My rhetoric, here and elsewhere, is on the libertarian side of
conservative. But when we get down to principles -- when we start
discussing right and wrong, must, may, and must not, who shall do what
to whom and who should pay for it -- I'm an anarchist.
Please don't mistake me: My anarchism is moral and philosophical. I
can't find a defensible moral rationale for the State -- the entity with
the pre-indemnified privilege of coercing others -- no matter where I
start. It's an evil institution; could it be arranged, its permanent
disappearance from the world would make all Mankind better off.
But it's also inevitable.
You see, the State as we know it -- a standing institution with strong
temporal continuity and relatively slow changes in personnel -- isn't
the only kind of State there is. If we keep to the bare-bones definition
of the State as presented above, even a society that recognizes no
persistent, enduring State will throw one together now and then to
achieve some perceived purpose.
In a society with no enduring government, a sufficiently large lynch mob
is a State.
What's that you say? That would be **wrong?** Leaving aside all
questions about the mob's target, the reasons for it, and whether the
victim is actually guilty of the offenses alleged, how would such a mob
differ from a popular majority large enough to enact a constitution,
establish a government, and define an admittedly skimpy judicial
procedure? Granted that States of the sort that currently dominate the
land surface of the Earth exhibit more formality, more persistence, and
a slightly more deliberate approach to justice, those are differences in
degree; they don't disqualify the mob, which meets all the definitional
requirements of a State.
As long as a sufficiently large majority of the persons in a locale
believes that the use of force against others is morally legitimate in
some circumstances, a State of some kind is inevitable. Moreover, the
very existence of a moral consensus, without which life would truly be
"nasty, brutish, and short" (Hobbes), brings that condition into effect.
In short, we're stuck. The State, the most vulpine, predatory
institution in the history of Man, will be with us for as long as we
remain men. All we can do is struggle to render it approximately
* * * * * * * * * *
An old saw runs that the State is evil, but men being men, it's a
necessary evil. Some folks see that as a rationale for trying to make
men into angels -- through State action.
Go ahead and laugh. Get it out of your system. A laugh turneth away
wrath, and all that. (Yes, I know it's a misquotation. I like it
anyway.) But remember: some of the people who believe that are pretty
bright. We mustn't call them morons for their unreasoning faith in an
inherently evil institution, just because it's about the stupidest, most
self-contradictory, least well founded idea in human history.
There's another idea that's just as stupid, you see. Moreover, the same
people hold it. Their faith in it is unshakable. They believe, right
down to the bottoms of their hearts, that if we just elect the right
people and give them absolute, unbounded power, they can make our dreams
of perfect government come true. In other words, they believe that there
are angels among us, and that if we only trust them with the unique
privileges of the State and free them of all constraints, they will make
the rest of us over in their image.
Quite a lot of people appear to believe that. When they've risen to a
majority, they've created the worst tyrannies ever recorded by history.
That hasn't dampened their belief in those angels, though. Ask any of
them why the Soviet Union and Red China turned into slaughterhouses
under Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. The answer is quite predictable: "The
right people weren't in power." Why not? Blank-out.
The ultimate horror lies in this: the very worst men in the world, whom
we should struggle to keep a million miles away from the levers of
power, are those best equipped to capitalize on that foolish faith.
* * * * * * * * * *
If the State, in one form or another, is really inevitable, then men of
good will must content themselves with:
1. Devising ways to limit it;
2. Ensuring that only trustworthy persons rise within it.
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 dedicated
themselves to the first of those aims. They trusted the second to
democratic mechanisms and the good sense of the American people. Though
a .500 batting average would get anyone into Cooperstown, in politics
and governance it's a loser. Indeed: the Framers' neglect of the second
imperative has undone their efforts on the first one.
It might well be that no single generation of statesmen can lay down a
blueprint that will safeguard the unseen future. It might well be that
the evil inherent in the State will always, inevitably attract
charismatic villains with a gift for seducing others out of their
rights. It might well be that once a people has consented to an enduring
institution pre-indemnified against the consequences of wielding force
against others, the rise to power of such villains is foreordained.
We don't know nearly enough about ourselves to construct a perfect
filter against such corruption. When it happens, all we can do is try to
correct the mistake and strive to do better in the future. But if the
State is inevitable, passages of corruption -- eras dominated by
Wilsons, Roosevelts, and Obamas -- might be equally inevitable.
* * * * * * * * * *
There is no panacea.
There is no optimal solution.
There is no averting the need for eternal vigilance.
And there is absolutely no substitute for a good character.
The November elections will decide which of two men will occupy the
White House for the subsequent four years. One of these has already
demonstrated villainy of a magnitude beyond anything previously known to
infest the Oval Office. The other appears at least to acknowledge the
fundamental moral requirements of decency and a decent society.
If we judge by his record as Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney is
not a Constitutionalist. He's from the strain of Northeastern
Republicanism that brought us Nelson Rockefeller and George Pataki:
verbally adroit, excessively compromising, and a bit too vain to be
entirely trustworthy. But he's a decent man in his personal life, he has
some solid accomplishments of which he can be justly proud, and it's at
least possible that he's unlearned some of the mistakes he made while
Romney could buy the Republic some time to right itself. Obama wouldn't.
The State is inevitable. That Americans will elect in November a man who
will wield the excessive powers of the presidency for the next four
years is just as inevitable. And the man we elect will be either Barack
Hussein Obama or Willard Mitt Romney.
It's time to hold our noses and do all that's possible to us.