Posts Tagged ‘Liberty’

Liberty’s Last Gasps

Monday, May 25th, 2015

We live in the time of a desperate struggle no politician seems willing to name.  Our nation is sinking back into the swamp from which it emerged, in a world still dominated by primitive, tribalism from which we seem unable or unwilling to escape.    We do not examine our philosophy any longer, and we do not consider the meaning of our abandonment of principles, much less the result of such evasions.  A culture is only as good as its underlying philosophy, but ours is damaged seemingly beyond repair.  America had always suffered from contradictions, but now they are not exceptional “one-offs” but the the norm.  Those of us who have bothered to understand these dire problems have grown weary, and I am among those who no longer wish to repeat the same things, because the intended audience seems unmoved.  We are giving away our liberty, and for all of the missteps of the last two-hundred years, America survived despite them, but this situation will not persist indefinitely.  If the America our founders had envisioned is to be reborn, rejuvenated, and revived, we must do the work.  We must explain it.  We must be its advocates.  We must be willing to have the arguments.  Whether America will survive or perish, it is up to us to make its case, but to do so, we must first understand what had made America.

To understand what had been unique about America, let us consider that feature, the underlying notion, which had been at the heart of its founding, its growth, and its success.  Let us be careful to carve out only that which had made this country substantially different from all the others, lest we fall into the trap of misidentifying its greatest virtues.  Among all the things one might say about America, it’s most fundamental principle had been that “man is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights.”  Whether you took that endowment to be a product of “Nature or Nature’s God,” the simplicity of this idea is that which had set America apart.  For the first time in all of human history, a government was formed that declared that it was not the ultimate arbiter and owner of all men under the sphere of its control.  In all other systems before it, and all the systems arising since, men were chattel of the state in some form or fashion. In short, they were still property of the tribe.   This was true whether you were subject to the “Divine Right of Kings,” or property of the collective as in the Soviet Union.  This has remained true in all the welfare states of Europe, and with a sickening degree of rapidity, has been increasingly adopted here in the United States over the last century.  These are the definitions of statism.  America had been the first system to reject statism.

There are those who will immediately critique the American experiment because it permitted slavery for most of its first one-hundred years.  Despicable though that institution had been, what they hope you will not notice about the former American institution of slavery, now dead more than one-and-one-half centuries, is that which it had not been: Ownership of men by the state.  This distinction, while superficial and meaningless to the objects of slavery, was the only reason the practice could be ended.  Once ended, America was a country without men as chattel.  In fact, it was the only period in all of human history in which such a society ever existed.  It was the period of the greatest unrivaled growth and economic prosperity generated by man.  All the prosperity that has followed was born of this era.  We linger as a modern society now, our vestiges of civilization now only a facade, because of the achievements of that industrial age, the age of capitalism.  It is only recently that the bequeath of that generation is finally running out of steam, because we have destroyed its underpinnings in degrees and steps ever since.  We have permitted the destruction of liberty, and slowly, in bits and pieces, returned mankind to the ownership of the state.  What we face today is only the last act of a play set in motion more than a century ago, by men whose motives were short-run and political.  It was the birth of national “pragmatism.”

The principle that man is an end in and of himself, without reference to another soul, had been the bedrock of America.  That principle has been polluted, deprecated, denounced, and demolished.  Now we see the abysmal spectacle of man the slave to man via the commands of the state.  We have escaped only to permit ourselves to again become captive to the same old treachery.  In what other manner can you explain the idea that a person subject to the laws of the United States must now be held to pay support for every artifact of modern convenience for every other soul?  How else can one explain Obamacare, SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, AFDC, WIC, Section 8 Housing, “Obama-phones,” “Free” Internet, and all the myriad other “benefits” or “entitlements” of our allegedly civilized age?  We have no need to complain of a military-industrial complex, or of foreign aid, for all the evils they may impose, because these represent a pittance of the national expenditure when compared with all the rest.   No, what we have permitted, at first in small pieces and by small enumerations, is the enslavement of all men to all men via the artifices of the state.

