Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Statism Left & Right

Bipartisan Statism

Tibor R. Machan

Having had a great affinity for philosophy all my self-conscious life, I
tend to focus on the big picture, not, however, without making sure it
squares with the details. In this spirit I want to call attention to
something worth not missing. This is that both side of the isle, both the
conservatives and the modern liberals, both Left and Right, are caught in
a dilemma.

The conservatives try to scare us to death about immigrants, the decline
of sexual virtue and family values, the threat of terrorism, etc. and so
forth. And although they also believe that government cannot do much good
when it comes to the economy?employment, the deficit, balance of trade,
interest rates, you name it?they oddly place immense confidence in
government?s role with solving problems in that first list of laments. In
short, government si, and government no.

Modern liberals aren?t at all different. When it comes to problems they
regard in desperate need of a solution?such as endangered species, low
wages for too many workers, corporate greed and corruption, political
incorrectness, you name it once again?they rush to government for
solutions. As Hilary Rodham Clinton would have it, they will rescind the
Bush tax cut, take a lot more money from us all, and this way advance the
common good (as they understand it). But no sooner do they demonstrate
such unfailing loyalty to statism, they turn right around and denounce
government for violating civil liberties left and right, for being too
intrusive in our private lives, for failing to uphold justice for gays,
blacks, women, and so forth and so on. Once again, the theme is,
government si, and government no.

How can these people continue to espouse such paradoxical views?trust
government but, hey, don?t trust government? Well, each side pretends that
if their bunch gets into office, it will be all good. Yet, of course,
whenever either side gets into power, Lord Acton?s famous motto is
confirmed in spades: ?Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts
absolutely.? Corruption runs rampant in government no matter which side is
in charge.

And that is just as any reasonable person could expect. Government is not
for doing all those things these people want to entrust to its care and
skills, quite the opposite. Government, as the American founders were so
wise to note, is instituted to secure our individual rights to life,
liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc.?that is the task of a legal order,
nothing more, nothing less. And it is a big job and difficult and full of
nuances and challenges and quite enough on any government?s plate, thank
you very much.

Yet this temptation to run to government with all these problems that are
not only none of its proper jurisdiction but ones it cannot but botch up
royally, is yielded to time and time again, by both mainstream political
groups. Every time you listen to their pundits and other spokespeople they
are championing more government power to be deployed for purposes of
pursuing their preferred goals, goals having nothing to do with what
government is supposed to be all about. No wonder some people are
clamoring for out and out anarchy, with government?s God awful track

Why can?t these folks get it?keep the thing within its proper limits and
maybe something good will come of government after all. Limit it, curtail
its powers on all sides, not just the part that bugs you so much. After
all, the central problem through human history?greater than disease,
greater than disaster, greater than the wide range of normal human
foibles?has been the misuse of government power. African poverty, French
and German unemployment, not to mention Soviet and Nazi and Iranian and
similar oppression?all these can be traced to the overreach of government
power. Yet folks keep insisting on giving the thing yet another try, in
support of one or another of their pet projects.

Yes, people do resort to coercion as a shortcut instead of using proper
means to achieve their goals, even in their personal lives. But shouldn?t
they also learn something from how little good comes of that? Perhaps in
time they will but we probably won?t be around to enjoy the immense
benefits that will come from that.

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