19 November 2009

Everything's amazing; but no one's happy

Some historical perspective from Jefferey Tucker

H/T: Instituto Juan de Mariana
17 November 2009

"We", the people

Razing the Servile State V

Are we going to take the hands of the federal government completely off any effort to adjust the growing of national crops, and go right straight back to the old principle that every farmer is the lord of his own farm, and can do anything he wants, raise anything any old time, in any quantity, and sell any time he wants? ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We are one in the State

Another of the dogmas of our servile state is that there is a thing called "society", which is superior to individuals and even has a collective mind of its own. "We", as a society, are more important than "I". Moreover, "we" and "I" are related such that, in some significant ways, something "I" have is something "we" have. The servile state needs us to think in terms of "we" because it needs us to believe that all of the significant things in life are accomplished, by this "society", seeking its collective good through the state, not by individuals seeking personal satisfaction or self-interest. (That would be almost immoral!) The servile state needs us to think like this, otherwise the justification for much that it does evaporates. For example, "I" have a duty to the poor; so do you. Clearly, "we" have a duty to the poor, unless you want to argue that no one has a duty to the poor. (The State -- the march of God upon earth -- never exactly informs us how we come to have these duties. Its prophets tell us we have these duties and that shirking these duties would put us, heaven forbid, on the wrong side of history. But I digress).

That "we" have a duty to the poor is to say "society" has a duty to the poor -- "its" poor. The poor are "ours" to do something about. "We", the argument generally goes, can really only fulfill our obligation to "our" poor by government action. To take care of "our" poor most efficiently, the state must be "our" agent. Only by mean of the state can "society" do its duty to its poor. Otherwise, provision for our poor will be chaotic, anarchic -- you doing one thing for some of the poor, me doing another thing for others of the poor. (And, worse, some of us doing nothing.) There are those whom we as individuals cannot reach; or those who cannot avail themselves of the provisions you and I make. What is to happen to them? The only way "we" can fulfill "our" obligation to the poor is by government programs: government, with it's virtually unlimited resources, can reach into places we, as individuals, cannot and provide a safety net.

Of course, if you and I ("we") have this duty, then, arguably, so does everyone else, even if they don't recognize such a duty. This points to another superiority in having "our" duty to the poor fulfilled by government: some people are obviously not (unlike you and I) employing their (personal) means to fulfill their duties to the poor. Since government exists to make sure we all perform our all of our obligations (right?) it makes perfect sense that government should employ tax law to ensure that these people also perform their duties. If the State is not doing it, then "we" are not doing it. This sad state of affairs cannot be permitted to exist. By means of state power, then, even those who recognize no duty to the poor can be made to do their duty. (Never mind that they don't think they have this duty. "We" know better. "We" know which is the right side of history.)

Yours, mine, and ours

All of this sort of thinking is true for any other problems "we", as a "society", may have: homelessness, drop-out rates, the high costs of university education, health care, even obesity. "We" have a duty in these matters; and government is rightly employed as "our" agent in doing "our" duty. "We" must do something about "our" obesity problem, like appoint an Obesity Task Force. It's for "our" children, after all. Now, you might think it's not "our" obesity problem. The only people who have an obesity problem are the obese, those specific individuals who happen to be obese; and it's their problem. Their obesity can be a problem for "us" only if "we" have a property interest in their persons. Formerly, the assertion by one person of property rights in another person was called slavery. And that used to be bad. Now, it's not called slavery, so long as the ownership of each of us is by all of us, instead of by any one of us. I cannot own another person, but "we" can. (Note, however, that this mutual ownership does not extend to the womb: "we" still cannot prohibit a woman killing her unborn child. It also does not extend to our sexual organs: "we" cannot prohibit pre- or extra-marital sexual relations, certainly not homosexual relations. Unless, perhaps, the state, which soon may be paying our health care bills, decides that it's in "our" best, collective, interest to prohibit certain sexual acts between certain sorts of people. I don't say which sorts of people, but don't worry, it's for our collective good. But I have digressed.)

You would, of course, be wrong to think that obesity is a problem only for the obese. Why? Because "we" know better. And "we" can't let you get away with thinking like that: it's selfish. Besides, if this notion, that what I have and what you have is something that "we" have, were rejected, much that government presently does would also have to be rejected. If "we" do not have a duty such that government is "our" agent in fulfilling "our" duty, then government acts improperly -- immorally -- in taking resources from us (individually) without our (individual) consent. (Our collective consent matters only if our property is collective.) Government simply becomes the means whereby those who control it do as it pleases them to do, with other peoples' resources, calling those resources "our resources".

