Monday, July 1, 2013

The Nature of Politics

    Yet de Jouvenel's teaching also reminds us that resistance to power is always difficult and rare.  Liberal[1] political philosophy asks, "How can naturally free human beings be brought to obey?" but for de Jeuvenel, this is the wrong question.  Political authority is natural, and human beings have a high "propensity to comply."  Political science, consequently, should  be more concerned with the questions, "How do human beings become free?  What prompts them to resist a power which defies law?"
    Freedom and right resistance, de Jeuvenel indicates, derive from a sense of what is fitting, a conviction that some things are unseemly even when commanded by authority or power.  In this view, liberty's proper name is dignity.  Even if we concede that freedom is doing as one wants, it is also true that free people want, and will strive for, control over their own wants.  Human beings are not free if they are merely automatons pursuing desires even if that pursuit is successful.  Freedom presumes the ability to evaluate ends; even more, it requires the kind of courage which enables one to do what is honorable and scorn what is shameful despite the bribes and torments of power.

From the Foreward by Wilson Carey McWilliams to The Nature of Politics: Selected Essays of Bertrand de Jeuvenel.

[1] "Liberal" in this case is used in the original sense, meaning "advocating liberty".  This is still the European sense, but has taken on the opposite meaning in the United States.  The modern U.S. word "libertarian" (small L) is closest in meaning.

I thought it appropriate to excerpt these paragraphs as we approach Independence Day.  Described is not merely the politics practiced among politicians.  It also describes our relationship to our government and how we respond to incentives (positive and negative) designed to shape our behavior.

As I look at our incredibly dysfunctional and astonishingly intrusive Federal Government, I cannot help but wonder if Independence Day is an archaic celebration.  After all, our forebears threw off George III for far less.  We the People have voted for successive governments that have layered the intrusion a little bit every year since the 1930's.  Districts and States have sent back virtually the same representatives and senators year after year, with most of them being captured by the system, perpetuating and expanding it.

We the People have lost control.  We lost it a long time ago.  Now bureaucracy, like a successful fusion reaction, is generating it's own power.  They don't need us any more.  If we cut off any finding, the sky--we are warned--will fall, children will die, unimaginable bad things will happen.  And so our elected officials restore funding, and wonder how to get out of this mess without committing political suicide, and the fusion reaction goes on.

"Resistance to power is always difficult and rare," we read above.  Our Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence to articulate their resistance.  They hoped that revolution would be rare, but expected it to occur at some point, even for the government that they later designed for the nation they at last founded despite the odds against them.

The power is not merely politicians who would break the law to gain and keep power.  It is also the bureaucracy that gradually strangles the people by regulations--which by law must ensure equal treatment to similarly situated people--that must prescribe everything to an inflexible degree, and penalize any non-compliance with zero-tolerance and a heavy hand.  "Human beings are not free if they are merely automatons pursuing desires even if that pursuit is successful."  We are being made into automatons, by following the increasingly detailed regulations of the government.

"How do human beings become free?  What prompts them to resist a power which defies law?"  Our current Federal Government is so obviously operating beyond the enumerated powers, clearly explained in plain language by the Founding Fathers in speeches and essays as they hoped to persuade people of the several states to approve the Constitution.  Our bureaucracy defies the Constitution.  The President (present and past) orders the bureaucracy to implement actions not authorized by Congress.  Our bureaucracy defies the laws passed by Congress.

How do we become free?  How do we become independent from this power which defies law?

When you know the answer to that and achieve it, you can then say,

Happy Independence Day.

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