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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ugliness from Ugly Ideas

The philistine statists who disgraced the streets of Britain with vulgar spasms of hate for Margaret Thatcher in the wake of her death on April 8 stunned decent people everywhere. Violence and bloodshed at so-called “death parties” erupted across the country. Walls and buildings were sprayed with the vilest of epithets. It was a sickening, even frightening, paroxysm from people who in their calmer “Kumbaya” moments talk incessantly of how much they care for others and want the government to be a helpful nanny in our lives.

They loathed Margaret Thatcher because she stood up to them, questioned their false compassion, and dared to expose statism as the senseless, dehumanizing cult that it is. She rhetorically ripped the velvet glove from the iron fist and spoke of welfare-state socialism as a wolf in sheep’s clothes. Those are things state worshipers cannot abide. Among the many debts decent people owe Margaret Thatcher is one that stands vastly magnified by her death: She coaxed out of hiding the intolerant, destructive essence of statism.

Americans might be asking themselves, “Ronald Reagan shared many of Maggie’s core beliefs, so when he died in 2004, why didn’t we see here the kind of ugly spectacles that have shown up since April 8 in Britain?” Don’t assume the Brits are a different, nastier lot. They’ve just gone a little further down the path on which we too are traveling. Think of the ugliness you saw this past week or so as a glimpse of what ugly ideas produce. It’s a taste of what’s in store for us if we do not come to our senses. If we keep hiring intellectual barbarians to teach in our schools and universities and if we continue electing their disciples to high office, then you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

If you want an American example of the statist wolf in sheep’s clothing, look no further than these comments from MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry. She deplores the notion that children belong to their actual parents. She thinks they really belong to every other parent (translation: they belong to those parents who have political power). On the surface, the message sounds “caring” and “thoughtful.” Do you think she means things like parental choice in schooling or diversity in opinion within the schools? Why do I get the feeling when I watch her that I’m listening to one of the academic Khmer Rouge in our midst?

“Violence,” wrote Isaac Asimov, “is the last refuge of the incompetent.” This thought may explain why the plans that statists like Harris-Perry cook up for other people’s lives are rarely voluntary. Statism at its core is ugliness writ large. It is violence raised to the level of social philosophy.

How can I make such a sweeping statement? Because statism isn’t voluntary, and if it isn’t voluntary, it’s violent. Either we interact with others in peace and mutual respect, or we boss them around as nanny states always do. We must choose between the power of love or the love of power.

If you’ve ever met a true-blue statist (and these days, who hasn’t?), you know what I’m talking about when I describe him this way: He thinks he has a monopoly on compassion and good intentions. He thinks that non-statists are either evil or stupid. He’s often more eager to shut you up than to engage you in serious discussion. He’s impervious to reason, logic, economics, history, and evidence because his good intentions are more important than such things.

When he talks about the rich and the poor, he reeks of envy. As Thatcher herself so eloquently put it in parliamentary debate, he cares less for the poor than he cares that the rich be punished. He thinks his plans for other people are so superior that he’s not content to persuade you to accept them; he’s ready to call the cops to force you to comply. He’s up to his eyeballs in the tyranny of political correctness and will savage you if you dare question his assumptions.

If he’s an academic, he will profess devotion to “academic freedom” but then use his tenure and political power to intimidate and monopolize. If the university hires its first defender of Western civilization, he’ll see it as a takeover and vigorously protest.

He’s an end-justifies-the-means kind of guy: If he has to buy your vote with other people’s money, look askance when voter fraud steals an election for his side, live one way and preach another, and apply endless double standards that always work in favor of his perspective, he’ll gladly do it and chortle to his friends about it. He’s for government-run this or that whether it works or not because what’s most important to him is that the State is in charge. His definition of good intentions trumps whatever the outcome might be.

When such people take to the streets with ugly actions, they should get credit for one thing: For at least a moment, they’ve ceased the deception and shown themselves to be what they really are. They are what Ayn Rand would call the “destroyers” among us.

But, you protest, I am speaking of a narrow fringe on the Left. What about all the decent, non-violent Big Government types who wouldn’t think of spray painting filthy thoughts on a wall, let alone dance at a “death party” or blow something up? I have many friends, in fact, that might well fit that description. To those otherwise good people, I earnestly implore: Think about the fire you’re playing with. To that end, I submit these thoughts from an earlier column I wrote last year:

It’s a good bet that no matter where you are on the political spectrum—liberal, conservative, libertarian, or something else—you want men and women in government to be honest, humble, fair, wise, independent, responsible, incorruptible, mindful of the future, and respectful of others.

But you may be holding profoundly contradictory views without realizing it. This is the bottom line: The bigger government gets, the less likely it will attract men and women who possess those traits we all say we want.

Have you noticed how mean and nasty campaigns for high office have become? Lies and distortions are common political fare these days. Why would a genuinely good person subject himself to the ugliness of it all? Increasingly, genuinely good people don’t bother, so we are left all too often with dirtbags and demagogues in government. Unless you enjoy rolling in the mud with the hogs, you stay on the other side of the fence.

There are reasons for this disturbing situation, and they have to do with the nature of power. Lord Acton famously stated more than a century ago that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He nailed it, though I would add a corollary of my own: “Power attracts the already corrupt.”

If you’ve supported the monstrous expansion of the federal government in recent decades, or if you’ve got a laundry list of things you want it to do because you think it’s not yet big enough, then don’t blow smoke about clean and honest politics. You’re part of the problem. Big government, by its very nature, is dirty and dishonest. That’s the kind of people it attracts and that’s what concentrated power is always about.

America’s Founders had lots of reasons for wanting to keep government small, reasons the government schools rarely teach these days. One of those reasons was that they knew the wisdom of Lord Acton’s warning a century before he wrote it. It would be inconceivable to our Founders that good and honest people could ever stay good and honest if they’re swiping and redistributing $4 trillion every year and regulating almost every corner of life. That kind of power can make a sinner from a saint in no time.

Think ahead to what all this means in the future if the federal government continues to grow unchecked. Some day when it controls 50 or 60 or 70 percent of national income, it’ll be stuffed full of arrogant, manipulative, slick-talking but low-character types. They will not be people who are wise enough to realize that they’re not smart enough to run everybody else’s life. Then when we realize we’ve put some of the worst among us in charge of a gargantuan machine, it’ll be too late. Power attracts bad people, and bad people don’t go away quietly.

Big government equals bad government but it springs from bad ideas. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise.

  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is