FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Power and obedience
There is nothing more pernicious than the illusion of liberty surviving, or even flourishing, alongside growing government power. It doesn’t work that way, not once you get past the transition from anarchy to lawful government. Personal liberty does not exist in a state of anarchy, because individuals can be defrauded, robbed, and killed at will by lone predators and organized gangs. Some degree of government power must clearly be exercised to secure liberty.
But when a government the size of America’s federal system grows larger, it occurs only at the expense of liberty, and the contraction of the private sector. Law is meaningless without the exercise of force to compel obedience. More government means more laws, more force, more punishment for disobedience… more things you must do, more things you cannot do.
Actually, let me clarify that, to reflect where America really stands after decades of the debased political culture that eventually coughed up ObamaCare: expanding the government further means more compulsory requirements and prohibitions for certain people. The ability to grant special waivers or selectively enforce our towering mountain of under-funded law is a source of great power for the ruling class. Building a vast body of laws, and a gigantic enforcement apparatus to secure compliance with them, consolidates power; the ability to grant selective immunity to that system is how political power goes nuclear.
Big Government is often sold to the dupes as a guarantor of personal freedom. For example, Nancy Pelosi once gushed that ObamaCare would enhance the freedom of artists by relieving them of the need to worry about providing for their health care. Presumably, under this line of thinking, the state of maximum freedom is achieved when the government feeds, clothes, and houses its child-citizens, who would be liberated to frolic in the green pastures of self-actualization once they didn’t have to spend so much of their lives working to earn the money it takes to purchase those necessities through voluntary commerce. Just remove “voluntary commerce” from the equation, and everyone will be truly free at last!
Concealed by these glowing promises is the enormous amount of compulsion necessary to secure obedience. The people who portray voluntary commerce as a frightening, soul-crushing business of working a thankless job to earn filthy money, which is then siphoned away by predatory capitalists, want you to forget about the unpleasantness of political command, which absolutely requires punishment for disobedience.
As Senator Ted Cruz likes to observe, if ObamaCare is so wonderful, why do people have to be punished (by the IRS!) for refusing to purchase its policies? That’s how every government program works. Disobedience must be detected and punished – a task that becomes exponentially more complicated (and expensive) when obedience is only selectively required. You don’t need a huge government to safeguard equality under the law. But inequality under the law… now, that gets you the Leviathan squatting on the banks of the Potomac.
The just and lawful government of a republic should be almost entirely concerned with protecting the universal rights of its citizens. A right that only certain people are allowed to exercise in full measure is not universal. The protection of one citizen’s lawful rights does not require any great imposition against the liberties of another. Relatively little political power flows through such a system, which is of course why greedy politicians hate them.
A lawful government is concerned with the prevention of genuine crimes, which can all be viewed as violations of liberty. A murder victim is robbed of all his liberties. The victim of theft is robbed of his property. The oppressed are robbed of their rights to speak and act in dissent.
Fraud is another form of robbery, since a person fooled into making a bad decision with false information is not exercising true freedom of choice. Liberty demands honesty. People dominated and manipulated through lies are not truly free. We understand this implicitly, when discussing the prosecution of corporate misbehavior.
But we completely abandon these principles when government power is deployed to rob, compel, or defraud people. Offenses against liberty are sanctified through the exercise of raw power. And it’s increasingly clear that the powerful feel no compulsion to obey the law. They openly assert there is no authority that can thwart them, no power which can force them to obey, beyond the remote possibility of suffering at the ballot box in a few years… which, if you’ve noticed the incumbent re-election rates in even the most historic “wave” elections these days, is not really much of a concern for most of them. Also, the elected politicians have given much of their power to a bureaucracy you’ll never get to vote against, run by people whose names and histories are mostly known to political junkies.
Look at the “government shutdown” crisis, which seems to be entering its final stage. We’re only talking about a shutdown because the Ruling Class freely disobeys the laws – and they are laws – requiring Congress to prepare a budget for the federal government. The President and his party are fighting to protect ObamaCare, which they never tire of reminding us is the “settled law of the land,” as if that’s supposed to quash all dissent… but they ignore portions of that law as they please. One of the “concessions” Democrats are supposedly offering to Republicans is a pledge to obey the parts of ObamaCare that require income verification for those who receive welfare subsidies through the tax code – a requirement they would otherwise feel free to ignore.
In return, Democrats demand the repeal of sequestration, the only remaining shred of a law called the Budget Control Act of 2011. They’re also looking to score a fat tax waiver for one of their favorite constituencies, labor unions. Congress reacted with rage at the notion of submitting to the same ObamaCare burdens carried by private industry, so they were given a special subsidy exemption they refuse to surrender. It has been suggested that Republicans could kill the Affordable Care Act stone-dead by merely passing a bill that required the Administration to obey it, without exception. Democrats would fight such a bill with the intensity of rabid weasels trying to chew their way out of a burlap sack.
Even back when they actually pretended to pass budgets, the Ruling Class felt absolutely no pressure to make expenditures bear some relationship to income – they spent vast amounts of money they didn’t have, which may have been defensibly “legal” for them, but would get the rest of us thrown in jail. Many of President Obama’s Shutdown Theater antics have involved violations of the law. His Administration is notoriously filled with people who have not been scrupulous in obeying tax laws.
But even as the aristocracy luxuriates in the highest level of power – the ability to not only pass laws, but ignore them – demands for compliance and obedience from the rest of us grow more strident. Look at the rhetoric Democrats have employed during the past few weeks, referring to their opponents as terrorists, hostage-takers, and even traitors. The President is fond of statements such as, “The time for talk is over.” That means the time for obedience is at hand. Dissent, resistance, and escape are intolerable.
People say they don’t like politics. Why would anyone who truly feels that way support an ideology that politicizes every aspect of our lives? If we don’t like partisan squabbling, why give the political class so much to squabble over? Why would anyone who truly loves freedom applaud the loud demands for obedience and submission that fill every hour of the day? You need money and property to exercise your will; when the government claims more of both, through taxes, mandates, and regulations, your will becomes less significant.
If you want a big government, then you want less freedom, and more compulsion. If we gain nothing else from the shutdown drama and the ObamaCare fiasco, let it mark the end of all pretense to the contrary.