STUCK IN THE STATIST PAST
Friday, September 22, 2006
Tibor R. Machan
There are small signs showing that many, many people even in this relatively free society are wedded to statism -- the belief that the government is the head of society, which is itself a sort of organism. Those of us not part of the government are, in turn, its subjects, subservient to it.
According to the political philosophy of the American founders and many of the framers, government is not the head of society. Instead it is instituted or established to perform a specific function, not very different from how other professionals such as educators, scientists, doctors, and so forth are. In a complex, modern society all these have grown into nearly permanent agencies. But none of them is authorized to rule us, only to perform services for which we employ them. In other words, the relationship between citizens and government is akin to that between clients and professionals, fully voluntary and with both parties enjoying equal legal status.
However, this idea is far from truly embraced even in the United States of America, let alone around the world. One way one can notice this is by observing how often people talk of how the government "permits" this, or "allows" that, or "lets" us do something else. "Permissions" are given by superiors, not equals; or by those who own some domain, such as their home or place of business. You need permission to enter or use these because someone else own them.
But government in a free society doesn't own anything except some properties needed for it to do its job of securing our rights. So when it comes to, say, writing a book or speaking our minds or traveling or doing our work, these are not "permitted" or "allowed." These are done because we have a right to do them, not because Uncle Sam gives us permission or "lets" us do them.
Yet a great many supposedly free citizens speak as though they were subjects, as if there were a monarchy in force and what people in the country do required the permission of the monarch -- king, tsar, pharaoh, or some similar ruler or even dictator. Even the welfare state aspires to such status, what with all of its regulatory agencies that issue licenses and permits and the like to citizens. The old governmental habit simply continues in substantial force, never mind that strictly speaking it was always a ruse, unfounded in anything like justice. Indeed, all talk about kings and such, His or Her Majesty and similar titles of status were always a sign of some people having managed to pull the wool over the eyes of millions of others, or simply subdue them by brute force. None of it was ever just and true. It was always on the order of some myth, not unlike talk about fairies or witches or mediums. All these are make-believe, even though some sadly give them credence.
The same is true of the idea that governments are in charge of us, give us permission to live and work, allow us to act this way or that. No. The reality is that governments are our hired agencies which have a specific job to do, not unlike our dentists or plumbers. Folks we hire to do perfectly honorable tasks do not rule over, but rather enter into voluntary relations with, us. And that's how governments need to be understood if indeed human beings are free and responsible adults, not wards of the state.
Unfortunately too much history has passed by during which the deception that there are natural rulers who get to run the lives of others has gone only mildly challenged. Too many places around the globe still smother under the influence of that despicable idea. And with the emergence of democracies the myth continues, based on the misguided notion that when lots of us get together and agree, we may run roughshod over the rest.
But whether it is one king or a million, none has the just authority to rule others. Here it is vital to remember the idea so well expressed by Abraham Lincoln: "No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent." And that means, among other things, that what we do which does not intrude on other people is something we need no permission to do. This is so even if it isn't the wisest or most prudent of things for us to do -- that's our business and no supervisor is part of the deal, not if we are free human beings, citizens, rather than subjects.