What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: Infidelic
Few themes permeate the political process of ours and other governments as does the effort to legislatively shape society. Central planners come in a variety of shapes and sizes; monarchs, fascists, presidents, governors, and a host of other individuals who control and influence government all, to some degree, find this power irresistible.
Commenting on the socialists in his time and country who acted in this manner, the French economist Frédéric Bastiat observed that they “look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations.” The authoritarian aristocracy (in whatever form of government it may exist) has traditionally treated the masses as political putty, free to be molded to represent whatever ideal their whims lead them to pursue. Indeed, in the minds of many such individuals, their educated background and opinions entitle them to make such manipulations.
Planning is, of course, an important part of a productive society. The question at the root of this issue is not whether planning should be done, but rather by whom. Should a central authority (elected or otherwise) be empowered to organize the rest of society, whether the masses be subjects or voting citizens? Or should the planning power be independent from the government?
F.A. Hayek argued persuasively for the latter:
The conception that government should be guided by majority opinion makes sense only if that opinion is independent of government. The ideal of democracy rests on the belief that the view which will direct government emerges from an independent and spontaneous process. It requires, therefore, the existence of a large sphere independent of majority control in which the opinions of the individuals are formed.
That spontaneous control is a fundamental and necessary component in a productive, evolving society whose change is produced not by the force of government, but by the persuasion, example, and leadership of individuals whose participation in the marketplace of ideas has resulted in others voluntarily choosing to either agree and follow, or pursue another path.
The opposite of this—that is, central planning through a limited number of government officials relying upon force to influence human behavior—is a key component of a society oppressed through tyranny. “The theory of worshipping spontaneity,” wrote Stalin, “is decidedly opposed to giving the spontaneous movement a politically conscious, planned character.” It’s like George W. Bush arguing that he abandoned the free market to save it.
This rejection of independent spontaneity, and the introduction of centrally-planned restrictions on human action, appear in a variety of ways: government-protected monopolies, forcible and direct taxation, high tariff barriers to trade, restrictions on economic mobility, licensing of peaceful and harmless trades, minute government oversight of the quantity and quality of output, anti-discrimination law, marital licenses and regulation of approved relationships, etc. The itemized list of all such types of regulation would easily and exponentially exceed the number of bureaucrats employed to enforce them.
In Man, Economy, and State, Rothbard articulated the ideal of spontaneous interactions colloquially known as the “free market”:
Directly, voluntary action – free exchange – leads to the mutual benefit of both parties to the exchange. Indirectly, as our investigations have shown, the network of these free exchanges in society – known as the ‘free market’ – creates a delicate and even awe-inspiring mechanism of harmony, adjustment, and precision in allocating productive resources, deciding upon prices, and gently but swiftly guiding the economic system toward the greatest possible satisfaction of the desires of all the consumers. In short, not only does the free market directly benefit all parties and leave them free and uncoerced; it also creates a mighty and efficient instrument of social order. Proudhon, indeed, wrote better than he knew when he called ‘Liberty, the mother, not the daughter, of order’.
Individuals are and should be free to pursue their own happiness—not the government-regulated and -approved version. Majoritarian control of a central planning apparatus confers no inherent moral authority for its actions; simply wielding power does not justify its use. We are not guinea pigs to be controlled by government in pursuit of some arbitrary and committee-approved end, but sovereign human beings who “are, and of right ought to be, free and independent”.