All this talk of "we" reminds me of the answer my parents used to give when I asked, "How much money do we have?"

"We," they always told me, "have no money. Your mother and I have some money. You have whatever you've saved of your allowance. But we have no money."

No "I" in Team

We have the same problem when it comes to the decisions that "we" make. These decisions always assume that the resources involved are "ours". "We" have enough money. There is no reason why "we" cannot provide for universal health care coverage. There is no reason why "we" cannot educate "our" children the way other nations educate "their" children, no reason, in fact, why "we" cannot give all of "our" children the same education. "We" must work together. What very few of us seem to understand is that we have no money; we have no children to educate. (If you and I have children then you must be my wife -- or a previous girlfriend.)

Furthermore, on the subject of the decisions that "we" make, this notion that "we" (for all practical purposes) have all things in common means that public is superior to private. We get a hint of this notion from the rejection of the claim that the market can and will police and regulate itself, as well as that there is no problem with a public option health care plan making end-of-life decisions because, as His Beatitude Himself has said, "Those decisions are being made now" (i.e., privately, which is bad). "We" can only dispose of "our" resources publicly. That which is public is for selfless purposes, and is for people, while that which is private is for self-interest, and is for profit. So long as the notion that public is superior to private persists, the servile state is here to stay. And this notion rests in turn on the notion that "we" are more important than "I"; the individual doesn't matter. You can really only believe that public is superior to private if you don't think very highly of the individual. As Political Officer Putin said in "The Hunt for Red October", "Privacy...is often contrary to the public collective good." The public sector serves the collective good, all that is good for all people in the community, not just some of the people. That sounds reasonable, until you realize that, in fact, what is good for all people in a given community is really decided by just some of the people, a handful of individuals, in a given community. On a national scale it's even worse: You simply cannot have a 300 million member community. You can say you have it; but you don't. And, of course, as long as the people you're controlling think a 300 million member community is possible you'll continue to be able to control them. (You'll need to make sure no one is able -- allowed -- to change their minds. But how could you possibly do that?)

In pursuit of "our" common destiny, we are often told that "we" are in "this" together. Being in this together, whatever "this" is, justifies collective action. Because "we" are all in "this" together we can't permit an individual to say, "I'm not in 'this' with you." And we must each pay our fair share. This justifies not only the income taxes we pay, but the government's possession of so much knowledge of our sources of income (and our expenditures) as to be able to ascertain whether we each are paying our fair share. Of course, in the same way that only a fraction of us decide what "our" collective good is, a fraction of us also decide what this "fair" share is. Apparently, "we" think one's "fair" share increases as one's income does. But what is the "this" in which "we" all are in? We should really know, because whatever "this" is, it means we're all living the same shared life, pursuing the same shared goal in accordance with the same shared plan, or that we should be. We must be mobilized like an army; anything we do, we must all do, even if some of us don't want to do. And anyone who objects is a traitor.

Strange Bed-fellows

This vision of unity has had some interesting supporters over the years. And they haven't been fans of liberty. "Unity" -- as used by this type, is the motto of empire-builders. This is especially true of empire-builders who like democracy; it provides a patina of legitimacy: the people ("we") have spoken, so we have the consent of the governed. Unity is more important than liberty, which is, in fact a threat to our unity.

France once consisted of a multitude of provinces; and most Frenchmen thought of themselves as citizens of their respective provinces, not as citizens of a nation-state called France, a republic, "one and indivisible" (sound familiar?). France, to these people, was little more than a region of Europe, a relatively loose band of independent provinces. It was not a single entity. The declaration of the existence of this artificial man known as The French Nation, or The Republic of France, meant the demolition of all those smaller units, the provinces. (And this, whether the people in those provinces wanted this demolition or not.) Even during the monarchy, France was still a highly decentralized region. In 1789 there were 80 provinces, each with its own laws, its own customs, its own political traditions, its own history of resistance. The frenchman's sense of nationality, to the extent that he had one, was tied to the specific province in which he lived. As late as 1871 a study revealed that two-thirds of French public school children did not identify France as their nation, but instead named Alsace, Aquitaine, or Normandy as their nation! Few of them spoke the language which the government had designated as French. To create what we now know as France, those who wanted to create it had to flatten out all these regions, all their unique laws, all their unique customs, all their unique political traditions, all their languages. In short, for the sake of this France, the liberties of these people to think had to be flattened -- the liberty to think of themselves as Alsacian, or Aquitainian, or Norman had to be stamped out. They were going to be Frenchmen, and think of themselves as such, whether they wanted to or not.

