The Bedlam of Statism
by EDWARD CLINE
June 19, 2012
Is statism bipolar? Schizophrenic? Autistic? Obsessive-compulsive? Multi-phobic? Inherently dysfunctional? Psychotically antisocial? A form of dementia? A narcissistic personality disorder? A kind of panic or anxiety disorder? Just plain maladaptive? Or all of the preceding? This column will enter the mad house of statism and explore its various wards.
John David Lewis, in his masterpiece about the means and ends of war, Nothing Less Than Victory, cites both Ludwig von MIses and Ayn Rand on etatism and statism or fascism.
In Omnipotent Government, von Mises notes that etatism denotes those political systems that "have a common goal of subordinating the individual unconditionally to the state, the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion." (Lewis, p. 44)
Quoting from Rand's column, "The Fascist New Frontier," Lewis cites Rand:
The dictionary definition of fascism is: "a governmental system with strong centralized power, permitting no opposition or criticism, controlling all affairs of the nation (industrial, commercial, etc.), emphasizing an aggressive nationalism . . ." [The American College Dictionary, New York: Random House, 1957.]
Of statism, she also wrote:
If the term "statism" designates concentration of power in the state at the expense of individual liberty, then Nazism in politics was a form of statism. In principle, it did not represent a new approach to government; it was a continuation of the political absolutism-the absolute monarchies, the oligarchies, the theocracies, the random tyrannies-which has characterized most of human history.
Statism applies to any government with such power, whether a primitive tribal ruler, a theocratic council, or a communist or fascist dictatorship - including a democracy unrestrained by fundamental laws - each of which swallows the lives and fortunes of individuals without regard for their rights. The identification of such governments as statist is relatively new, but the practice is of enormous antiquity (as Lewis demonstrates in his chapter on the Theban Wars against the Spartan slave state).
But the subject here is that wherever statism in any of its forms has been established and tried, it has failed, causing economic dislocations and eventual collapse, the impoverishment of its most productive citizenry, their incremental or outright slavery, and an excuse to war on more prosperous and freer neighbors. The history of statism is riddled with these disasters, and at no time has it ever been successful on its own terms, nor will it ever be. Even with a willing and compliant citizenry, it is destined to fail.
If Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia seemed to be "successful," it was only by grace of the inertia of the semi-free past and a proximity to freer nations, which they immediately began to conquer. The longevity of statism is illusory. Today mixed economies are endemic and seem to thrive only because of the shrinking quantum of liberty and capitalism that may exist in any one nation, and on which statist governments depend for revenue (or loot). Governments produce nothing, not even the desks and chairs and pencils and grosses of paper and ink used by bureaucratic chiefs and their staffs.
Remember that even in the U.S., there are no such things as government-owned and run gun or tank factories, only private companies contracted to produce weaponry or the instruments of force (such as Tasers, electronic cattle prods, protective gear, etc.). The only government-owned and managed "enterprises" by tyrannies have been the charnel houses of concentration camps and Gulags. The exceptions to this rule are communist nations in which the government owns and runs everything and everyone. Even in such overtly totalitarian countries, however, their governments are thieves and parasites preying on the achievements of freer nations. The phenomenon has been amply recorded by many observers, such as Werner Keller and Anthony C. Sutton.
Look at Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela, or "capitalist" China: these are countries that thrive on the products of freedom, while outlawing it for their own populaces. And their longevity is sustained only by the ignorance of those who help them survive, such as Western policymakers, pragmatic businessmen, and tourists.
So, if statism, whatever its form or scope, has a consistent record of tragic and costly failure whenever and wherever it has been tried, what is its appeal? Why do men keep advocating it and imposing it in the face of the incalculable destruction, death and misery it has caused?
It must be madness. A form of mental illness in politicians, leaders, and their followers. It's easier to champion than are rational self interest, individualism, and no-strings-no-fetters freedom. Collectivism appeals to politicians because it guarantees votes and power. It appeals to voters because it proposes to share the misery of having one's wealth and that of one's neighbor expropriated for the greater good of an anonymous, amorphous whole, that omnivorous monster called "society." The joke is that sacrificing for the "greater good" is not a virtue, but a vice resting on delusions, obsessions, unreasoning malice, or unexamined fears.
Altruism, the morality that underlies collectivism and statism, is a form of madness. It asks a person to value ice cream by never tasting it, or to sacrifice it after one has tasted it. It asks one to value life by not living. It demands that one surrender one's liberty in exchange for an entitlement. It requires that one not know that one's rights and freedom originate in the requirements of living as an independent individual, but to believe that one's rights originate with society or the state to be granted or withdrawn when the state deems it politick.
Daniel Greenfield made this observation:
The Clash of Civilizations is all-encompassing. It doesn't just cover the big thing, like ramming planes into skyscrapers, but also the little things.... For Mayor Bloomberg, it's banning large sodas....When there is no limit to government infringement on rights, then the law is a collection of bugbears and control mechanisms.... It's senseless, but so is fighting obesity by banning people from buying large sodas. When the obsession of a few men is turned into law, then the result is equally contemptuous of the individual as a rotting sack of vile habits which he has to be forced to abandon by the majority of the law.
