The Age of Authoritarianism
APRIL 01, 1970 by ROBERT K. NEWELL
Mr. Newell operates a farm near Marcellus, Michigan.
The theory of authoritarian government dominates all modern political societies. The theory states that individuals—or even individuals of like mind working voluntarily in concert—lack the scope of vision and means at their disposal to identify accurately their own best interests and to pursue them through individual effort. Therefore, the argument continues, all governments possess an intrinsic right to demand from those governed the authority necessary to direct human effort and resources toward the accomplishment of prescribed social goals.
The widespread assumption is that governments by their very nature have the wisdom and power to achieve these goals. People from all corners of the earth have come to regard the loss of political freedom and introspective moral motivation that has accompanied the relentless march of authoritarianism as a necessary inconvenience that must be accepted in order to insure economic and social stability and to maintain the delicate balance of international terror that has come to be known loosely as world peace. Governments are freely allowed to increase their already vast authority due to the popular assumption that increased governmental power more rapidly will bring solutions to human problems. But, the illusive goals now seem more remote than ever.
Governments can, by decree, create temporary illusions of economic prosperity simply by manipulating the value of currency through inflation and interfering with the free market exchange of private enterprise. But the illusions of economic prosperity artificially produced by disrupting the basic laws of supply and demand are cruel indeed. Once the inflationary cycle has run its full course and currency becomes worthless, history amply indicates that the inevitable result can only be complete economic disaster and social upheaval.
Governments claim also to be the authors of civil order and social stability. The theory is that more stringent laws and more vigorous law enforcement, when coupled with more equitable welfare programs, can produce more responsible citizens. However, history and statistics seem not to support this hypothesis either. On the contrary, overt acts of passion and violence and especially crimes against private property have reached alarming and steadily increasing proportions. The trend toward the disregard for private property rights is world-wide. But the nations that are experiencing the most shocking increase in such crimes are the very nations that most enthusiastically have attempted to substitute government paternalism for individual responsibility.
There are, of course, in every community a few citizens who lack the mental capacity and moral judgment to live in civilized association with their fellow men. These few must be adjudged socially irresponsible and dealt with accordingly. But the vast majority of people do have the ability to make rational and moral decisions. The dramatic surge of criminal activity that so alarms the civilized world can only be attributed to a fundamental change in basic attitudes toward the once-cherished concept of private property.
The Socialist Formula
The political precepts of all modern societies, in varying degrees, center around the Marxist governmental philosophy that every citizen must produce for society according to his ability and is entitled to receive from society in accordance with his needs. Governments simply function as economic intermediaries between the productive and the nonproductive elements of society and determine each citizen’s capacity to contribute to the general welfare and the basic human needs that must be provided by the benevolent state.
New generations raised under this philosophy of economic distribution carry with them the ingrained notion that private property is only that portion of the national wealth that government arbitrarily decides is not immediately needed to promote the general welfare. Citizens morally raised to believe that they are, regardless of effort, entitled by birthright to their fair share of the national wealth often are inclined to hold exaggerated views of their fair share. When, in their judgment, governments fail to move equitably enough or swiftly enough in the redistribution of the national wealth, it is only a small moral hurdle for these citizens to circumvent the often ponderous political processes of redistribution and appropriate "their fair share" more quickly by preying directly upon other citizens.
Civil order and social stability are not dependent upon laws and punitive reprisals, as governments are inclined to suggest. Only the criminally irresponsible can be controlled by such clumsy and ineffective devices. Rather, civilization ultimately depends upon the personal character of the morally responsible people who comprise the vast majority of any society. Once the general public becomes disoriented from the concept of private property, no amount of law and law enforcement can promote and ensure life, liberty, and domestic tranquility within society.
Of equal concern to modern man as he looks apprehensively toward his government for direction are the ever-present problems of war. Since the dawn of political history, coalitions of governments have aligned themselves dramatically behind transitory issues. Forcibly conscripted armies have done battle with the enemy. But the survivors find that in the next decade as governments form new alliances and set the stage for the next war to ensure world peace and human freedom, hated enemies have been transformed through propaganda into warm allies; conversely, former allies have become identified as hated enemies. The tragedy of the military approach to human problems is that, after all of the sacrifices of countless millions of people in endless politico-military confrontations, humanity has found neither peace nor freedom. The survivors always are faced with even more perplexing problems than those that have been surmounted.
The Power to Rule and to Conscript Armies
All governments, regardless of their basic structure, philosophy, or method of perpetuation, share two common characteristics: (1) the oligarchic power to rule in a specific geographic area and (2) the unquestioned authority to conscript armies in order to extend or to defend such power in the endless game of altering geopolitical boundaries. Both peace and freedom depend entirely upon moral and responsible relationships between individuals. The amoral and irresponsible relationships between governments—whether they be allied or placed in opposition to each other by the dictates of fleeting expediency —never can provide mankind with a hopeful future.
The politico-military war syndrome systematically destroys each newborn hope for world peace by first destroying political freedom and subsequently destroying the capacity of individuals to function as free moral agents. The war syndrome compromises human freedom by conscripting armies, instituting confiscatory taxes, increasing inflationary public debt, silencing opposition under the guise of necessity, and coercively diverting human energies into nonproductive and immoral channels. These processes in turn, by their very nature, further subjugate humanity to authoritarian political domination. Even in nations that profess to govern themselves constitutionally, the discretionary powers of the executive branch are extended arbitrarily whenever the international military situation can be used to justify such a course of action. When followed to its ultimate conclusion, the entire world-wide politico-military process, rather than ensuring peace, can only intensify human problems. This is done by forcibly converting the morally responsible citizens of the world into acquiescing patriots under the complete domination of the autocratic few.
In all of the war-torn lands of the world, and Vietnam in particular, the governments involved seek in vain for areas of even superficial agreement. The fighting, killing, wanton destruction, and subhuman barbarism, for the most part, is performed on behalf of the governments of both sides by forcibly conscripted soldiers. The fact that all governments now are forced to depend increasingly upon conscripted armies to carry on the heinous and barbaric activities of war is a most hopeful sign that authoritarian domination of the human moral climate is on the wan. The moral introspection of individuals is quietly moving on the world political scene.
As mankind faces the problems of the future, there still is a strong tendency to search for solutions in the political ideologies that glorify the all-powerful politico-military state. But the great problems that confront mankind, whether they be economic, social, civil, or moral never can be resolved satisfactorily by such methods. The only true and permanent solutions must be founded on human relationships that have developed through the introspective morality of concerned individuals.