Hans Christian Andersen told the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” as part of his Fairy Tales Told for Children collection. The tale is almost two hundred years old. Most know how a little boy was the first to announce that the emperor had no clothes. Andersen’s tale is being re-written today and should be entitled “The Empire Has No Clothes.” This story is one occurring around the world.
Governments are in disrepair and disrepute everywhere. They are increasingly viewed as exploitive, ineffective and catering to privilege. Public interest, the idealistic goal of government, never was real in the sense that it overrode the private needs and wants of officeholders. “Public servants” were never better stewards of public interest than private citizens pursuing their own self-interest. Indeed, once the returns to power increased, self-selection made most politicians inferior in morality and public interest than the typical citizen.
The discomfort and turn against government occurs not because any of its behavior is new. Government has always been dishonest and a scam. What changed over time is the magnitude of government and its burden on citizens. The pain of tolerating it has apparently reached that threshold where people are no longer willing to ignore it.
Governments around the world have become leviathans, meddling in the most minute and personal decisions of its citizens. Supporting government in its infancy required no taxation. Today the average citizen pays more than 40% of his production as tribute and support to the empire. Few believe they get much of value in return.
Even with such confiscatory theft, governments are spending themselves and their citizens into bankruptcy. Capital that entrepreneurs need to start and grow businesses is now consumed by government vote-buying schemes and stupidity. As a result, economic growth cannot occur, jobs are lost and the standard of living declines.
The current political contest in the United States reflects the attitude of citizens against government. Outsiders are either winning or gaining popularity in the primaries. The public is fed up with government as shown by polls such as this one. The political establishment still has not grasped the real reasons for their unpopularity.
The phrase “limited government” is used to differentiate a so-called government “of, by and for the people” from government that is not limited or “of, by and for the people.” Arguably Abraham Lincoln’s description was the best piece of Statist propaganda ever delivered to the public. It was not true when he said it and it is implausible to even utter such a sentiment today without being ridiculed.
“Limited government” is a clever phrase that is both untrue and impossible. It is akin to describing cancer as “limited cancer.” Left alone, cancer grows and kills. So too does government. A more accurate but less flattering description of government is “limited tyranny.” Limited government is merely a euphemism for limited tyranny. Unfortunately neither government nor tyranny can be limited.
Power is like cancer. It grows and eventually destroys whatever it preys upon. The only way to constrain power is with greater power. But therein lays the insoluble problem. Government was an attempt to provide order to society. It was granted power over others to keep order. But granting such power and controlling it was not possible. Who was to constrain the power? No entity with power willingly limits its power. Setting up another layer of government or power to do so only worsens the situation. Ultimately all power succumbs to Lord Acton’s undeniable truth:
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Power granted is always limited yet it always grows and is abused. Power, even in small doses, qualifies as tyranny. Idealists may not recognize it as such until it becomes so great that the tyranny can no longer be denied or ignored. The notion of limited government is fantastical. It is the belief in unicorns, tooth fairies and Santa Claus! Only the young or naive believe in such things.
History provides no examples of government staying within the bounds granted. All governments grow and become increasingly oppressive. The passage of time and human nature ensure such outcomes.
Is Civilization At An Inflection Point?
The current disgust with government is palpable. It is the reason why a braggart like Donald Trump can challenge for and likely win the Republican nomination for president. It is also the reason why a septuagenarian Socialist can challenge an anointed Democrat candidate. Both political contests reflect hatred toward the political class. The voters are saying STOP! They turn to outsiders out of desperation.
Is this merely a political phase that can be remedied? Is it merely a normal ebb and flow of the political process? It is easy to answer in the affirmative to both of these questions. History shows few exceptions and the few are usually bloody and violent. It is easy to be influenced by a form of confirmation bias when assessing such conditions. However, my personal judgment is that this dissatisfaction is not something temporary that will self-repair.
Regardless of who is nominated and elected in the next presidential race, it is my opinion that this outcome is meaningless. This country and likely other so-called advanced democracies seem to be at an inflection or turning point. History is typically not useful in identifying such times.
If my guess is correct, none of us alive today will see its occurrence. The process will likely be lengthy and contested. It will take decades before a final determination can be made.
Donald Trump is not a politician although he is likely to be elected. Voting for Donald Trump (or Bernie Sanders) is a protest vote against government. It is the nation’s Howard Beale moment:
I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter.
Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore.
We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a human being, God damn it! My life has value!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
It will be the first shot fired against the Empire. It will be ineffective but will be the first signal that the process of citizens taking back their country has begun.
Donald Trump (or Bernie) is a sign of how frustrated the electorate has become. Voters don’t know how to stop what is happening to them and their country but they are mad as hell and are not going to take this anymore. The upcoming election will change nothing. The best that the public can hope for is to elect a wrecking ball that will dent or damage some of the government apparatus. That is probably a foolish hope, almost certainly one that will not be fulfilled.
The ballot box will be ineffective in satisfying the public. Other means will be tried. The Empire will not stand idly by while its power is threatened. It will strike back at any attempt to slow its growth or rate of plunder. It will become truly vicious, not unlike a wounded and cornered animal. Power is never relinquished willingly.
Government, more properly called The State, has always been dependent on a myth. That myth is that society cannot be orderly without government and that all perceived ills can be solved by it. The reality is that society preceded government and that the State is little more than an Al Capone with better PR and no Eliot Ness.
Our founders did their best with The Constitution. Few believed it could be preserved easily. Thomas Jefferson knew as much when he stated:
Every generation needs a new revolution.
I suspect he thinks less of us for not honoring his solution — yet!
Original article: The Emperor’s Clothes