CXXXVI – The Individual or the State?

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Our
social arrangements necessitate an answer
to the question of whether the interests
of individuals or of institutions
shall have central importance. This
question is posed by our dualistic nature:
each of us is a unique individual who
acts to further his or her self-interests;
who expresses and makes choices in furtherance
of personal values; and who is the carrier
of life from one generation to another.
At the same time, we are social beings
who require organization with others in
order to survive. We cannot live well
— if at all — as hermits. From the love
and support of a family to the economic
benefits flowing from a division of labor,
our lives are rendered more meaningful
and fruitful by associating with others.

The
question that we too often fail to confront
is whether the organizational systems
we employ shall ever take priority over
our individual interests. This is the
major theme I developed in my book, Calculated
Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace
and Human Survival
. While social
organization is essential to our personal
well-being, a danger arises when any organization
becomes institutionalized (i.e.,
when the organization becomes its own
reason for being, rather than a cooperative
tool for mutual individual interests).

It
is our failure to maintain a skeptical
awareness of organizational conduct and
purposes that leads us into most of our
social difficulties, including wars, economic
dislocations, and a pervasive form of
social conflict. Thomas Jefferson's observation
that u201Cthe price of freedom is vigilanceu201D
expressed this need for a constant awareness
of collective behavior.

To
maintain such attentiveness, however,
requires an openness of our minds to what
is implicit in organizational activity,
particularly that of the state. We must
be insistent upon knowing what these agencies
of force and destructiveness are doing;
to withdraw our acquiescence in their
purposes; and to take action to dismantle
the machinery that is being used to suppress
individual liberties. Such an awareness
is dependent upon men and women being
free to think about, speak about, and
publish anything pertaining to
the actions of the state.

All
of this presumes, of course, a given attitude
about the nature of political systems.
Modern political thought has been grounded
in the myth of the u201Csocial contract,u201D
an idea no more clearly expressed than
in the Declaration of Independence. Drawn
from the thinking of such men as John
Locke, John Stuart Mill, and other advocates
of individually-centered political philosophy,
the social contract theory is premised
upon each person having a right to protect
his or her life and property from the
intrusions of others. In a society in
which individualist assumptions prevail,
people are free to create a political
system as their agent for mutual protection.
That the social contract theory of the
state is a pure fiction that explains
the origins of no political system, has
not detracted from its underlying proposition
that governments are the subordinate agents
of those who comprise society.

There
is, of course, an alternative model, wherein
the state is its own justification for
being, and to whose interests individuals
are — and ought to be — subjugated. This
model is found in, among others, monarchical
and feudal systems of government, and
finds its fullest expression in the urge
for empire. In his recent article, u201COf
Pulitzers and treason,u201D Patrick Buchanan
provides a defense of this state-centered
proposition. His complaint is that certain
government employees and journalists have
conspired to make known to the public
government activities that have proved
embarrassing to the Bush administration.

It
is alleged that a CIA official told the
Washington Post that her
agency was secretly interrogating terror
suspects in NATO countries. Buchanan is
also upset with the New York Times'
reporting that American intelligence agencies
have engaged in surveillance of telephone
calls and e-mails involving U.S. citizens.
Reporters for these newspapers received
Pulitzer Prizes for reporting such activities.
The result of such revelations, says Buchanan,
u201Cis to damage the U.S. government in a
time of war.u201D A journalist engaging in
such publications u201Cshould be prosecuted
and, if convicted, spend the next decade
in prison,u201D he adds.

u201CAre
journalists above the law?,u201D Pat queries.
Thomas Jefferson — whose view of the relationship
between individuals and the state differs
decidedly from that of Mr. Buchanan —
answered that question this way:

The basis of our government being the
opinion of the people, the very first
object should be to keep that right; and
were it left to me to decide whether we
should have a government without newspapers,
or newspapers without a government, I
should not hesitate a moment to prefer
the latter.

To
those who share the sentiments embodied
in the Declaration of Independence, not
only journalists, but people generally,
would be regarded as u201Cabove the law.u201D
Such is the logical extrapolation of a
u201Csocial contractu201D theory of government.

If
individuals are to be regarded as the
principals, for whom the government
is to function as no more than their agents,
in what twisted manner of thinking can
it be said that such principals are not
u201Cabove the lawu201D created by their agents?
If you own a business, and you employ
a man to act as your agent in running
that business, how could his actions ever
be regarded as superior to your will?
How could your condemnation of the breach
of his obligations be considered as u201Ctreasonousu201D
to him? In a free society, everyone
is u201Caboveu201D the authority of those who
claim to act as their agents. Such is
the very essence of agency principles.

Of
course, u201Cagencyu201D and u201Csocial contractu201D
views have never been taken seriously
by the state, especially those that impose
any impediment to governmental interests.
In 1798, Congress enacted the Sedition
Act, making it a crime to u201Cunlawfully
combine or conspire together, with intent
to oppose any measure or measures of the
government of the United States.u201D It was
also unlawful to u201Cwrite, print, utter
or publish . . . any false, scandalous,
and malicious writing or writings against
the government of the United States .
. . with intent to defame the said government.
. . .u201D

Machiavelli,
not John Locke, has long been the patron
saint of statists; and in urging the crime
of u201Ctreasonu201D upon those who reveal truths
that political operatives would prefer
to keep secret from the public, Pat Buchanan
is genuflecting before this paragon of
realpolitik. But the underlying premises
of such u201Cbottom lineu201D thinking produce
consequences that make it difficult to
address government action in any principled
way. Richard Weaver warned us that u201Cideas
have consequences,u201D and a perspective
that considers the interests of the state
as superior to — and needing protection
from — the interests of individuals, can
produce only humanly perverse ends.

The
very concept of u201Ctreasonu201D — which conservatives
delight in throwing about against anyone
with whom they disagree — is incompatible
with any political theory based upon individual
liberty. u201CTreasonu201D is a feudal concept,
more befitting a monarchical system than
one grounded in social contract. One dictionary
defines u201Ctreasonu201D as u201Cthe betrayal in
early English law of a lord by his vassal:
the betrayal in early feudal law by a
vassal of his allegiance to his superior.u201D
The same dictionary defines a u201Cvassalu201D
as u201Cone who owes or is forced to give
allegiance and service to another as a
superior.u201D

Because
of its inherently coercive nature, the
state will always function, in fact, as
the principal, whose paramount interests
preempt those for whom it pretends to
function as an agent. But to constantly
remind the statists of the lie upon which
they presume their authority, may serve
— like private gun ownership — to remind
both rulers and the ruled of latent powers
within men and women, that may reach a
critical mass should the state over-extend
itself.

Such
is the wisdom of the Declaration of Independence
to which the statists give lip service
even as they seek to immunize the state
from its liberating implications. In the
words u201Cthat whenever any form of government
becomes destructive of these ends, it
is the right of the people to alter or
abolish it,u201D are to be found a danger
that any state ignores at its peril: the
withdrawal of popular sanction for its
rule.

In
contrast to the mindset of Thomas Jefferson,
the thinking of Pat Buchanan — and other
statists — is straight out of Henry VIII.
If the lives and purposes of others prove
an inconvenience to the monarch — or any
other manifestation of the state — they
may be dispatched without reason or regret.
Any embarrassment to the state — whether
true or not is irrelevant — is to be punished.
Those who refuse to submit their bodies
and souls to the primacy of the state
will be treated as u201Ctraitors,u201D betrayers
of their duty of allegiance to a system
bent on their dehumanization and destruction.

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