I am reading Albert Jay Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. He writes here of another time, of 70 years ago or more, but we might as well apply it to today, or to a few years ago:
American society had not the faintest idea of what it was doing or where it was going. It simply clung to its inveterate practice of making brag, bounce and quackery do duty for observation, reason and common sense. It had not yet got a glimpse of the elementary truth which was so clear to the mind of Mr. Jefferson, that in proportion as you give the State power to do things for you, you give it power to do things to you; and that the State invariably makes as little as it can of the one power, and as much as it can of the other. (175-6)
Many of those who had no problem with government control or power growing under President Clinton were horrified to see control or power growing under President George W. Bush. Yet, as vociferously as they objected to what they saw as abuse of power by Bush, many of these same people welcome growing government control and power under President Obama. And those who supported Bush as he expanded government, even domestically and even outside of areas related to national security, were then horrified at the growth of government under Obama.
It’s time to stop cheering for a team, to put down the political pom-poms and to allow the government, when it is your party in office, to only have as much power as you would be comfortable with it having if the other side were in power. Because at some point it will be the other side in power. And if you were cheering for one side to have that power, most likely you won’t be happy about how that power is used when the other side has it (even when both parties take us in the same direction).
As for how much power government ought to have, and where that power ought to be concentrated, of course people will disagree based on their own ideology. Here’s what Nock thought:
Mankind had been striving after forms of organisation, both political and social, too large for their capacities; believing that because they could organize a small unit like the family, the village, even the township, with fair-to-middling success, they could likewise successfully carry on with a state, a province, a nation. Just so the lemmings on their migrations, finding themselves able to cross small bodies of water, think, when they come to the ocean, that it is just another body of water like the others they have crossed; and so they swim until they drown. Season after season, they make these attempts, unable to learn that the thing is impracticable. Likewise, age after age, mankind have made the attempt to construct a stable and satisfactory nationalist civil system, unable to learn that nothing like that can, in the nature of things, be done. (256)
Most people won’t like being compared to lemmings. Nock doesn’t have much regard for the species — people, that is (he is kinder to the lemmings). But it seems that many in society today do have the faintest idea of where it is going, and they don’t like it. Bush wasn’t popular at the end, Obama isn’t popular now, and Congress hasn’t been popular for a long, long time.
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