Limited Government, An Impossible Dream

Email Print

Our present
political system is coming unglued, a victim of its own contradictions.
It is apparent even to those in great denial that there is something
terribly wrong, that the center cannot hold, and that we are rapidly
adrift in a very bad direction. The widespread anger that has been
shown in town hall meetings all over the country is a sign that
mainstream Americans have begun to have a sense of foreboding, and
they are angry at the position in which we now find ourselves. People
are looking for answers, but the old solutions obviously are not
working. Any number of writers has emerged to propose remedies that
were unthinkable only a few short years ago, but which are now becoming
acceptable topics of discourse. These topics include such ideas
as government being the cause, rather than the solution, to our
current predicament. These ideas received rhetorical support from
at least one of our recent presidents, but his actions, however
well intentioned, continued to contribute to the problem. The libertarian
position, on the other hand, is now beginning to receive increased
attention and support, and there have appeared any number of fine
writers who have contributed to the literature of liberty. One such
line of libertarian thinking accepts that the institution of government
is legitimate, but that government should be confined to certain
well-defined tasks and must be strictly limited to a very small
size and influence. This is known as minarchism, and it is a widely
held and respected position of libertarian thought.

There appears
to be reluctance on the part of many fine libertarian writers, however,
to pursue their line of reasoning to its logical and final conclusion.
They elaborate current failures of government in a most convincing
and articulate fashion, enumerating any number of government failures,
abuses, and outrages and pointing out even worse catastrophes as
a result of further government mismanagement, negligence, ignorance,
wrong-headedness, and even outright hostility. The "solutions"
often proposed are the familiar nostrums of "limiting"
government to its "rightful" functions, respect for the
Constitution, reducing taxation to a bare minimum, eliminating a
great deal of the current legal code, secession of one or a number
of states, or even more drastic solutions.

In many articles,
though certainly not all, there is the unstated position that there
is something wrong with our government, or with some other
affiliated state. Rarely are we exposed to the proposition that
government by its very nature is an illegitimate institution,
that governments arise by conquest and confiscation and no other
way, and that they represent the institutionalized form of violence
and coercion. In the words of Murray Rothbard, they are a criminal
gang writ large.

A fairly representative
position of the minarchist writers is that we demand government
return to its rightful role as defined by the Constitution and as
described in the Federalist
, where the powers delegated to the national government
were "limited and few." This is a position that I held
for years. It is a chimera and a lost hope so to believe, and it
involves those who care about their freedom in a fruitless struggle
whose outcome has been rigged long before. One of the routine ploys
of running for political office is to promise to downsize government
and return it to its "proper place" in our lives.

Is it not right
for us to demand that which the politicians promise us over and
over? Do not most of them run on a plank of change, and is
not the rhetoric, year after year, to downsize government, to lower
taxes, and to reduce the heavy burden of government on our lives?
Yet year after year, for some unexplainable reason, government regulation
becomes more onerous, taxes increase (or because of government money
manipulation, taxes are nominally the same, but our standard of
living inexorably continues to erode), and the government, far from
being a government of consent, becomes more and more a government
of naked force. Even when the citizenry almost unanimously favor
a certain course of action (in this case, opposition to the financial
bailouts of late 2008, or opposition to the complete federal takeover
of the health care industry), our so-called leaders pretty much
do exactly what they wish.

