Thursday, October 05, 2006

Will Foley Scandal Serve as Lesson?

by Tibor R. Machan

What lesson? I repeat myself by quoting Abraham Lincoln: "No man is good enough to govern another without that other's consent." And so as not to forget this, we have the likes of Mark Foley demonstrating its truth in grossly concrete terms.

The idea that politicians are to be the guardians of our morals -- an idea subscribed to by nearly all political factions throughout human history and certainly by Republicans and Democrats today -- is so off the wall that perhaps only blatant cases such as the Foley scandal can drive it home. Certainly Mark Foley is far from the first politician to illustrate what folly it is to entrust ourselves to the moral guidance of those who aspire to that job by joining the governing classes. We have many examples of crooked politicians, judges, cops and so forth, staring at us from the pages of newspapers across the land. Only the other week it came to light that innumerable small courts in New England have seen their share of systematic injustice. Then there was Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham from San Diego but a few months ago. And, of course, in the minds of most Democrats virtually all the Republicans are corrupt, while Republicans tend to think the same of Democrats.

With all the solid evidence and not so solid innuendo, the really major scandal is that the bulk of the public still considers politicians and bureaucrats qualified to enact laws, and the police to enforce them, concerning a great deal of our peaceful -- albeit at times risky and immoral -- behavior. The banning of this, the regulation of that, the criminalization of yet something else -- all of it is being done with the full awareness of the voting public.

Yet the plain and very scary fact is that these people who are drafting these laws and running on their record of having done so, are not being met with guffaws all around but keep getting elected to office!

The situation is bad enough to suggest that perhaps human beings are fundamentally flawed in their judgment and conduct, that their capacity to tell right from wrong is severely lacking. Why else would they keep going back to the politicians for help with their various problems? Why else do they keep up the silly hope that, well, maybe next time FEMA will save New Orleans, that the Federal Communications Commission will clean up filth on in broadcasting, that the Federal Trade Commission will get all commerce to be decent and honest, etc., etc., and so forth?

Ordinarily I don't share the pessimistic outlook about human beings in general, the sort that dominates thinking among environmentalists and people who teach business ethics, for example. And in fact even after a fiasco such as Mark Foley's misconduct that is not only vile on its face but demonstrates rank hypocrisy -- he has been a fervent supporter of governmental "protection" of children from Internet predators -- there is no sound reason to regard all people as innately corrupt, as some in the theological and psychological communities would have it.

Yet surely it ought to be evident to us all that human history, recent and ancient, demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that when people attain positions of power -- when they get the legal authority to regiment their fellows from Washington and other centers of officialdom -- they are very, very inclined to go bad.

Yes, this brings to mind yet another famous, oft-repeated quote, namely Lord Acton's about power that tends to corrupt and absolute power that corrupts absolutely! What is quite puzzling is how blind to this fact millions of people are. I have been attributing that blindness to, among other things, the governmental habit. After all, most of human history is mired in some people ruling and conquering and oppressing the rest, by means of sheer violence and its threat. And in most of the world nothing much as changed. So perhaps it is understandable that the alternative of a civilized approach to dealing with human problems, one that eschews coercive force, one that limits government to very minimal functions (like defensive and retaliatory force), doesn't catch on widely.

Still, when one does know just how corrosive the power of some over others is -- even in this so-called free society where it has usually been disguised as required by some emergency or last resort -- it is imperative that the more general point be stressed and such scandals as those involving Mark Foley don't get bogged down in the details of merely titillating sleaze.

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