We love to speak of our freedom of speech, our freedom of religion and the press, and our right to keep and bear arms, but these too are now taking a beating under the enslavement of all to all.  You have the right to free speech lest you offend somebody.  You have the right of free exercise of religion lest it offend somebody.  You have the right of a free press, but no press anywhere, except perhaps in small ways in the blogosphere is free any longer.  You have the right to bear arms in your own defense, but only in such fashion as it doesn’t offend or frighten anybody, or permit you the ability to actually repel somebody who might attack you.  You have the right to pursue happiness, but no right to hold onto the material implementations of happiness that your own exertions may have afforded to you otherwise.  These liberties were all born of the notion that no man is owned by the state, and yet slowly and seemingly irretrievably, these “rights” have been yielded back to the state.  Still, these are mere symptoms of the greater disease that is rotting away the core and health of the American political environment.  The root of this disease is philosophical, but it will not be cured by political slogans.

Men must not be owned, either directly by other men, or through a surrogate called “the state” or “society.”  So long as we permit this idea to fester and grow, it is a cancer slowly metastasizing to all parts of the body of American culture and politics.  It has destroyed our philosophy.  It has permitted egregious inconsistencies and contradictions in our laws.  It has enabled the would-be slave-masters to re-establish a foothold in a wider fashion than nineteenth century slavery ever could.  What we have permitted to be lost is the philosophical core of our argument, and every retreat or defeat in politics of the last century has been merely a symptom of the surrender of this principle: Man is endowed with unalienable rights, and it is governments’ sole legitimate purpose to defend them.  Instead, we now see that government has become the worst offender, and we wonder why we can make no ground on subsidiary concretes.

If you wish to salvage America, if it is to be done at all, the only answer is to restore in law and in fact the philosophy that holds man as his own rightful property, and his life and his liberties as the material implementation of that fact.  Please do not bother about statist notions of “obligations” or “responsibilities” of free men.  The only actual, logical “obligation” of a free man is to respect those same rights among other men, and his only collectivized “responsibility” is to pay for the upholding of those rights among all men.  This is the sole justification of governments, and it is the sole reason that any form of taxation is logically (and morally) permissible.  This means a court system, to resolve disputes among men; a policing mechanism, to apprehend those who violate the rights of men; a national defense to protect against massive attacks on the rights of men.  Deprived of the ability to use the power of the state as a gun aimed at the heads of other men in the name of their own peculiar interests, with the threat of a watchful state waiting to punish such aggressors, men must deal with one another by volitional means, i.e., “free trade” or “commerce.”

This had been our founders’ vision.  To the degree they failed to “perfect” it, they nevertheless left us the means by which to do so.  Instead, we have tarnished their ideals, and rejected their core philosophy in favor of the “pragmatic” expediencies of the moment.  We have failed to educate our young, and we have failed to remind ourselves why it is that America had been different, and why there was so much to be gained here for all men, everywhere.  It was not the material wealth of America’s resources that permitted her growth, but the idea at the heart of its laws and traditions that each person is an end in themselves, and that no person or collection of persons had the authority to disparage those rights.  Today, rights are being disparaged and deprecated at a mind-numbing pace, and we have none to blame but ourselves.  If we are to resurrect liberty from its dying gasps, we must know and publicly identify the cause of its impending death, and we must not shrink from standing in the breech in liberty’s waning moments.  Stand there, and others will accompany you, bolstered by your courage.  If not, we’ve already lost.

Advertisements

Texas Liberty: Lost to History?

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

As readers will remember, I’ve covered the case of Army Master Sergeant Christopher “CJ” Grisham, who was arrested, tried, re-tried, and finally convicted of a misdemeanor charge of “interfering with a public servant,” in Bell County, Texas.  The case arose out of a ridiculous case of officer over-reaction in a rural area of Temple, Texas, where Grisham and his son were on a hike for a merit badge for the boy’s scouting pursuits.  What bothers me most about this case is a circumstance that should cause every American to recoil in anger: Here was a man committing no crime, threatening no person, but an officer showed up and made a criminal of him by acting in outrageous fashion.  I’m not going to re-argue the case, as it is currently under appeal, but there is a subtext to this story that makes me ill.  Persons in the community claiming to be conservative, yet taking the side of the law enforcement officer in this case are cowardly fools.  There should have been no case.  There should have been no arrest.  There should have been no initial call from a passerby who observed the “armed subject.”  We live in a nation of cowards, and some of them claim to be “conservatives.” This wretched, skulking view of liberty sickens me. We have now supposed “conservatives” who pose as advocates of liberties they would rather you not exercise, and of all places, in Texas.

