on 04 july 1776, the delegates of the thirteen united states of america, unanimously put their signatures to thomas jefferson's "declaration of independence". we all know that this declaration was meant to itemize for king george all of the reasons the colonies were declaring themselves to be a separate country from england.
lately, i've heard much talk about the need to issue another sort of declaration - a reminder, if you will, to the idiots in washington who think they know better than the governed how things should be run. a reminder that "...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." and "...That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it..." a reminder that "...when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security..." a reminder that the majority of We The People believe that (also from thomas jefferson) "The government is best which governs least."
but what does that mean in real world terms? according to my american dictionary of the english language1828 (noah webster), govern is defined as such: GOV ' ERN, v.t. [Fr. gouverner; Sp. gobernar; It. governare; L. guberno. The L. uberno seems to be a compound.]
- To direct and control, as the actions or conduct of men, either by established laws or by arbitrary will; to regulate authority; to keep within the limits prescribed by law or sovereign will. Thus in free states, men are governed by the constitution and laws; in despotic states, men are governed by the edicts or commands of a monarch. Every man should govern well his own family.
- To regulate; to influence; to direct. This is the chief point by which he is to govern all his counsels and actions.
- To control; to restrain; to keep in due subjection; as to govern the passions or temper.
- To direct; to steer; to regulate the course or motion of ship. The helm of the helmsman governs the ship.
- In grammar, to require to be in a particular case; as, a verb transitive governs a word in the accusative case; or to require a particular case; as, a verb governs the accusative case.
- To exercise authority; to administer the laws. The chief magistrate should govern with impartiality.
- To maintain superiority; to have the control.
my uncle david wrote a short essay concerning what governance is. it was one of the primary inspirations for this post and you may download it here: Download What is governing - david michael myers
in his essay, my uncle says that as he was positing the concept unique to americans - that government governs by consent of the governed - he began to ask himself the question "What is governing; what is the legitimatefunction of government?" and he made a list of 10 items that governments DO following each item with the question of "Is this governing?"
- Is sweeping the streets governing?
- Is collecting and disposing of refuse governing?
- Is delivering mail and parcels governing?
- Is providing transportation such as airlines, airplanes, bicycles, buses, cars, horses, hovercraft, motorbikes, motorcycles, oxen, race cars, roller skates, ships, skateboards, taxis, ultra-light aircraft, etc. governing?
- Is farming, providing food and fiber governing?
- Is any form of manufacturing governing?
- Is providing energy such as coal, electricity, natural gas, nuclear, oil, petroleum, solar, steam, tidal, wind, wood, etc. governing?
- Is providing education, entertainment and information such as amusement parks, computer games, colleges, concerts, elementary schools, intermediate schools, high schools, internet service providers, lectures, libraries, magazines, middle schools, motion pictures, music, newspapers, occupational schools, plays, radio, skating rinks, swimming pools, technical schools, telecommunications services, television,universities, video games governing?
- Is providing housing, shelter, and living space governing?
- Is providing emergency-rescue, fire, and security services governing?
at different times in our history - and in the history of other countries - each of these items has been provided by private entities/businesses and at other times by different governments (local, state, federal - or national if you're not in the u.s.a.). which, in accordance with OUR country's constitution, should provide these activities?
in perhaps the most important of the federalist papers (#51) james madison wrote the following paragraph in defense of a proposed national constitution. said constitution would establish a series of "checks and blanaces between the different departments" of the government to constrain the government's oppression of the people. this paragraph is, essentially, a short lesson in political science:
"... the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."
his passage referencing angels is not merely rhetorical genius, so memorable as to be nearly cliche, it is the propelling argument for madison's consideration of "...framing a government which is to be administered by men over men..." which is "the greatest of all reflections on human nature."
over the years, it has become the common assumption that without a state, society will necessarily fall immediately into violent disorder; anarchy and chaos are generally used as synonyms of this violent disorder. but what is anarchy? The Random House Dictionary gives the following four definitions for anarchy:
- a state of society without government or law
- political and social disorder due to absence of governmental control
- a theory that regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society
- confusion; chaos; disorder
i am not going to argue the point of whether or not the assumption of locke, madison, olson was valid. but i am going to propose that very few (if any) of the activities listed above, when administered by government, do anything to ward off or countermand violent disorder. i am positing that these activities, when conducted by government - any government - are nothing more than bureaucracy. and we all know the enduring power of bureaucracy - regardless of whether it's a government bureaucruacy or a corporate one.
in 1944 ludwig von mises wrote a book titled "bureaucracy" that not only stands the test of time, it effectively renders time inconsequential. In fact, it is alarmingly and eerily evocative of what has been going on in our politics, in our government, in our society right now.
