Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Tongues Of Men And Angels Part 2: Inevitabilities

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
tolerable.

* * * * * * * * * *

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
governor.

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.
Inevitably.

9 comments:

Kirk said...

I think you're a little hard on the founding fathers. Some of them, especially, were gravely concerned about the processes for democratic participation in the government. Nonetheless, they were unable to embody all their concerns in the final document.

Be that as it may, you are correct about the state being a necessary evil. As you say, we must all do what we can in November, holding our nose or otherwise. But it is also time for those of us who see to begin working earnestly toward restoring as much constitutional government as we can. It may not be a panacea, but a return to constitutional principles would be a big step in a positive direction. We need to begin now to plan for the elections in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020. We need to find like-minded people, and begin educating our families, friends and neighbors about the need to turn the ship of state before it crashes irreversibly on the rocks. We need to find candidates who will stand for constitutional principles, and elect them to every level of government, local, state and federal. And we need to watch them carefully, and turn them out of office when the inevitable siren call of corruption begins to wear on them. If there is a better way to move forward in our current circumstances, I'm open to hearing about it. This is all I can see for now.

Matt said...

"Indeed: the Framers' neglect of the second imperative has undone their efforts on the first one."

I'm not entirely convinced that they neglected it. I believe that the prevailing theory was that, having limited the power of the state, they had also limited its appeal to those worst-of-men who would otherwise rise to power through natural selection. This effect is probably (although not, I think, certainly and inevitably) less powerful than they anticipated...yet it worked rather admirably most of the time for over 100 years.

I can't name another human creation that can run that well for that long without repeated active intervention by its designer and/or his appointees, heirs, and assigns.

We can mourn the fact that it didn't run unaided for longer than it did. We can (and _should_) mourn the fact that when it needed maintenance, it got sabotage instead. But if we're to imagine ourselves capable of doing a better job, given the chance, we must at least admit it for what it is...an absolute marvel of social engineering utterly unequaled by the works of any other sort of engineer.

And in the meantime, yes, we must do the best we can with the tools actually at hand, even as we mourn the absence of better ones and ponder how such might be fashioned or obtained in the future.

Anonymous said...

Fran:

Will not a Romney election simply lull the grumbling masses back into their mass-media euthanasia chamber?

If so, then isn't an Obama re-election better for the long-term survival odds of the country into which we were both born?

The more I puzzle on this question, the harder my conviction grows:

A vote for Romney is a vote for slow death.

A vote for Obama is a vote for conflict.

There is a barely-perceptible lesser of the two evils amongst those two outcomes.

Thanks for what you do.

-- ca
WRSA

Will said...

CA,

While I respect you greatly, I think you are possibly mistaken in your assumption that conflict stemming from an Obama re-election would be the best chance for long-term survival of the USA. What if this conflict leads to dictatorship a la Stalin?

I think the best option is to elect Romney and have a clean sweep for the GOP in Congress, and then work towards achieving what Kirk talks about in his comment, #1 in this thread.

Do those who talk about either staying home on election day or even voting for Obama to hasten things such as conflict REALLY want that on their consciences? I hope and pray they will reconsider.

Cirtis said...

In other words Will... wash, spin, rinse, spin, repeat until we FINALLY get it right.

The dumbocrats and repukocrats get the government they deserve, the rest must just plug their nose and go for the ride, or accept the government they plugged their nose for when they vote.

What a ride in logic. On the one hand, you can vote for the devil, and on the hand, you can vote for his demon, and feel good about yourself.

KG said...

Voting is a farce, a charade which allows people to cling to the delusion that they have some kind of choice of masters.
They don't.
It's merely the same gang in different packaging, and I for one refuse to be treated like a fool and confirm that estimation by voting.

Anonymous said...

Fran:

I think we ARE headed for a dictatorship a la Stalin.

8 more years of construction and ongoing innovation on the domestic/internal security apparat (which will be interconnected globally) will pretty much sew the bag closed.

The bastards need more time.

Consider the utility of denying them same.

With respect,

CA
Another tired old NYer (emeritus)

Curtis said...

Note to self: Proof read before send Curtis.

Kent McManigal said...

Pretending there is any difference between Obama and Romney is cute.

The only way I can see to justify a vote for Obama/Romney is in order to bring the US down faster so that, just maybe, America or something better can rise from the ashes. And that's quite a gamble. One I'm not willing to take.

There is a big difference between a mob and a State: the State is believed by most people to be legitimate, even though it is completely, inexcusably evil. It's that illusion (or delusion) of legitimacy that makes the difference. It's why you can shoot a (freelance) mobster and get away with it, but have no hope of getting away with shooting a reaver/cop or puppetician.