Once you abandon the rights of the individual to the fiat of activists, judges and politicians-- then laws can be made by anyone who wants them badly enough. The same process of judicial activism, hysteria, violent attacks, and pressure groups that created gay marriage can one day lock up the happy couples. It's only a matter of who is making the laws.
Statism is legalized, institutional irrationality, criminality elevated to the status of duty and "public service." The irrational, by itself, operating in a social vacuum, is self-destructive. Operating unchecked or unchallenged among men, is destructive of them and of their values.
Walter Williams, in his article, "Immoral Beyond Redemption," poses the question:
...[D]oes an act that's clearly immoral and illegal when done privately become moral when it is done legally and collectively? Put another way, does legality establish morality? Before you answer, keep in mind that slavery was legal; apartheid was legal; the Nazis' Nuremberg Laws were legal; and the Stalinist and Maoist purges were legal. Legality alone cannot be the guide for moral people. The moral question is whether it's right to take what belongs to one person to give to another to whom it does not belong.
From science fiction, statism can be characterized by a variety of malevolent, inimical creatures. In our public education systems (including universities), children and young people are mandated to sit in front of Alien pod teachers from which leap parasites that cling fast to their minds to plant the seeds of multiculturalism, volunteerism, self-sacrifice, and deference to the state. In economics, we are all attacked by The Blob of taxes, controls, and prohibitions that eat us alive. Predators identify and hunt down anyone who defends himself word or deed against government force.
From the horror genre, the intelligentsia and its cohorts in academe may be represented by Hannibal Lecter, a charming, articulate killer who will promise men the moon while plotting to prepare a meal of them for himself.
Let's say that statism is bipolar. A bipolar government takes action, such as imposing confiscatory taxes that skew, reduce, or redirect private spending for the sake of raising revenue to support sometimes legitimate but too often illegitimate imperatives and programs. The decades-old campaign against smoking is salutary. Politicians, heeding the demands of anti-smoking lobbies and activists, impose higher taxes and more controls on cigarettes and other tobacco products, theoretically reducing smoking rates among the population ( a state-designated "public good"), and allowing anti-smokers and the asthma-stricken and sensitivity feigners to frolic in businesses, restaurants, and bars they don't really own.
At the same time, however, government depends on cigarette taxes for revenue, and when the revenue falls, it raises the taxes on cigarettes higher, or finds another taxable product - say, gasoline, or capital gains, or bottles of imported Bailey's Irish Cream - to make up for a shortfall that becomes increasingly bottomless. (And incidentally creates an "illegal" or underground market for the targeted goods, from smuggled, untaxed cigarettes to outlawed light bulbs to profits deposited in offshore banks, which in turn causes to the government to create more agencies and hire more employees to "police" said market, which in turn requires more taxes and revenue to pay for enforcement.)
A statist or command economy is therefore a Sisyphean nightmare that grows worse with each new echelon of salaried mediocrities put in charge of regulating the latest "public concern." Statists declare society blighted and proceed to impose eminent domain on neighborhoods, choices, habits, and everyone. This has been the incremental history of Progressivism, which has never had to look far for a "social ill" to cure and regulate. Any human action may be deemed a "social ill" and a candidate for taxation, regulation, or prohibition, from consuming milkshakes to stock or commodity speculation.
The purpose of the taxes, regulations, and prohibitions is to impose the "social justice" clamored for by various social engineering groups that wish to punish, control, or extinguish other groups. Governments - federal, state and local - wish to have enough revenue to either balance their budgets, or at least stave off bigger than usual deficits, while at the same time heeding the social justice brigades' demands for smoke-free air or reduced car emissions or nutritional information on food products or a "fairer" redistribution of earned income. This compels government policymakers to seek a median, which only ratchets up costs all around. It is a no-win episode of bipolarism for everyone, two steps forward, one step back. It is disguised as "social progress" by the pronouncements of activists, politicians, and public interest groups. What it is in reality is an insidious conditioning of men so that they become inured to slavery.
Some of those activists, politicians, and public interest groups know exactly what it is all progressing to - socialism, fascism, a straightjacket state - but most don't know, and think that once the tax, regulation, or prohibition is legislated, their work is done. They've done their good deed, and remain on the sidelines or become spectators while other activists, politicians, and public interest groups take their turn at "democracy."
It is all a prescription for bedlam, of groups fighting each other for controls over each other, a "democratic" anarchy that can only result in the stasis of totalitarian rule.
Choose your dementia from the group of statist disorders which introduced this column. As with personal, clinically defined mental illnesses, each is founded on some species of the irrational.
When are Americans going to stop believing in the miracle nostrums of statism, and seek out and heed the advice of those who prescribe the steps to take toward the sanity of freedom?
Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk novels set in England and Virginia in the pre-Revolutionary period, of several detective and suspense novels, and three collections of his commentaries and columns, all available on Amazon Books. His essays, book reviews, and other articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Journal of Information Ethics and other publications. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason, Family Security Matters, Capitalism Magazine and other Web publications.