"Powerful political parties and pressure groups are fervently asking for public control of all economic activities, for thorough government planning, and for the nationalization of business. They aim at full government control of education and at the socialization of the medical profession. There is no sphere of human activity that they would not be prepared to subordinate to regimentation by the authorities. In their eyes, state control is the panacea for all ills...
The champions of totalitarianism call themselves "progressives." ...Because of these "progressive" policies, new offices and government agencies thrive like mushrooms. The bureaucrats multiply and are anxious to restrict, step by step, the individual citizen's freedom to act."
as much as we despise bureaucrats, they are NOT the root of all evil, but rather only a symptom. von mises reminds us: "congress made the laws and appropriated the money". the progressives, in otherwords, were voted into office.
the premise of his book is that there are essentially two ways society can be organized: 1. on the basis of private ownership, capitalism, and freedom; or 2. on the basis of government control, socialism, and eventual totalitarianism. von mises compares both systems of societal organization, and investigates the nature of bureaucracies to reveal why socialism results "not only in impoverishment but also in the disintegration of social cooperation - in chaos."
each of the activities listed by my uncle require the creation of an enterprise in order to provide the services to the public. government-controlled enterprises (regardless of whether it's in a full socialist market or semi- or mostly-free market economy) are ruinous when applied to the market sector. and remember that all of those listed activities require enterprises that are part of the market sector regardless of who is controlling them.
bureaucracies, or government enterprises, operate on the rules and regulations that have been issued by the powers that be who are often located far away from the realities they are seeking to manage. and, since the resources don't belong to them and they are viewed by the bureaucrat be infinite, there is no reward for efficiency, and the bureaucratic managers lack incentives to be fiscally prudent. they also discourage progress and innovations of any sort as there is no provision for them in their rules and regulations and such behavior would threaten the status quo. in short, bureaucrats are incapable of conducting any sort of market enterprise in a rational or expeditious manner. there is no effort or concern of serving the public in a manner to make their customers happy.
mises explains why government-controlled enterprises all suffer the same deficiencies: profit does not guide the operation, government resources are limitless, and consumer preferences are immaterial. Other values - not necessarily shared by the public - dominate. how can we then justify allowing or requiring government to provide services that have nothing to do with governing? how can we, in good faith, allow the federal government any more power than explicitly granted by the constitution?
in the second-to-last chapter, von mises concludes, "Mankind is manifestly moving toward totalitarianism." he outlines the struggle between freedom and an ever-encroaching government as a war of ideas. "Public opinion will determine victory and defeat," he says. further, he urges every lover of liberty to join the battle.
and that is exactly what we see happening now with the tea partiers; a resurgence of conservative values and ideals. even thought it's a bit of a harder sell to get people to join the fight for our country, our future, our freedom, people are joining at a faster pace and in numbers much larger than anyone would have predicted even 18 months ago. earlier struggles for freedom were easier for the populace to understand and get behind because those struggles were between tyrants and the people: "Who should rule?... The despot or the aristocracy or the people?"
here in america we chose the people. we accepted the u.s. constitution - a FEDERAL, NOT NATIONAL - constitution - as the supreme law of the land when new hampshire became the 9th state to ratify it on 21 june 1788. the bill of rights went into full force and effect upon ratification by virgina on 15 december 1791. and since that time we, as americans, have repeatedly reaffirmed our dedication to self-governance.
as benjamin franklin left the final meeting in philadelphia where the constitutional delegates had accepted the u.s. constitution, a woman stopped him on the street and asked what kind of government had been established he replied "a republic madam, if you can keep it." if we don't step up and refuse to back down, we may lose our republic forever. not sure about the differences between a republic and a democracy? here's a great resource for you.
the 2010 mid-term elections are just 15 days, that's two weeks, away. the time for once again altering our government - for trimming the federal government back to what we consented to with the ratification of the constitution and its subsequent ratified amendments - is now. if we don't succeed in turning back the tide of progressivism, we should come to terms with the loss of our republic, of our future, of our freedom.