Let me assert from the outset that an armed person hiking along the rural roadways of Texas really ought not be a matter for law enforcement.  There is no law in Texas against openly carrying a long gun, whether rifle or shotgun, and Grisham was not threatening any person.  He wasn’t brandishing the firearm, or waving it around, or otherwise doing anything that would indicate any aggressive action.  Sadly, the mere presence of the firearm suggests to some very dim-witted persons a threat that does not exist.  These same nit-wits do not flinch at the presence of firearms on the persons of law enforcement officers, but slung from the neck of a citizen, it’s another matter.  It is either cowardice or malice that leads to such calls to law enforcement.

On the side of malice, there are those in every community who hate firearms, largely because they live in fear.  They are participants in a nonsensical agenda aimed at disarming the country, believing that some Utopia is possible absent guns.  These are the same dolts who supported the enactment of Obama-care, or who are happy to vote for every statist that promises them a paradise on Earth, free of want and fear.  These are the overt enemies of liberty, and Texans, of all the people in America, should shun them as reprobates.  They fear liberty as they fear life itself.  They are not fit to live among civilized people, and therefore seek to reduce civilization to a world of mandates and dicta from on high.

As bad as the open enemies of liberty may be, there is another group I estimate to be perhaps worse.  There are those who proclaim themselves “conservative,” but who are no less fearful or debauched in their thinking.  Actual conservatives do not live in fear of bogey-men.  They do not live in fear of inanimate objects or tools. They do not pretend to themselves that a society in which guns are forbidden from public view, or forbidden altogether will be somehow safe from harm.  All the evidence gathered about crime and guns over the last half-century demonstrates convincingly that the more citizens are armed, the safer their communities will be.  In stark contrast, the fewer citizens who are armed, the more common it will be for people to fall prey to monsters and madmen.  Those claiming “conservatism” as their general ideology should know better, and reason should be their guide, but what we really have is a number of people who don’t really believe anything except that “liberals are bad.”  They don’t adhere to principles, and they don’t really know why they’re “conservatives.”

One of the arguments you hear from this crowd is that “Grisham was only carrying to prove a point.” This bizarre logic would have you believe that somehow, if only for the sake of doing what the law permits, Grisham would be guilty of some crime.  What they are too cowardly to understand is that to retain our freedoms, we ought to exercise them openly and in full light of day as the means by which to reinforce their validity.  What they mistakenly believe is that we ought to have rights, but never to exercise them.  This bastardized view of liberty has led nation after nation, and civilizations from time immemorial to utter collapse and tyranny.  A right not exercised out of a fear of persecution is no right at all.  What one can learn from the Grisham case is that while many politicians and persons in Bell County Texas may claim to support liberty and gun rights, the truth is that they don’t support their exercise. In much the same fashion, Phil Robertson is being persecuted for his beliefs. None will dare say that he isn’t entitled to them, but too many will shrink from his right to state them.  So goes “free speech” or “free exercise of religion” in modern America.

There exists also some abiding but misplaced sense of fealty to local law enforcement.  I love the people who earnestly take up the defense of our lives and liberties, but I strenuously oppose any who would abuse citizens under color of law.  More, those who speak out about this subject are often ostracized for what boils down to simple boat-rocking.  Speaking out in a Texas community against the actions of law enforcement officers in some particular cases is tantamount to becoming a leper in the community.  It is the preposterous proclamation of the idea that “we have rights, but we ought never exercise them” that emboldens those with tyrannical mindsets to such actions.  Why did the officer in this case seek to disarm Grisham, who was doing nothing illegal, threatening no one, and harming not a soul?  Why did he do so without warning?  Why did he take on the power of the state as an aggressor?  The reason is simple: He believed he would be safe in so doing.  He believed he would get away with it, and thus far, the legal farce in Bell County courtrooms stage-managed by visiting judge Neal Richardson have borne out his belief.

What we really have here is a simpler question, truth be told: Was Grisham out to “interfere with a public servant,” or was a public servant out to interfere with a citizen’s free exercise of liberty?  I would conclude in this case that it had been the latter, but so many of my fellow citizens seem to fear such a “revolutionary” idea. Each year, Texans celebrate their own independence, and remember the Alamo, but then quietly and meekly ignore the meaning of those things they claim to hold dear.  Each and every time they participate in one of these sham trials against a citizen who had really done nothing but exercise the liberties they claim to support, they mark themselves as frauds and pretenders. “Don’t mess with Texas,” they’ll say in imitation of the state’s anti-littering campaign, but “go ahead and mess with Texans,” they’ll meekly admit.