My point is
that government by its very nature is not susceptible to
control. If there were some hypothetical entity to which
we could petition for redress of grievances when government exceeds
its rightful authority, that hypothetical entity would be
the real government. The reason is that government is the entity
that arrogates to itself the monopoly of deadly force within a certain
geographical area. It is sovereign, that is, there is no other authority
to which to turn when government usurps its authority. By the logic
of the many who ascribe to this theory, there is not in reality,
or can there be, any usurpation, because of the fact that government
is sovereign, or the supreme lawgiver. It justifies itself, and
would not be expected to do otherwise. There will always be
apologists who by glib fabrication and wily use of words, as well
as appeals to emotion, will affirm that there is no such thing as
an absolute right, and that government is justified in placing
"reasonable" limits on our rights. This line of reasoning
is wrong, dead wrong. A right, by definition, is absolute.
That is why it is a right, and not something else. The adage that
we cannot yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater is likewise
dead wrong, and the fallacy of that attack on our right to free
speech has long since been proven false and discredited. But by
then, the damage had been done, and the popular wisdom had been
led to believe that government could circumscribe our rights whenever
the government had a "sufficiently strong" reason to do
so. Thus we have seen all our treasured freedoms vanish more or
less within our lifetimes, certainly within the lifetimes of such
close ancestors as our grandparents. Such things as sound currency,
habeas corpus, privacy in our persons and papers, even freedom to
practice our own religion (yes, some may challenge me on this, but
I have strong evidence for my case) have come under attack and are
now rather commonly understood as being subject to government control.

Our venerated
Constitution was written to "bind our government down with
chains," to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson. But government, by
its very nature, cannot be bound with chains. A "limited
government" is a contradiction. Either it is limited (in which
case, the entity doing the limiting is sovereign), or it is government.
It cannot be both. I challenge any reader to enumerate for me any
government within recorded history that did not grow and metastasize.
It is in the nature of governments to do this. It is what governments
do. It is of no more validity to insist that government remain within
its circumscribed bounds than to insist that a breast cancer limit
itself to a small part of the body, and for life to go on as before.

I hesitated
at the logical conclusion of this line of thought, and I did so
for many years. Even the word "anarchy" had a very negative
and unsavory association in my mind. Basically, it connoted chaos,
and I recoil at chaos as much so or more than any man on earth.
It is the one condition that nature abhors, and is to be avoided
at all costs. But after much immersion both in libertarian literature
and even religious literature, I have come around 180 degrees from
my former position. I believe our addictive attraction to the power
of government to improve our lives is the very thing that has got
us into our current predicament, and that government, far from securing
our lives, liberty, and property, is the only real threat to them.
It actually fosters chaos, and retards the process of mutually
beneficial exchange that is the very basis of civilization. Government
is the mortal enemy of mankind and civilization. Call it what
you may, either free market, creative and peaceful anarchy, or whatever,
the alternative to government is the only hope we have of enjoying
ourselves, and passing on to our progeny, the blessings of life,
liberty, and property. There is no middle ground, and we are engaged
in a fierce struggle whose outcome will be monumental.

I would urge
those who are inclined to liberty to carefully reconsider their
position in regard to anarchism. Granted, it is a minority opinion,
even within the libertarian community. But that does not of itself
make it wrong, only under-appreciated to this point. In the event
that the forces of freedom win the titanic contest with collectivism
with which we are now mightily contending, what are we to do with
our victory? Shall we return yet again to that faith in government
that has been so destructive to this point? For more than 2,500
years we have tried the same thing, over and over, always with the
same dismal results. The greatest political minds of the age, informed
by the most advanced and elevated thought, and concentrated as they
were in a rather small geographical area, of fairly similar backgrounds,
education, and values, and mindful of the centuries of government
abuse that preceded them, produced what was regarded as the finest
political document ever crafted by the hand of man. In the words
of Lysander Spooner, however, the Constitution either provided for
the situation in which we find ourselves today, or it was powerless
to stop it. In any event, it was not worthy of consent.

If we are
able to win our titanic struggle, are we to try yet one more time
to make government work? Will it be different this time, and if
so, why? In the almost certain likelihood that we find ourselves
back exactly where we are right now, will all our struggle have
been merely to have put off the inevitable victory of totalitarianism
just a bit longer? I cringe at the thought. A beautiful future beckons
us, if only we remove our self-imposed shackles.

29, 2009

John Sampson [send him
] is a retired physician and an active rifleman.

Email Print