The Freeman's Burden:

To defend the principles of human liberty; to educate; to be vigilant against the ever expanding power of the state.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

On liberty and statism

I wrote the following in response to a comment posted in response to the essay "The Illusion of left & right" that appeared on this site earlier in the week. First is the posted comment followed by my response.
Anonymous said...
I agree with some of your arguments. If
Americans ever come to realize that their democratic ability to change
government has been taken away, there will be some violent change. Not the
"wreckage of liberty lost" you are predicting, though. Americans usually carry
out their revolutionary acts alone or in small groups. A bomb, a
shootout...that's enough to scare Americans back into their houses. As long as
we have our bread and circuses we don't care about statism. On the other hand,
what if we had a nation without a government? coercive taxation, no
meddling regulations, just the freedom to watch out for yourself. Oh wait, that
is Somalia, isn't it?
My Response...
It was Hobbes that said that government, no matter how oppressive, was far preferable to life in a state of nature where existence would be brutal and short. Just ask the Somalis. That was over 300 years ago and, thankfully, our political thinking has evolved just a tad since then. Of course, anarchy or bottom up social organization offers it's own set of vexing problems, but anarchy is an extreme that relies on the complete breakdown of social structure, or the complete rejection of it. To equate this essay with a call for anarchy really misses the point. The brilliance of the constitutional system is to delay the point at which government begins exercising excessive and extra-legal coercion to achieve its ends. The effort of this essay is to inspire some reflection on the question of when that point is reached. For my part, I believe we have far exceeded it and the response to 9.11 has reflected a government that no longer sees itself as bound to a set of guiding principles, the very principles that have made the American system unique and successful. I want to advance the idea that statism and liberty will always be in a tug of war and the momentum will always favor statism and the consolidation of power. Vigilance and activism may delay this process, but this process has been part of the character of human nature since the first time a man threatened another will a sharp rock. Closing your eyes to this historic trend will not change the fact. Nor will it change the fact that attempting to use the coercive power of the state to serve a good or noble end has produced far more misery and oppression then the exercise of personal liberty ever has. I look to the illustration of famine. Study of human prehistory has shown that early hunter-gatherers were relatively well buffered from starvation. Sure there is a chance of getting snowed in all winter unprepared or having your food stores eaten by animals, but there is no evidence of mass starvation predating the rise of the nation-state. Simply put, nature doesn't cause famine, government does. The same is certainly true of war, as well. Whenever you look into the mass killing, suffering or oppressing of human beings, at the heart of it is the abuse of power by some person or people, often for worthy cause, in a position of excessive power over others.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written! Of course very few of us wish for anarchy, whether we be conservatives, liberals, or libertarians. What progressives often point out is that government power may not, in modern times, be any more harmful to our liberty than corporate power, since we can at least try to make our government more democratic and responsive to the public will, but we cannot force a corporation to behave responsibly.

9:50 AM  

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