Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Administrative Despotism

Eric Scheie notes the fact that people seem afraid to use the term "socialist" to describe Barack Obama's policies, though they certainly bear a striking resemblance to socialism.

Eric wonders who "owns" the word these days, but I think it's less a question of ownership than of our collective mangling of what words like socialism really mean. Regardless, "socialism" is one of those "It-can't-happen-here" words, like communism and facism. This is America! We can't be socialist, or facisct, or communist. We're Americans!

That, of course, is ridiculous. We can be whatever we want to be, or (perhaps more appropriately) whatever we allow ourselves to be. I've been quoting from Toqueville's "Democracy in America" lately, and I find it interesting that when Toqueville was describing despotism in a democratic society, he had a difficult time coming up with a word that would fit what he was describing.

I think, then, that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.

Toqueville did just that, and I think that chapter of "Democracy in America" should be required reading for every American voter. The entirety of the piece is too long to quote, but here's another snippet.

Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately. It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated; whereas that obedience which is exacted on a few important but rare occasions only exhibits servitude at certain intervals and throws the burden of it upon a small number of men. It is in vain to summon a people who have been rendered so dependent on the central power to choose from time to time the representatives of that power; this rare and brief exercise of their free choice, however important it may be, will not prevent them from gradually losing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and acting for themselves, and thus gradually falling below the level of humanity.

I add that they will soon become incapable of exercising the great and only privilege which remains to them. The democratic nations that have introduced freedom into their political constitution at the very time when they were augmenting the despotism of their administrative constitution have been led into strange paradoxes. To manage those minor affairs in which good sense is all that is wanted, the people are held to be unequal to the task; but when the government of the country is at stake, the people are invested with immense powers; they are alternately made the play things of their ruler, and his masters, more than kings and less than men. After having exhausted all the different modes of election without finding one to suit their purpose, they are still amazed and still bent on seeking further; as if the evil they notice did not originate in the constitution of the country far more than in that of the electoral body.

I'm sure many will disagree, but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the United States of America has fallen into such a state. Administrative despotism is in full sway in this country, but Barack Obama is not the instigator. In fact, I believe that I have lived the entirety of my existance in country which has given itself over to that unnamed menace that Toqueville warned us about. This is not Barack Obama's doing, though his adventures are certainly leading us further down the wrong road. Still, he is only vigorously and substantially building on despotic policies that were in place long before he assumed office.

Our republic has been buried underneath the rubble of decades of partisan political battles, to the point that there's not much of the original country and culture left for us to see. When we began healing ourselves with other people's money, paying for our retirement on the backs of our children and grandchildren, placing them further in debt so we can enjoy our own life a fundamental aspect of Americanism was destroyed. When the dream of opportunity for all was replaced with the reality of entitlements for some, when government deemed certain businesses "too big to fail", when "citizen" became synonymous with "resident", when the very framework of our government became subject to not just interpretation, but re-imagining, when we decided that every aspect of our lives, from the food that we eat to the pillows on our beds should be subject to governmental regulation, the nature and purpose of our government became something very different than what our founders put in place.

Our parents and grandparents, even as they fought the biggest external threat to Western Democracy, dreamed an impossible dream: that the United States could maintain its greatness even as it discouraged greatness in its citizens. The schemes they devised gave us an Indian Summer of prosperity and success, but only by delaying the inevitable costs associated with their utopian vision. Now the bill has come due, and we are confronted with a decision: pay now, or force our children into a life of misery and servitude.

Can we get restore our nation? I honestly don't know. Still, that doesn't mean that we are bound to endure the future miseries of a fully failed state. As Thomas Paine said, we have the power to begin the world anew. Other generations have had to make do with admiring men and women like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, James Madison, Mercy Otis Warren, Abigail Adams, Eliza Pinckney, Phyllis Wheatley, etc. We, however, are asked to do more than just pay homage to them. Our generation has been tasked with emulating them. Just like our forefathers, who were called to create this nation, and our grandfathers, who were called to defend it, our generation must restore the principles of this nation, and in doing so, dismantle the Leviathan that has grown around our system of government.

1 comment:

  1. “The harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph; what we obtain to cheap ,we esteem to lightly. Tis’ dearness only that gives everything its value.” – Thomas Paine