Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Musings - The Bad Habit of Statism
by Tibor R. Machan

Americans live with some pretty unusual ideas and policies and even take these for granted, actually.  Consider the notion of freedom of speech or of religious worship.  These are unique parts of the American political and legal tradition.  Even in America some people find it odd and promote, instead, some kind of theocracy, whereby government rules according to the tenets of some religion (as in Iran but also, to a lesser extent, in Israel, Sweden and, yes, England). And even in America state and church are not fully separated—notice all the chapels on military bases and prayers in Congress.

Still, the First Amendment is unique—few other countries have such a strong ban on government censorship and interference with what people write, say and worship.  Even in Great Britain the press can be sued much more easily than here in the USA and the country has its own state religion, Anglicanism.

Now why is this worth noting?  Because there are other features of American politics and law that are pretty conventional, just like elsewhere around the globe.  Most importantly, everywhere else and here, too, there is heavy government regulation of commerce, licensing of professions, public education and the like. And there is now increasing government abridgment of private property rights in the USA, excused by the war on drugs, environmentalism, and the war on terror and even by the promotion of big tax-paying businesses for which smaller ones are sacrificed via eminent domain.

In short, the state looms large in every country and individual rights are not given priority.  When it is suggested by some that, for example, government should not even run the postal system and ought to get out of the education profession altogether (other than perhaps military schools), many respond saying that this is unheard of, quite unorthodox and thus silly.  Yet, the same could be said about freedom of speech and religion, only those happen to be part of the unique American political tradition and most Americans are used to it.  (Thus, our political campaigns can include the most outlandish demagoguery, while elsewhere in the world such practices are often legally actionable.)

This just goes to show that what counts as radical or even “silly” depends on what one is used to.  If the principles of the First Amendment to the US Constitution are in fact sound and they contradict government intrusiveness in other areas of social life, it may well be that such intrusiveness should be phased out despite the fact that we are used to them.  In much of Europe, at least until recently, radio and television were both under total government control.  In England, for example, the BBC is a well entrenched, albeit not unproblematic, government institution (not like PBS and NPR in America, which are widely recognized to be quaint anomalies).
It is indeed an oddity in America that journalists and ministers of all religions are free of substantial government regulation all the while other professionals are licensed and regulated up the wazoo.  That is actually rank injustice, a form of discrimination that in other contexts would be widely frowned upon. 

Yet because so much of human history is replete with government meddling in people’s lives, even in America, where that has at least been challenged in theory if not always in practice, the policies of government regulation, licensing of professions, and many other types of government meddling are now treated as normal.  The same goes for public education, which by all rights is a nasty bit of legacy from various types of collectivism.  The same, actually, with taxation, which, again, comes to us courtesy of feudalism.

Yes, America is a revolutionary society and we take a great deal of heat for that from the rest of the world as well as some of our prominent reactionary intellectuals.  But its revolution is far from complete.  Only once the policies of statism—whereby government is viewed as some kind of superior being instead of an agency of hired professional who are to carry out the job of protecting our rights – are rejected, thus finally dealing with the bad habit of being so firmly attached to them (a kind of insidious codependence if there very was one), will the truly wonderful American revolution reach its apex.

As with all bad habits, statism is difficult to shed.  But as with all bad habits, statism should be shed—it is utterly destructive of the lives of free men and women, even when they fail to recognize it as such.
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