Liberty In A Statist World
by Dr. Karma
Anyone who knows me well would agree that I’m nothing if not an idealist. Idealistic about politics, about medicine, about science, even about my car and guns. But it’s a funny thing about ideals; they never quite have a one-to-one relationship with the real world. The less electronic tomfoolery in a car, the better, I say. Yet the car I drive has one of the more advanced automatic transmissions on the market, and an electronic throttle body (Throttle cable? Kickdown cable? What?). Therapy before pharmacology is my motto, and yet I became a psychiatrist rather than a clinical psychologist, with the primary difference between the two being the ability to dispense street drugs with fancy labels.
But such things are comparatively minor compared to how a liberty-oriented individual is forced to operate in this most statist of all worlds. Just as a surgeon must sometimes remove part of the body to save a life, we may sometimes be forced to advocate legislation where we’d rather none exist whatsoever. Beyond that, we must occasionally push for a direct curtailment of liberty in order to protect that which remains. This situation is best articulated in a quote I’ve seen, roughly paraphrased:
“We’re at an awkward point in American history. It’s too late to work ‘within the system’. But it’s too early to pull out the guns.”
The essential problem is that once government has become involved in the regulation and restriction of various aspects of behavior, it is almost impossible to remove government interference from the picture. Furthermore, once involved in a given area, it becomes easier and easier for government to increase its scope and breadth. In other words, free societies will inevitably spiral downward should something occur to upset the balance between individual liberty and government control (as happened after Reconstruction, Roosevelt’s ‘Great Experiment’, Johnson’s ‘Great Society’, and the increasing trend for theocrats and ‘mixed economic model’ advocates to make up the bulk of mainstream political thought).
A complicating factor has to do with people themselves; their attitude toward liberty and government, the superficiality of thought, and the inherent tyranny of democracy. I’ve often thought that many in Europe (as in England, where the backs of their passports bear testimony to this) haven’t yet learned the difference between subject and citizen. Although they participate in democracies, they seem to have an unthinking, unfeeling belief that no matter what one speaks of, ultimately it is government’s responsibility to handle matters. It’s all too reminiscent of the days in which a serf would trade his freedom, his land, and the fruit of his own labor for the knowledge that his feudal lord would protect him. From the speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt declaring comfort to be a primary responsibility of government to the political landscape today, where the Democrat platform largely consists of how many ways and how extensively they can interfere with our lives ‘for our own good’. And the Republicans little better with their ever more invasive ‘national security’ programs and insistance on legislating against actions that, though dubious in morality, have little or no effect on others.
In the stark language that I’d use it’s easy enough to see the problem that lies in this mindset. However, it’s all too easy to present it in such a way that it sounds oh so good. Which is exactly what FDR did when he essentially sold us on socialism. A lot of people don’t understand why I vilify the man so much. There is no doubt that the man was between a rock and a hard place during the Depression, there isn’t any doubt that some kind of governmental interference was necessary to bring us out of the doldrums. [According to latest research, no. He prolongued, if not created the depression. We saw a repeat of this with Obama and the Great Recession, so I’m inclined to believe it – SAH] But the way in which he did it was reprehensible. As I was telling Intellect Impure a few nights ago, it reminded me of the way doctors used to function back in the day.
From the first day of medical school onward it’s been beaten into our heads that we do not make decisions for patients; we educate patients about their choices and help them choose their own path. This runs counter to the way it used to be, with the doctor telling you what was to be done, telling you that you needed it, and then doing it. Indeed, letting the patient know what was going on was more a courtesy than part of allowing him to participate in his own health choices. Personally, I’m glad it’s changed.
The doctor used to operate on the principle of unquestioned authority; he simply knew what was best for you whether you agreed or not. Depending on the situation, the patient was all too happy to leave the decision-making and disease management in the doctor’s hands. I imagine being told you have a life-threatening disease can be very daunting indeed, and the ability to leave your health in the hands of someone with more knowledge and skill can be a very comforting thought. There is a problem with this, in that, although the doctor may have your best interest at heart, he’s making the cost/benefit decision for you.
I remember when I had a meningitis scare and mom (a doctor herself) dragged me off to the emergency room at 3 am. The resident on duty handed me some gloopy orange colloid and told me to drink it before mom could stop and ask what it was. After she’d inquired about associated side effects , the resident calmly reported that there was a chance that I could bleed out through my GI tract. Now, if mom had had a chance to get a word in edgewise, she might’ve been able to tell the doctor that when I did get sick (fairly rare), my fevers tended to skyrocket, no matter how minor the infection. She might’ve asked the resident to tell her just how sure she was that I had meningitis before giving me the stuff. Like I said, it’s a good thing that the doctor now dialogues with the patient about treatment.
And this was the problem with FDR’s ‘Great Experiment’. He simply told us ‘Government knows best. We will take care of you. Just put those blinders back on and let us worry about it.’ And so the veritable litany of alphabet agencies was brought into existence from the Works Progress Administration to the Rural Electrification Administration (which still exists, by the way). The way he expanded federal control over our lives was to couch it in the language of a caring authority. He told us of the benefits, he told us that government had a responsibility to take care of us, he used the language of a doting, authoritarian figure to seduce us into serfdom. But he never told us about the costs, he didn’t tell us that because of his transgressions we’d find ourselves wading through the sort of red tape that caused the revolutionaries to take up arms against an oppressive government 150 years before him. And worse, he told us that through government control we would become ‘more free’.
