Somebody Might Get Hurt

Kevin Carson
Somebody Might Get Hurt

Every once in a while I’m inspired to write a column by looking through my feeds and stumbling across two items that dovetail together so well the column almost writes itself. This is one of those times.

There are several hard realities that most liberals — as opposed to those of us on the genuine Left — are constitutionally unable to admit into their “Why Mommy is a Democrat” view of the world. Among them are the following: First, any legislation they reflexively pass pursuant to a moral panic over people getting hurt will also result in people getting hurt. Second, the kind of society they desire can only be achieved through the large-scale, lawless exercise of power by the state. And third, the state is inevitably run by the kinds of people who enjoy exercising such power.

Blogger thoreau, at Unqualified Offerings (“Finally, some political blogging,” May 26, 2013), addresses the first of these points in relation to the War on Drugs:

“There are few things that piss me off more than discussing drugs with over-educated white suburban liberals …. [T]hey want to keep locking people up in the name of ‘But what if somebody gets hurt?’ Um, what do you call the world’s largest prison population? What do you call the war in northern Mexico? What do you call the actions of Afghan opium lords? What do you call daily gang violence? I’d call that ‘somebody gets hurt’, wouldn’t you? …. I can talk all day about the violence and injustice of the drug war but they find one study on the effects of pot on short-term memory and my whole point is considered invalid. Because if we end this war Somebody Might Get Hurt.”

Liberals — the kinds of people who say “the government is just all of us working together” — instinctively draw back from acknowledging the realities of power. But Chris Dillow of Stumbling and Mumbling blog — the kind of Leftist we need more of — is quite happy to rub their noses in it (“What Eton Knows,” May 26, 2013).

It seems New Labourites in the UK are in shock over a question about the Macchiavellian utility of shooting protestors in the entrance exam at Eton. “What Eton Knows,” Dillow writes, is that

“Political power rests, ultimately, upon force and violence. Plan A for the ruling class is to govern by consent. But there is a plan B …. Who, whom? Lenin got it right. Power is about who does what to whom? Eton’s examiners know that their charges will be the ‘who’ and the rest of us the ‘whom.’”

Naive, well-meaning liberals — as opposed to those who simply desire to amass managerial power over society in their own hands — fail to understand that coercive power in its essence is a mechanism by which those who exercise it benefit at the expense of those over whom it is exercised. It is a weapon by which some people do things to other people. And the idea that this mechanism, this weapon, is amenable to democratic control is utterly ludicrous. As Robert Michels noted a century ago, centralized, hierarchical institutions cannot be instruments of direct rule by the many. Whatever formally democratic rules of representation they are subject to in legal theory, in practice the delegates will gain power at the expense of the delegators; the agent will exercise de facto power over the principal.

The coercive state, by its nature, is the instrument of a ruling class. Sometimes the state functionaries themselves will supplant the old ruling class and constitute a new one, as in the case of the bureaucratic oligarchy that ruled the Soviet Union. More frequently, the regulatory and welfare state will align itself with the preexisting corporate capitalist ruling class, and incorporate itself as a junior member, as in European social democracy and American New Deal liberalism.

In either case, the vast majority of society will be the ruled. And the rulers will exercise their power over us in all sorts of unpleasant ways. Once you set up an enforcement bureaucracy of cops and administrative law courts capable of shooting or imprisoning people, or seizing their assets without proving them guilty of a criminal offense, they will happily exercise this power. Dillow writes:

“In creating so many new criminal offences and bolstering the power and self-importance of the police, [New Labour] thought it was acting out of good intentions but was … merely giving them licence to bully old ladies. Good intentions are not enough.”

So if your automatic response to every moral panic is to pass another law to stop people from getting hurt, stop and think it over some more. You’re just giving the state — and the interests that control it — power to hurt people.

3 responses to “Somebody Might Get Hurt

  1. There is no Left or Right: Only Tyranny or Liberty. Great post.

  2. At first I thought this post might be about drug prohibition, but then we get an attack on Eton based upon an exam question.

    We then get some drivil about “Power Elite” Robert Michels – if only New Haven Conneticut was ruled by a elite of capitialists! It would not be the bankrupt dump it is, if it was ruled in the interests of “business”.

    Both the city and the State are firmly in the grip of social democrats who certainly are NOT the “junor partner” to private enterprise – on the contrary they have been busy driving business (and jobs) out of the city and the State for years, with the high tax (high spending) ways.

    Although there is one vast enterprise that does have a lot economic influence in New Haven – Yale University itself.

    Perhaps this points us to the reason why drug prohibtion (which seemed like it was going to be the subject of Kevin’s post) gets forgotten after the first couple paragraphs.

    In reality drug prohibition was not established by evil “capitalists”, it was not about serving the interests of “business” – it was about the relgious and secular ideologies of intellectuals.

    The sort of people who dominate Ivy League universities – such as Yale.

    Interestingly the Progressive ideology of these intellectuals may be changing – whilst still collectivist (indeed more collectivist than ever) in many things, they do seem (over time) to have developed more and more doubts about drug prohibition.

  3. Opposing the word “state” and raising a black flag rather than a red flag, does not mean that someone is not on the side of tyranny.

    For example, Chicago street gangs and the Chicago teachers union are at least as anti libertarian (in their own nasty way) as the city government of Chicago.

    Of course some businessmen seek subsidies – my desire for New Haven to be dominated by gang of rich capitlaists was t-in-c, I do not really want that.

    But preaching against “the rich” is even worse than the corruption of some rich people.

    Indeed preaching against “the rich” (“the capitalists” as Kevin would call them – and he does not really care if it is a single rich man or a corporation) is exactly how tyranny is traidtionally established (going all the way back to Ancient Greece).

    Bastiat (the arch attacking of what would now be called “corporate welfare”) admitted that its cost was small compared to the potenial cost of general welfare (and so this has proved – “junior partner” my foot). But Bastiat warned that if rich interests went after subsidies for themselves they would undercut the moral ground from under their own feet (leaving the defenceles against the demand for subsidies for EVERYONE – for “the poor”).

    John Adams understood this before Bastiat was born.

    In his “A Defence of the American Constitutions” John Adams shows that he understands both the danger of corrupt rich people getting government to rig things in their favour – and he danger of the poor being misled by agitators (calling themsleves anarchists and waving black flags?) falsely claiming that all the problems of the poor are caused by the rich – and that action should be taken against the rich and their “not justly acquried” property (no large scale property is ever “justly acqured” to those filled with envy).

    Of the two threats the second is worse the first – but the first may lead to the second.

    For if rich men seek after corrupt advantage they give a shade of TRUTH to the lies agitators use in order to destroy civil societ.

    The only way to prevent both dangers is to so limit government that it simply does not have the power to grant subidies to rich or poor – for though the cost of the latter (subsidies to the poor) is far greater than the former, both are wrong (and if subsidies are granted to the rich – the pressure to grant them to the poor also becomes much harder to resist).

    “But the constitutional limits on government have collaped Paul”.

    That is, alas, true.

    Both the formal limlts on what government can pass laws about and spend money upon, and the “structual” checks.

    For example John Adams placed high hopes in the “independent Senate” – i,e. as the United States Senate would not be directly elected it would (in his view) act as a restraint on the House of Representatives.

    If that was ever true it ended in 1913 (a fateful date in many ways – the Federal Income Tax and the Federal Reserve are created in the same year).

    And the roll of the Upper House at State level (elected to counter balance the urban vote with rural, county, vote) was destroyed by the Supreme Court half a century ago.