All Commentary
Wednesday, January 1, 1992

An Abundance of Messiahs

Barbara Hunter is an educational consultant in office automation who lives on Long Island,

Recently I was in an elevator in the building where I work when I caught a scrap of conversation. A young lady was talking to a friend about a forthcoming job change, and she spoke somewhat apologetically about her plans. At the time, she was working for an “authority”—one of those myriad quasi governmental agencies that masquerade as independent organizations. Although she was looking forward to her new position, something was troubling her:

“I think I can work for a . . .”

There was a catch in her voice, and it was only with an effort that she managed to say the next words:

“private corporation . . .”

Now she brightened, and the rest of the sentence sounded full of hope:

“and still be an agent for social change.”

Ah, another messiah! So sure she was appointed to be “an agent for social change.”

No doubt, the young lady’s sense of destiny gave her confidence in her mission. However, there was an important point she had missed. If she recognized this point, it might vastly alter her conception of her position in society: Everyone is an agent for social change! Every man, woman, and child, without exception.

Those whose sense of vision convinces them that society would founder without their exertions don’t realize that society goes right on its way, with them or without them, responding constantly, endlessly, to the uncountable decisions made every instant. No matter how diligently these would-be saviors strive to bend society in their own direction, there is no way to prevent society from doing what it does best: reflect the sum total of the individual decisions of its component population.

There is nothing new about self-appointed messiahs. Common among them are government employees, indeed, in some cases it is their very missionary zeal that leads them into what they love to call “government service” in the first place.

If this were the limit of their manipulative skills, society could shrug off their misguided salvation and go about its daily business of each one living his own life. Unfortunately, messiahs don’t stop at single-handed or merely cooperative measures; they employ the punitive power of government to force their will on those whose view is not up to their standards.

Thus, we have efforts within government at every level and in every branch to regulate, to “set priorities,” to license all sorts of trades and businesses, to decade for you the effectiveness of your remedies and cosmetics, to decree environmental standards and require environmental studies that can push back the completion time and raise the cost of every project, to declare moratoriums on construction in entire counties in contravention of all existing private contracts and schedules . . . and on and on.

In all likelihood, there never will be an end to the supply of “experts” who know better than we do how we should live our lives, but when they arm themselves with the power of government—save us from messiahs!