When I decided with my family to remain in Texas after my military service, it was based on the idea that we would become Texans.  We wouldn’t try to re-shape the state or its people into the form or image of what we had escaped, but instead adopt to ourselves the history and culture of a freedom-loving place.  I believed that meant something special, which is to say that I believed at the time that Texans were fiercely protective of their freedoms.  Nowadays, seeing what passes for “conservatism” in so much of the Lone Star State, I’m no longer certain my assessment had been correct.  Texans may like the imagery of prideful independence, but slowly and surely, they are joining many of their fellow Americans in the slide into servitude.  I know there are still a number of Texans of the sort I had hoped to become, but their number is dwindling fast, much too fast, as it becomes increasingly fashionable to spout about liberty but never to exercise it.  It is this sort of cowardice that is uncharacteristically un-Texan, and yet it seems to grow like a cancer, metastasizing through the entire body of the state, undermining the appearance of independence still claimed by its residents.

Supposed “conservatives” in Texas who enable this decline are the more objectionable to me.  On the federal level, we have one conservative Senator, Ted Cruz, and one cowardly Senator, John Cornyn.  Cruz actually fights to the limits of his ability. Cornyn pretends to fight for us, but all too often fights against conservatism, joining with the left in their various plots and plans.  At the state level, it’s much the same. We have a number of crony capitalists who claim conservatism, but only a few hands-full of actual conservatives.  You might wonder how this could be the case in Texas, of all places, but the answer is clear: Too many supposed conservatives among the voting populace are similarly opposed to boat-rocking because too few really want freedom complete with its ups and downs; its rewards and risks.  We’re losing our culture, and it’s sad that having discovered the freedoms of Texas at twenty-five years of age, and having the courage to make of it our new home, I now find that the courage that had attracted me to the people and places of Texas is slowly bleeding away.  When I see shoddy argumentation demanding a surrender of rights while claiming to possess them, I know that this is not the Texas with which I had become so enamored in my youth.

Texas needs new leaders, and it needs them soon, but to get the sort of men and women who can save the state, we will need citizens with the courage and will to do so.  Texans invest a lot of time proclaiming their pride in this state, and what it purports to be, but the truth is that nowadays, that’s more boast than fact.  From the statehouse to the local governments, Texans are yielding liberty at an astonishing pace, as our “independent school districts” run wild, spending outrageous sums on unnecessary things, our local governments grow and become more reliant on the state, that in its turn becomes merely a localized, branch establishment of the federal leviathan.  CJ Grisham’s case is just one among many, as the cowardice of too many alleged conservatives comes to dominate our polity.   Everywhere, government entities are clamping down on liberties long-enjoyed but less and less frequently exercised.  We’re told by our neighbors and friends that we should not exercise them, for fear of retribution or rocking the boat, but one must ask what sort of sinking ship of freedom we’re aboard, that we no longer dare evince these rights by carrying them into execution.  Don’t speak out, or you will be ostracized.  Don’t walk in public with a firearm lest you be arrested for contrived causes.  Don’t be a Texan, whatever you may claim, because real Texans are going extinct, like the dinosaurs, and good riddance, it seems.

All hope is not lost, but it’s time to re-evaluate our position.  Christians now hide their faith lest they be publicly pilloried for it.  Conservatives refuse to be conservative, lest their noncommittal acquaintances think the less of them.  Men and women are now chastised for speaking of freedom, never mind exercising it.  Over the last several years, there has been talk of “the wussification of America,” but no place in the country has it become more evident of late than in Texas, perhaps precisely because of the contrast provided by its peoples’ former strengths. Where once dwelt a vast majority of rugged individuals among the blue-bonnets, we now find a population increasingly composed of shrinking violets who dare not stand for the right.  Any right.  We must endeavor to fight this slide, and we must do so in the city council meetings, the counties’ commissioners courts, and in the legislature.  Time for a resurgence of liberty in Texas is growing short.  The most important places in which we must make a stand are among our friends, families, and neighbors, among whom the number of gone-wobbly seems to increase daily.  It’s time for the voices of freeborn men and women to be heard, and if not in Texas, one must wonder where those voices will resound again.  It’s a damnable shame that as Texas begins the approach to its bicentennial, we may find ourselves in a state where our claims to liberty are all hat but no cattle.  Stand up Texans!  You have a famous heritage based on the bold and courageous, but so must your children and their progeny beyond.  We must exercise our rights, or yield them, surrendering them forever more.  One new Texan’s final diary entry must be our guide:

“No time for memorandums now. Go ahead! Liberty and Independence forever. “– David Crockett, March 5th, 1836

Freedom: Will We Keep It?