And it is the same sort of language that continues to pervade statist political talk today. “We need to establish this government program for your own good,” they tell us, never asking if the benefit of comfort is worth the cost of freedom. Words are all too pliable, and definitions that were held constant for thousands of years were in the blink of an eye turned on their head in the first half of this century. ‘Freedom’ became a property that required an active role on the part of the government, ‘rights’ could only be produced by taking from the pockets of men the fruit of their hard-earned labor. In short, liberty was transformed into comfort. And so we lost the ability to perceive our freedom taken away bit by bit as government expanded its role in our lives.
It is a central conceit of economic theory that individuals will act in a rational manner. Yet in certain aspects of life, we consistently fail to do so. Beyond the fact that reality is filtered through the imperfect perceptive abilities of the human brain, we are simply too emotional of creatures, too sentimental, too susceptible to romantic ideas. And so, although rationally none could argue that the ‘liberty’ and ‘rights’ that statists speak of represent neither liberty nor rights, such strains of thought will remain and probably continue to expand in popularity. The idea that you can be protected from the slings and arrows of fortune, that someone else can be responsible for your safety, your health, or your well-being, is simply one that will never die. These things are far too precious to us to resist temptation when someone offers promise of them to you on a golden platter.
The true ideals of liberty unfortunately stand little chance against the rhetoric of statists and their utopian talk of better living through regulation. We will never be a large part of the population for the simple fact that few are willing to put in the thought and rationality required to wade through the statist nonsense and understand the true meanings beyond the words twisted into shapes like so much modelling clay. Emotions, promises, dreams, though. These are things that all can and do understand. And it is these that most will vote with when it comes time to do so. Unless ever-so-carefully-safeguarded, a liberty-minded state will eventually fall prey to the charismatic powermongers and the very people who make up the republic. Just to get an idea of how difficult this is, remember just what a paranoid, forward-thinking, and all-encompassing document the Constitution really is. Read the strong language, the simple statements, see the truth laid bare for all to see. And think back to the speeches of Bush, of Kennedy, of Santorum, of Boxer or of McCain. Think of how easily they make a sham of the founding document.
No, the regrettable truth is that our ideals, though noble, cannot win against the statist once they have established so strong a beachhead that we find ourselves cowering against our inland borders, cowering as we await the killing blow. But that is not to say we are doomed to failure, or that the time has come to ready those ‘assault weapons’ so deplored by the mainstream left in order to start a revolution. It is simply that in order to win, we must sully our ideals, we must turn to the statists’ own tools in order to prevent further transgressions, and, if we’re lucky, regain a little ground.
The two tools at our disposal are the strength of the federal legislative bodies and the ability to compromise one ideal in order to protect another. Earlier I brought up a medical analogy and I’ll return to different ones here. The first concept can be characterized as ‘Cutting to Cure’ while the second is plainly and simply ‘Triage’.
Cutting To Cure – Reading the constitution, bill of rights, and historical documents of the birth of our nation yields no compelling reason why the second amendment doesn’t apply to handguns, ‘assault weapons’, or to the carrying of said weapons upon one’s person, concealed or otherwise. Furthermore, one cannot find a reason why a man must be prevented from using said implements in the defense of his person and property. Indeed, the definition of ‘to bear’ means literally to carry on one’s person. And for what purpose is a man to bear a weapon if not for the potential of its use. Yet here we sit with ‘assault weapons bans’ in several states, handgun bans in many cities, and even outright bans of all firearms in one or two localities, not to mention restrictions on when and where a man may defend himself. Here, federal legislation, despite being a non-libertarian tool, has been instrumental in at least partially returning to us a right enshrined in our most basic documents.
Triage – Every now and then, a man is forced to make a difficult decision. Does he save the wife he’s pledged his life to? Or the child he’s sworn to protect and raise from infancy to adulthood? Thankfully, the quandaries we are presented with, though ideologically painful, are not so bleak. An example can be found in the illegal immigration debate. Several respected libertarian minds have come out against immigration control and for amnesty. Just as many have come out in favor of strict enforcement and deportation of those who’ve broken the law in coming here. Personally I fall in the latter category (except for the ‘respected mind’ part), even advocating making English the official language and qualifying ‘of the soil’ citizenship with the need for the parents to have been here legally on some sort of long-term visa.
As several have mentioned, this isn’t a very libertarian way of looking at things. And they’re right. But this isn’t a libertarian world. In this world one has to worry about the statists and how the massive influx of new voters of a neither American nor particularly affluent population will change the political balance. And the answer is perhaps even uglier than Kirsten Dunst. In this place, at this time, the 10-20 million new voters represent a sizeable addition to the ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘mixed economic model’ camps. More social welfare, governmentally mandated bilingualism. Neither things I much look forward to. So I’m forced to choose between my belief that those who wish to come here should be allowed to versus my fear of treading down the road Old Europe has cautioned us against with their own pitfalls, both culturally and economically. Which is more important? To hold true to your ideals as they are all voted away from you? Or to compromise one to save the many? No, it’s not a very fun choice, but it’s one that we have to make.
No matter how we paint it, the future is pretty bleak for liberty; no matter the time or place, it will always be. But by understanding the mechanics of a statist world, we can learn how to cure it, or at least stem the flow of liberty’s lifeblood from our nation’s many ideological wounds.
** Dr. Karma is an attending physician at (information redacted). His many professional accomplishments include contributions to evolutionary biology and saving an untold number of kids from stupid adults and an even more stupid entrenched bureaucracy. His primary accomplishment remains convincing his coworkers that he’s a pediatric specialist rather than a hitman in a mere six months. He specializes in whatever he feels like that day, and his coworkers are too scared to point out that he’s ‘just a psychiatrist’. The kids get better just to get him to stop yelling, singing, dancing, or dressing up like batman. It works, so he’s good with it.