. The problem is this is a poor example for the inductive reasoning Hyde is trying to use to persuade us that “it’’s the perfect illustration of how good intentions, backed by government force, are no different from bad intentions enforced at gunpoint.” This is a prime example of Hyde’s extreme binary logic and he admits it freely in this essay. Refusing to see the fundamental difference between the flawed strategy of this bureaucratic case compared to “bad intentions enforced at gunpoint” is an abandonment of the common sense and reason Hyde so arrogantly self-promotes.

    And anyone who has read the Constitution and the documents of our founders knows they didn’t even agree on the details of “the proper role of government.” Hyde exposes the way his ideology trumps his knowledge in the very first sentence.

  • Loren July 31, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    A Jeff Sessions law and order guy had this to say in a Facebook post and my reply.

    Law and order guy: “What possible reason was there for government to get involved in the first place?” Because some people build shoddy, dangerous stuff that gets people hurt or killed, that’s why. But as to the title of the article, “Good intentions backed by force are not good intentions”, did Ammon or Lavoy think about that before he took over public land by force?

    My reply: Ammon Bundy has raised the question: “What do we do about it?” What do we do about the gross, egregious and mind boggling suffering caused by the injustices of the government? Government by definition is force. Everything they do is based on force. They used force to tear down 100 year old water works on the Bundy ranch, unsupported by any just reason. They used force to taser Ammon, grind Dave Bundys face in the gravel and throw down his aunt, unjustified force. They used force to try the Hammond’s twice and to convict them as terrorists resulting in 5 year minimum sentences and they used force to make them pay 400k in restitution and they used force to make them sign away rights to their ranch. “What do we do about it?” Meet force with good intentions not backed by force? Is the moral, ethical and righteous thing to do is suffer? Suffer in prison while the unjust justice system is challenged? Suffer while Myhre says that a speedy trial under the law is a 5 year wait? Suffer pretrial prison after the presumption of innocence is denied? Not occupy the remote, closed down wildlife center because it may be seen as an act of force? Then what is the answer? Suffer horrendous prison life, bad smells, bad food, sleep deprivation, abusive guards and strip searches, while the wheels of a corrupt govt turn slowly?

    • bikeandfish July 31, 2018 at 4:05 pm

      Despite Hyde constantly making such references I have never seen strong enough evidence that “government by definition is force. Everything they do is based on force.”. Its a powerful rhetorical trick but nothing much more.

      And it’s ironic and utterly intellectually dishonest to make such a claim while downplaying the armed takeover of federal land as “occupy the remote, closed down wildlife center.” At least be consistent and honest.

      The Bundy’s and Hammonds remain piir examples of innocence hurt by a malicious government. The Bundy’s are criminals who have trespassed on federal lands for decades. They have lied to the American people for far too long. The Hammonds openly talked about lighting wildfires as evidenced by their own family’s testimony. The terrorism law explicitly deals with using fire for domestic terrorism and their actions fit the bill.

      • AnnieMated August 1, 2018 at 8:49 am

        Ammon and Dave Bundy are criminals who were tased because they were threatening officers there just doing their jobs. Their aunt stepped in front of a moving truck. The officer who pushed her out of its way should be commended for saving her life.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.