Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Great Expectations.

Perhaps it’s unwise for a new blogger to point this out, but there’s a lot of dangerous idiocy on the Internet.

Not long ago, within the space of an hour, I was engaged in two exchanges that served as stark reminders of this. The first was an online disagreement with a fellow who claimed to be a lawyer, who thus necessarily took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and who, one supposes, must have had occasion actually to read the damned thing at some point. Yet his fundamental position was that the Constitution (originally) and the courts (thereafter) grant us our rights, rather than merely enumerating and protecting them.  Lest you fall into similar folly,  the drafters of the Constitution provided a handy clue rigth there in the Preamble: “ . . . the blessings of Liberty. . . ” And the Declaration of Independence, in which some of the same fellows had a hand, is helpful as well: “ . . . endowed by their creator. . .”*

Next, a Facebook thread dealt with an association by a our new Attorney General that any rational middle-schooler would recognize as a conflict of interest, but which she has denied was any conflict at all. When I suggested that such political and moral tone-deafness were problematic, I was asked, “Well, what do you expect?”

Fair question. And one which, depending upon which word receives emphasis, covers a lot of territory, from the merely categorical to the particularly personal to the wildly aspirational.  I choose – for the moment – to abandon categorizations and aspirations and deal only with prognostications.

So here’s what I expect in these matters:

I expect a never-ending, ever-expanding assault on my personal liberty. I expect, every week, for events to demonstrate that Frédéric Bastiat knew exactly whereof he spoke.** In this I am rarely disappointed.

I expect members of the party in power -- whichever it may be -- to be so hungry to expand their ideology and influence right now that they throw notions of equity, fair play and good governance overboard with both hands, blind to the simple reality that they will come to decry these same "reforms" when -- as will surely come to pass -- they find their particular orthodoxy to be out of favor. For a current example, consider the Florida Legislature's multi-front attack on an entire branch of government.

I expect that efforts to improve government will be either costly and futile, or costly and disastrous.  I expect it is exceedingly rare – and increasingly rare in direct proportion to the amount of power wielded – that anyone in government has even passing concern for those they govern. Indeed, I expect that most in government think of themselves not as the governors of citizens, but as rulers of subjects. (In England this is explicitly so.)

I expect that Stalin was exactly right when he said those who cast votes decide nothing, while those who count votes decide everything.

I expect no benevolence from any government, because I expect power at every level to serve itself not just first, but only. I expect to take care of myself and my own without useful intervention of the government. At the same time, I expect to receive the help of my friends, colleagues and church family  – and I expect them to expect the same of me.  

I expect to do my best to keep my head down and stay off the radar of the tyrants who everywhere abound, but I also expect to fail at that from time to time. When I do so fail, and I come under the direct attention of those who want to harm me or – far worse – those who think they know what is best for me, I expect to come out the worse for wear.

Sadly, I expect that there will come a day when just striving to be let alone will no longer suffice.

But listen, that's just what I expect. Whatever I expect, I try always to keep Cromwell's admonition in mind.*** After all, there was a fellow who, despite the fact  that he was endearingly regicidal, knew a thing or two about tyranny.  

*  Those who still need convincing are referred to Messrs. Seneca, Luther, Hegel, Rousseau, Locke . . . .

** "If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?"

"It seems to me that this is theoretically right, for whatever the question under discussion—whether religious, philosophical, political, or economic; whether it concerns prosperity, morality, equality, right, justice, progress, responsibility, cooperation, property, labor, trade, capital, wages, taxes, population, finance, or government—at whatever point on the scientific horizon I begin my researches, I invariably reach this one conclusion: The solution to the problems of human relationships is to be found in liberty."

*** "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken." This was Cromwell's plea to the synod of the Church or Scotland in August 1650, when the church leaders aligned themselves with Charles II's claim to the throne from which Cromwell had removed his father, not long before likewise removing Charles I's head from his shoulders. Charles II  reclaimed the throne ten years later following Cromwell's death and -- you have to love the British sense of propriety -- posthumous "execution."

"Cromwell's Rule," as logicians refer to it, advises that in searching for the truth, unshakable certainty is poor place to start.

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