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Which freedom?

As I logged out of a remote session between my home and my office this morning, having initiated some much-needed maintenance on some critical equipment, I pondered the meaning of the holiday most will be enjoying today.  As I take a short break before heading into work to complete the maintenance on-site, it strikes me as tragic that we could let such a wonderful country slip from our grasp.  Two-hundred-thirty-seven years ago, our founders endeavored to create something that had never been: An independent nation of independent people, each free to pursue their own ends in responsible respect for the rights of every other.  The most pressing task of their day was not really in fighting the British, but in convincing their fellow colonials to join them in the fight.  As we look forward to a country rapidly crumbling under a weight of government our founders could not have imagined, we must again make the case to our countrymen that freedom is worth the fight.

In the sixties, it became fashionable in some circles to claim as a popular song of the time that “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”  That sentiment has become the undercurrent and the back-drop for a cultural decline that now pervades our national spirit, as the concept was injected into the realm of the politics.  Too frequently, men and women born to freedom surrender some facet of that liberty in the name of Janis Joplin’s lament, the implication being that freedom is merely the result of having nothing.  The pragmatist’s sing-song, claiming that freedom is a pointless exercise without material or spiritual values is a detestable lie that has gained something akin to a majority’s acceptance in modern America.  True freedom, they would claim, is the state of having nothing, or of being nothing, such that to have anything, one must yield one’s liberty, or that to be truly free, one must surrender life itself.  As Ayn Rand observed, the collectivists extol the virtues of freedom – but only as obtained in one’s grave.  As our founders had done, I stand opposed to their anthem, and its corrupt concept of freedom.

Freedom is not the absence of material or spiritual values.  Indeed, real freedom is possessed of the ability to obtain material and spiritual values without interference from others, the capacity to establish one’s own course without infringements, and the presumption of sovereignty over one’s life and property.  By setting values against freedom, the statists’ lament is intended to trick you into surrendering both.  Neither do you wish for the “full freedom” of the grave, wherein lies its ultimate expression by their estimates, nor do you wish to be in perpetual servitude as a kept being, left on a causeless, pointless system of life-support in exchange for your lack of self-direction.  Instead, they preach, you should seek to achieve a “balance” between the perfect  freedom of the grave and the tyranny of perfect servitude.  This false dichotomy is the first argument they must convince you to accept, and it was the false thesis our founders were compelled to destroy.

As most of my readers know too well, freedom is not the human escape from life, as statists would contend, but the extension and enhancement of life by the ability to self-govern.  Whether on a national scale, or on an individual basis, self-determination is the real object of the statists’ attack.  You must suborn your wishes to those of your community, that must in turn submit to the will of the state, that must finally concede any nationalistic impulse in the interests of all humanity, according to their prescriptions.  Their ugly secret lies in the fact that all along the way, they have rigged what will come to be considered the interests of the community, the country, and the entire planet.  In short, their interests are simultaneously pro-humanity and anti-human, which means a generally benevolent sentiment toward the whole of humankind through a focused malevolence of policies against all individuals.

The simple truth is that they offer the classic carrot and stick.  On the one hand, the easy enticements of the welfare state and managed compliance, but in the other, the brandished club of the mindless collective.  To accept the former, it is true that one must yield one’s ability to choose one’s course, but the latter requires no acceptance, usually delivering or threatening some form of their view of “perfect freedom.”   In stark contrast, what the founders offered a people was the ability to set one’s own course; to live or die by one’s efforts or their lack; to succeed or fail at one’s own expense; to thrive or languish according to one’s ambitions.  In short, there would be no guarantees, neither of comfort nor of poverty, but merely the freedom to act and choose to pursue one’s own ends without interference.  By the standards of Joplin’s lament, this is not so enticing a choice for those who have grown accustomed to a standard of living they no longer have the willingness to earn.

