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The Fragility of Statist Societies

Jostling for power takes place in the government of any country. But in statist societies, that behavior is amplified manyfold. The squabbles of Democrats and Republicans in D.C. are often ugly, but they're nothing compared to the coups and assassinations that typify dictatorships. As the opportunity to increase control and disburse spoils rises, so does the coercion that occurs within and by the political class.

The effects of that process are felt well beyond a nation's capital in authoritarian countries. Neighbors in a statist society have good reason to mistrust one another. A careless word can send them to a labor camp, and the need to prop up the regime spreads spies everywhere. Even in "merely" semi-statist countries like Venezuela, one man's benefit is frequently another's injury, since property rights are not respected.

By contrast, citizens in freer countries like Denmark and Germany may have to suffer high taxes and enervating regulations, but criticizing the government brings, at most, disapproval from those who disagree. That may breed a soul-stultifying caution, but removes any need for perpetual paranoia. That freedom does more than allow for greater individual happiness (a value collectivist utilitarians could easily dismiss as of lesser importance compared to social engineering goals). It allows citizens to carry on business without continually looking over their shoulders, leading to more productivity and a more stable society.

The political correctness that has oozed over American universities and corporations over the past 40 years represents a midway point between freedom and statism, and the effects are telling. When individuals in a classroom or business setting no longer feel at ease to express a potentially controversial opinion because it might be contrary to the consensus, original thought and innovation suffer. Those important social institutions become more fragile as a result.

Political protests have shown similar trends recently in America. While the charges of racism and violence are unsupportable, progressive commentators are onto something when they note the increased temperature at tea party rallies around the country.

The near-daily crises from the past two years have driven many in the country to a degree not far below the boiling point. Not since the open riots of the '60s, when the modern bacilli of statism were first infecting schools and protesting the Vietnam War, has there been such a fever in the body politic.

The explanation isn't hard to find: the ongoing dictates emanating from Washington. TARP, the semi-nationalization of banks and two large auto companies, ObamaCare, et al are all statist policies. Nationwide uncertainty and social unrest are the inevitable response.

The practical (and moral) answer isn't, as progressives would prefer, for citizens to passively acquiesce to still more statism in the name of "partisanship." Nor should we allow the left to quash dissent through abridging the First Amendment (something pushed by Cass Sunstein, the FCC chairman, and others). It's to eliminate the unconstitutional controls that dictate how rights-respecting Americans must live their lives.

The ultimate justification for a free society rests on moral principles. Individuals have inherent rights -- to life, liberty, and property -- that governments are always wrong to violate, no matter the (temporary) benefits to others. But even on their own terms, the pragmatists who argue that coercion works are mistaken.

Freedom is good, the ultimate social good. But it's also practical in more ways than state-worshiping bean-counters are willing to score.