The present state of affairs -- "unity" -- did not merely happen, and not just in France. It was through a concerted effort, from the top, down, by people who always know better than the ignorant masses. They know what the ideal sort of nation is. They also know that everyone should want this ideal nation to be realized. On 7 September 1789, Emmanuel Sieyes said, in the Constituent Assembly, "France must not be an assemblage of small nations, each with its own democratic government. She is not a collection of states. She is a single whole, made up of integral parts. These parts must not have each a complete existence of its own. For they are not wholes, joined in a mere federation, but parts forming a single whole.... Everything is lost once we consent to regard the established municipalities, the districts, or the provinces as so many republics joined together only for the purposes of defense and common protection." (Quoted by Donald Livingston, here.) The only adequate response to people like Sieyes is, "Oh, yeah? Says who?" Really, who says France must not be an assemblage of small nations? And on what authority? We are not told.

The same thing happened in Germany. What we now know as Germany was an agglomeration of independent smaller kingdoms, principalities and city-states. Even during the period of the so-called Holy Roman Empire, this was true. The Emperor's power was severely restricted and the territories of the empire were ruled by the kings, princes, dukes and even bishops or abbots of the member-territories of the Empire. The Emperor at no time could simply issue decrees or govern autonomously. In the empire's final years, his few powers were restricted by the Peace of Westphalia, which required him to submit to all decisions of the Reichstag. From 1648 until the Napoleonic wars, Germany consisted of some 234 countries, 51 free cities, and about 1,500 independent knightly manors. Of this multitude of independent political units, only Austria counted as a great power, and only Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Hannover could be considered major political players. This remained the case until the process of unification began, in the 19th century, by Napoleon, who created the Confederation of the Rhine, and was completed under Bismark, who also created the Prussian welfare state, noting how, in Napoleon III's France, people who looked forward to government pensions were much more amenable to increasing government regulation of their daily affairs, having been bound to the state through "chains of gratitude", as one of Bismark's advisors reportedly put it.

The names associated with this idea of unification should alert us: Sieyes, Napoleon, Bismark, Hitler (well, it's true), and Marx; and let's add Hamilton, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Herbert Hoover and, certainly, FDR. These are not friends of liberty.

What these all have in common when you think about it is a denial of the notion, expressed in The Declaration of Independence, of the consent of the governed. Sieyes and his ilk gave no attention to the question whether the people living in those small nations with their own democratic governments and traditions wanted to live in integral parts of his "single whole". They did not matter. Consent of the governed? Pish-posh. Sieyes knew what France should be. Bismark and his ilk knew what Germany should be. Hamilton and his ilk knew what the United States should be. As I said, those who love this vision of unity are not lovers of liberty. They do not permit you to think of yourself in terms that satisfy you. Here, in the United Servile States of America, one should not, indeed one dare not, think of himself first as a Texan (or a Californian, or Alabamian) and then an American. (Of course, this is not as objectionable as thinking of oneself as a Christian, or a Muslim, first and then an American.) One must always think of himself as an American first. And, as an American first, one cannot really even think of himself as an individual. An American is, first of all, a subject of the government seated in Washington.

"But James," someone will say, "what about co-operation? We need to co-operate with each other. This go-it-alone, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality is what got us into our current economic mess." But the fact is, there is little point in encouraging co-operation. We are co-operating -- whether we want to or not. There is as much need in extolling to us the virtues of co-operation as there is in remonstrating with a team of horses on their need to co-operate with each other. A team of horses co-operate because they have no choice but to do so: they've been hitched up and their efforts are co-ordinated (dictated) by The Driver. All of "us" are co-operating in saving the planet, even if some of "us" don't think it really needs saving (or, at least, not in the way "we" are going to do it). All of "us" are co-operating in saving companies deemed "too big to fail", even if some of "us" think they should fail. All of "us" are paying for the public education of "our" children, even though some of us are also paying (or have already paid) for the private education of our own children. Oh, we're co-operating. Some of "us" just don't realize how much -- and how little -- choice "we" have in the matter.

Part VI



About Me

James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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