In this sense, the founders of the United States of America may have had an easier task.  Looking at the sprawling wilderness before them, colonial Americans could envision unparalleled opportunity, whereas in our time, opportunity has been suppressed by governmental decree while the ability to perceive opportunities has been blindfolded in favor of the known, and the reliable.  The children of this age know a world of material plenty, but they have not been taught how it was obtained, and most have not even the knowledge or the desire to maintain it.  Ambition has been replaced by a hopeless wishing, by which too many of our youth spend their time daydreaming of the perfectly unobtainable while bypassing the opportunity to plan for and work toward the imperfectly approachable. Risk-taking was key to the building of America, and to the freedom it has enjoyed, but now we are dominated by a culture of risk-averse automatons who stare with jovial indifference at flashing pixels that describe their foremost entertainment. It’s all fiction.

If we are to succeed as a country, we must first succeed as individuals, but to do that will require stepping away from the left’s adaptation of Joplin’s view of freedom.  What a few more Americans have been realizing lately, as we careen toward implementation of Obama-care and the institution of a National Security State is that there is more than “nothing left to lose” contained in freedom.   Our founders understood this, evidenced by the fact that they were willing to risk their lives and their sacred honor, and all their worldly possessions, in the name of self-determination for a people and for individual persons.  What have we been willing to risk?  Public denunciations?  Scorn and ridicule?  Political engagement?  A few dollars to a favored cause, in the hope that some other might act in our stead?

Even given this, I still have some reason to hope, for while fleeting, a text came in that made my day.  A friend attending a 4th of July parade in a nearby town with his family saw fit to share with me something that had just happened.  In that town, a group of Texans favoring Open-Carry legislation assembled at a location along the parade’s course, and upon seeing his daughter looking across the street at them, he asked her if all of the guns she could see caused her concerns.  She replied simply to her father, and he reported to me her epic response:

“No, people scare me – guns don’t.”

In that sentence lies a naked but essential truth about freedom that our founders had understood too well, so that if it is alive in a teen-aged girl on a blistering sunny day in central Texas, there may yet be some hope for us all.  There is much more to freedom than “nothing left to lose,” and it’s time we begin to make that case again.  “Freedom” conceptually implies a “for whom” and a “from whom,”  because freedom is neither exercised by inanimate objects nor is it stripped from us by amoral conditions of nature.  There is always a “who.”  It has been the tireless trick of collectivists to substitute a laundry list of “what” for the “who.”  Just as the leftists have conveniently forgotten that Bobby McGee had been the real object of Joplin’s lament, they always manage to forget the “who” in their discussions of freedom.  Their litany includes “freedom from poverty,” “freedom from want,” “freedom from unemployment,” and “freedom from oppression” as if those conditions could arise without a “who” on either end.

As most Americans continue to clamor for more goodies from the hands of their would-be masters, it is important to remember what independence means, because a nation of dependents will not maintain it on a national scale, having surrendered it as individuals.  Freedom from the conditions of life are not liberty at all, but instead a form of bondage to whomever is maintaining that illusory and undeserved condition.  Franklin’s warning rings in my ears, because while the founders fought for freedom, and the framers of our constitution had indeed given us a form of government amenable to a great liberty, it is we who will decide if we shall keep it, or trade it in on a vision of freedom popularized by a drug-addicted woman who finally obtained her freedom in precisely the form she had described it.  Of all the concepts we might address, I believe Franklin’s conditional declaration must remain the most pressing question of our time.

Asked by a lady what form of government the constitutional convention had conceived, Benjamin Franklin purportedly responded:

 

“A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Will we?  As we celebrate our national independence, we ought to consider individual liberty’s uncertain future, and which  concept of freedom we will adopt as our own.  Our founders knew that the most pressing purpose of their declaration was not to inform the British or the whole world of their treasonous intent, but to lay down an unimpeachable argument for independence among their own.  What will we risk for our vision of freedom?  We must be willing at least to make an argument on its behalf, or surrender to the alternative view of freedom as the exclusive province of death.

Why Government Isn’t Like Business

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Why Is Government Constituted?

