Klavan On The Culture

Happy Dependence Day!


Government’s natural relationship to power is much the same as a man’s natural relationship to sex: it wants as much as possible from as many people as it can get to give it up. In a civilized society, it tries to have its way through charm and persuasion; among savages, it takes what it wants by force. But always and everywhere, there is one unfailingly certain method of scoring the booty: buy it.

Trading welfare for power is the second oldest profession.

Wherever the government seems to provide, it actually rules. This is the “mild” despotism feared by Alexis de Tocqueville, the brilliant 19th century political thinker whose writing inspired Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. This seemingly benevolent form of dictatorship, he wrote in the second volume of Democracy in America, is a tyranny that would “degrade men without tormenting them,” “an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure [people’s] gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood.”

The debased citizenry this nanny state ultimately produces was described in a deathless phrase by the great Roman satirist Juvenal. Writing less than a century after the Romans had frittered away their republic, he observed, “The people, who once gave commands, elected officials, bestowed legions and everything else now care for only two things: bread and circuses.”

Entitlements are the bread in Juvenal’s equation.

Whether or not entitlements are given with charitable intentions, they are not charity. Charity is freely bestowed. It ennobles the giver and may create within the recipient a gratitude and sense of responsibility that moves him to self-reliance. Entitlements are an act of force. Government wrests property and services away from one person to bestow them on another at its own will, by its own wisdom and ultimately to its own benefit. At first, the recipient may think that it’s only the rich man’s freedom which is being stripped away and what’s it to him? But soon enough he finds that government is now well within its rights to control whatever it is paying to support: his behavior, his consumption, his religion, his words. He may live well only as long as he lives in obedience.

As we approach the celebration of our independence, the administration of Barack Obama is working overtime to bring dependence back by this other way. The Daily Caller reports that not only has spending on food stamps doubled under Obama, but his Department of Agriculture is actually producing promotional campaigns to encourage more eligible Americans to get on the gravy train. “Throw a Great Party,” says one sparkly USDA pamphlet. “Host social events where people mix and mingle. Make it fun by having activities, games, food and entertainment, and provide information about SNAP (welfare).” The government actually measures the success of entitlement programs by how many people use them — as opposed to how many people can stop using them — which pretty much tells you everything you need to know:  dependency is not the reason for the programs, dependency is the purpose of them.

And now, of course, we have Obamacare which, as Chief Justice John Roberts has explained to us, grants the government the right to tax us for not buying what it wants us to buy. Once again, in the guise of a great gift, the government takes from us yet another immense chunk of the only thing that really matters, our liberty. In delivering his deciding and nonsensical opinion in favor of the law, Justice Roberts, it appears to me, was too weak to withstand the White House’s Chicago-style bullying. In trying to keep the court from being branded political, he fell for the leftist canard that holds all disagreement with the left is “partisan,” while only obedience and conformity with leftism serve the broad-minded good of all.

But never mind. If the people have become corrupted in their hearts, if they have lost the will for self-governance, if they have abandoned their traditions of liberty and turned their backs on the sacrifices of their dead, not even nine principled judges can ultimately save them from the poisoned pill of government “generosity.”

The government’s natural relationship to power is much the same as a man’s natural relationship to sex and therefore only two things can keep it within proper bounds: moral principles and fear of consequences. And frankly, I’m not too sure about moral principles.

Socialists like Obama, corrupt opportunists like Harry Reid, and blithering leftist idiots like Nancy Pelosi have to be made to face the only thing that frightens them: the loss of power. In the end, that’s the job of the electorate.

Thumbnail and image illustration made from elements courtesy shutterstock / Loke Yek Mang

Join the conversation as a VIP Member