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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Balance between Power and Freedom

Power and freedom are both quantities that can only co-exist at the individual level. Power at the institutional level is inimical to individual freedom, because power at the institutional level is most commonly represented in the form of control.

Some control is of course necessary, it is why government exists as a necessary evil. It is why we must have courts and police officers, armies, inspectors and assorted other functional arms of the system. But that necessary evil is a balance between freedom and authority. And at the point where the necessary evil becomes an unnecessary evil, the balance tilts toward tyranny.

What is an unnecessary evil? If a necessary evil is the use governmental authority that fulfills a vital function, an unnecessary evil is governmental authority that fulfills no vital function, or government for the sake of government. This was once the American view of government that treated government with justified suspicion, particularly centralized government. Today it has become a minority view. Instead the compulsive expansion of government is seen as a necessary good... and the more functions that government takes on, the better.

And so the balance between government power and individual freedom has tilted sharply in the direction of government power. That is the inevitable result of extending centralized power, which in government always comes at the expense of those over whom the government holds power... the citizenry.

America's Founders understood that the more power is collected in a single place, the less freedom there can be. Since government power is expressed as control over the lives of those who live under it, they were profoundly hostile toward the expansion of that power. The Declaration of Independence rejects any notion of government for the sake of government, as opposed to a government of the and by the people, and the Constitution reflects a healthy suspicion of the motives of the very government it was there to emplace.

They were not anarchists, they understood quite well that government was necessary, but they understood also that power corrupts, and that men with power tend to gather more power to themselves, a process that throughout history has brought down even the highest minded republics and nations.

The Constitution was meant to frame a strict structure for the United States government, one that would prevent not only future Caesars and Napoleons, but would prevent ambition and arrogance from wielding unjustified power in the name of even the best of intentions. And that is exactly what happened.

Americans did not wake up one morning to a coup, or saw a crusading general seize power and declare himself President for Life. Instead what took place was the subtle erosion of the restrictions on government authority, and a redefinition of the purpose of government, broadening its areas of responsibility in the name of the public good.

Today in the name of the public good, the government regulates what you may eat, where you may live, how you may travel, where you may build and where you may pray, everything from the great industries to the intimate details of your family life. All in the name of the public good.

For now the government has not yet regulated what you may say and where you may say it, mainly because the tattered shreds of the old Constitution still stand in the way, but if government authority continues to expand, that freedom like all others, will be nothing more than a barrier of sand against the onrushing tide.

The Founders understood that human appetite for power was unlimited, and that were numberless rationalizations for it. The growth of socialism across Europe and America was done in the name of the public good, yet once its proponents gained real power their tactics showed a ruthless ugliness that was only limited by the scope of their authority.

The Soviet experiment, in contrast to the American experiment, demonstrated what true socialism implemented under absolute authority looks like. The experiment has been repeated in numerous nations across the world. The results have been the same each and every time. But there should be no surprise in that, as giving absolute power in the name of any ideology will result in the same exact effect.

Socialism is only as humane as the limits of the authority of those who implement it. The less limits there are, the more ruthless it becomes. That is because socialism is the theory of government absolutism writ large. And that is an inevitable recipe for tyranny.

As America moves toward socialism, and away from traditional constitutional government, in the name of the public good... it is worth remembering that power does not co-exist with freedom. Despite whatever public good is being met, the expansion of government leads inevitably to a decrease in freedom.

The more government expands, the less freedom the people who live under it have. The more power is concentrated within government, the more unrestricted its use becomes, which is why the separation of powers is such a vital part of the American system of government. Many of America's Founding Fathers were gravely worried over that concentration of power within the Federal government, and its potential for expansion. That worry has long ago become reality.

Modern Americans have been conditioned to believe that freedom is a function of government, when freedom is in fact the absence of government. That dangerous misconception creates a distorted view of the intended place of government. No government can give freedom. Freedom is not given by government to the people, it is created through the absence of coercion, not through legislated rights. By embracing the socialist premise that government actions protects and creates rights, American democracy has reverted to a pre-Constitutional understanding of the relationship between government and the individual. And in doing so Americans have stopped being citizens who shape our government and become subjects who are shaped by it, for our "own good".

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous28/10/09

    I think when you say ''socialism'' you should be saying ''statism'' or ''totalitarianism'' - socialism is just one variety. Much the same can be said of absolute monarchies, of theocracies, of any dictatorship.
    The question is one of individual freedom against the State, of limitations on the power of ANY gov't. to overly interfere with individual choice, this balanced against a collective right to law & order.



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