Like most people, I’ve changed my thinking on a number of things over the course of my life, and one of them is the idea that government ought to function as a business.  I once believed that if government could only function with the efficiency of corporations, it would be phenomenal, and make much more sense.  I hear or read this proposition raised from time to time, mostly by people who are discouraged by the wastefulness of governments, and I share their frustrations though I now differ with their conclusions.   Many things have helped shape my opinion, but over the course of time, nothing has done more to change my thinking on this than seeing government in action, up close and in person.  My first experience with that was as a soldier, of course, and along the way to where I am now, I’ve held a temporary position in federal government employ and what I learned there, and since, has made me decide I had been wrong.  It’s not that government can’t be made more efficient, or more careful with our money, but that government is not a business, and if it were to operate like one, we would all shortly regret it.

Imagine a government that can flow into new endeavors by shifting its focus by direction from the top.  Businesses do this very thing all the time, and frequently to the inestimable benefit of employees and investors.  Even if an institution of government could behave this way, would you want it to do so?   Various statists will argue that such a government would be a grand institution, and return much value to its investors, also known as “tax-payers.”  The problem with this is that no company gets to decide the size of investors’ stakes in the business. No company is empowered in law to dictate greater investments, but at least a company has paying customers.  Government has a few who pay various fees of little consequence, but it cannot rightly be said that government has customers, since theirs is a captive market.

Companies try to obtain greater and greater shares of the market, in order to increase their investors’ profits, but governments with such an imperative would soon overrun every boundary we had previously imposed upon its growth.  In fact, our government is already squeezing out private enterprise, and the fact is that with a captive market, government can squeeze out as much as it is institutionally and politically able.  The last dozen years give witness to the fact that the proportion of the total economy the government dominates is increasingly oppressive.  Government already has a legal monopoly on coercion, and it lends that monopoly power to various enterprises on a continuous basis.  Some of these enterprises are government-owned, or formed, and a few more are simply companies that have figured out how to get their fingers in the government’s pie, but in any event, what results is not the sort of government most Americans would want.  It’s plain to see that a nation like Cuba has a governmental monopoly on everything, and Michael Moore’s panting endorsements of Cuban health-care notwithstanding, I think it’s fairly clear this is not a model we should follow.

Of course, there are those who argue that rather than at this very fundamental level, we could simply use common business practices to make government more efficient.  I wonder what efficiencies people seek in government?  Do you want them to become more efficient at tracking you?  Do you want it to become more effective at regulating you?  Do you want it to be more aggressive in taxing you?  I think not.  It is true to say, and I am certain that you will agree, that we can do things to make government accomplish more with less, and to likewise spend less altogether, but what that means is the ability to strictly limit the stake of the so-called “investors.”  Therein lies the problem:  All too often, those who bring business management experience to government see a vast ocean of potential revenue, and notice that unlike in the businesses to which they’re accustomed, the only limitation on their expenditure is their periodic requirement to stand for re-election.

Let us be circumspect in suggesting that we want government to function like business.  They have entirely different imperatives in a society such as ours.  Government exists for the purposes of defending the nation, minting the money, policing the criminals, and preventing commercial and civil conflict from becoming violent ones by the administration of an objectively moral law.  There is damned little else government should do, and can do effectively, and yet it is in this manner that we are told we must extend government’s power to encompass functions over which it has no just claim.  You might tell me some vaunted majority wants this or that, but does this legitimize the claim?  Can an orderly vote by wolves legitimize their consumption of the sheep, if they happen to be the more numerous?

This illustrates the most fundamental reason government must not function like a business:  Business is a voluntary endeavor, and it is business that must seek the agreement of others, and must find those who will purchase its products and services by choice.  Of all our founders, the one who might well have understood this more thoroughly than any was George Washington, and while it is in dispute as to whether he said this, it is nevertheless true, and whomever its actual source, it is a worthy idea:

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

Imbuing such an entity with the purpose of business is as great a danger as I can imagine.  For those who argue that government should function like business, I wish you’d reconsider as have I.  I realize most think of this premise in terms of the tendency of government to be so wasteful, and the desire for greater efficiency, but we do not ever gain these efficiencies, and government grows only more powerful.  The government we now have all too often mimics the aspects of business that when empowered with monopoly and coercive power to implement its will, becomes a grave threat to its stakeholders.  Imitations of business practices do not make of government a business, and we must bear in mind its actual constitutional role, and limit it to those duties with great fervor.