I’ve emphasized in my last two articles that foreign expansionism has nurtured terrorism, which in turn contributes to a host of associated factors like the surveillance state and the police state. Now I want to go deeper.
It is my belief that evils that we are seeing do not come about unless the public not only tolerates them but wants them. Economists would say that there is a demand for them. Behind these demands is a demand for Law and Order, and behind that demand is the even more basic DEMAND FOR FORCE.
Start with the fact that the amorphous “public” demands Law and Order. The political system supplies it, even if it means tearing up the Bill of Rights, even if it means sending people to prison for victimless crimes, and even if it means massive injustice. The “War on Drugs” is a strong example. This has met with public support ever since it began. The prevalence of the entertainment industry’s tv police shows that glorify police is a second example. The “War on Terror” and its results on civil liberties are a third example.
I am saying politely that the American public is brutish at heart, prone to resort to force, not freedom-loving at heart and not justice-loving at heart. I am not one who blames government for being the sole cause of the evils that we are seeing. I think social-political causation is more complex. It is a two-way street running between public and government; it is a dance with two partners. First one takes the lead, then the other. There is an interaction.
We make a basic error if we ignore the brutishness of the public. It is not that they are sheeple or ignorant, but they have some basic beliefs that libertarians do not share. These need to be identified. One of them is a belief in FORCE, POWER or COERCION as a tool to do good.
This might possibly trace back to a theology in which the WILL of God rules and it’s because God exercises his will that he makes divine laws. In this theology, it is because God wills something that makes it good or right or just. When the public becomes sovereign and has a government that is sovereign, it transfers this way of thinking to itself. The public’s exercise of its will, which means the use of POWER, is what makes things right. Whatever law the public and its government make is right, in this way of thinking.
The opposing theological idea is that before anything is willed, there is a mind and reason at work. These are inherently just in God. Justice and good are inherent attributes of God and his mind, which embody truth and reason. God’s divine laws are good and right by virtue of being of God’s mind and reason. They are not right because he put his will to work. The divine goodness of divine laws is inherent to them. God does not will himself or anything else to be good. He is good in and of himself.
If this idea is transferred to the secular domain, it means right is right irrespective of what the public and the government will or what they make into a law. The force of law is not what makes something right. There are right laws and wrong laws outside of force and outside of will. Man’s laws must be assessed against standards that exist outside any law-making sovereign.
There are going to be many exceptions to this general picture of American worship of power. There are going to be many variations in public attitudes over time. The public is not homogeneous. Surely there are all kinds of voices that speak up for this or that right. As in many things, there exists a distribution of opinions and attitudes covering a large range. But I am speaking of the central tendency, because it’s that center that swings elections and influences political outcomes. I’m not saying it’s the sole influence, but it’s an important influence. I am speaking of the general trend that persists over many years, and we can see what that trend is. It involves continual applications of force in human life. There is a need to understand this and trace it back to its roots. I’ve suggested that the roots involve a theological difference that has been transferred into the secular realm. The route by which it got there has no doubt been concealed, lengthy, circuitous and surreptitious. People need not even be aware of it. It may have entered their belief systems via philosophers and sages, or by schooling, or via the media, propaganda, or sermons. But it is a deep and firm belief, not easily dislodged or replaced by the main alternative, which is a belief in peaceful, non-coercive freedom.
Those who believe in the will making right believe in might makes right. Those who believe in right existing in and of itself have no such faith in might or might makes right.
There is such a thing as too much Law and Order and too much suppression being used in order to reduce crime. An unalloyed focus on reducing crime by any means invariably ropes in many innocent people and it invariably augments the police power so greatly that the police and justice system abuse innocent people for all sorts of evil reasons. It has to be understood that the human being has an evil side and will exercise it more greatly if given the opportunities to do so while getting away with it or even being rewarded for doing so. Part of the problem here is in the public’s not understanding that reducing crime too greatly by oppressive laws creates new evils. Might starts to make wrong because might is violating that which is right without knowing it, because it believes itself to be right.
The American public’s demand for law and order has gone too far because its demand for the use of force has gone too far. The public is far too supportive of oppressive rules, searches, tearing up rights, invading privacy, and jailing people. Even if we do not know for sure why this has happened, I feel we can be sure that it has.
The public largely believes in might makes right. The public has adopted and become used to the idea that all ills can be overcome by government laws and force. A basic misapprehension is at work in this belief. The people leading the government think that FORCE works to alleviate various ills and problems both domestically and overseas. The public shares this belief.
This belief is an error in thought that views life mechanistically and assumes that human beings can be forced into patterns of behavior that overcome problems. For those who think in theological terms, the error is to think that God is just because of his will and that will is what makes good, as opposed to the idea that God’s mind and reason are inherently good and precede his will.
Government people think wrongly that whole economies can be manipulated by force to a good end, by turning spigots on an off of debt, money, rules, projects and taxation. The public thinks that one can pass a law to resolve any problem, and that somehow if it has negative effects, they can be overcome by passing yet another law and then another. The public believes in FORCE. It does not believe in letting nature take its course, i.e., a more free situation in which the individual assessments of situations, costs and benefits lead to beneficial social outcomes.
Holding to this mechanistic view of human beings and the prominent role of FORCE and the force of law, the public and its government have shunted aside the idea of freedom and rights. Some rights are there traditionally to protect the innocent and the accused from being exploited, suppressed and oppressed by other people and by those who have power. But if the public assumes that force alleviates all evils and thinks that the government is a useful and appropriate means of applying such force, then it throws rights out the window. Freedom becomes narrower and narrower, while social and political oppression become broader.
When the American public worships government’s use of power, it worships the brutishness in itself. The two go hand in hand. To the degree that a people is uncivilized, it will produce an uncivilized society and an uncivilized government. But government, consisting of men and women elected to use force, is not a mere tool of the public. Causation works in both directions. The government actively promotes the use of force, educates and propagandizes on its behalf and extends its use in the lives of the society and overseas. The people and the government people they elect are at one and the same time independent and dependent. What they share is a demand for the use of force, as opposed to a demand for freedom.
The American public’s typical eagerness for war and in support of war exemplifies its demand for the use of force. In these situations, the public readily embraces regimentation, suppresses dissent and glorifies the military. The most popular and revered presidents are those who have been associated with wars.
If the American public, that amorphous central tendency, were peace-loving, we would see it tending to support neutrality, not expansionism. It would support the republic, not empire. It would support all those ideas associated with neutrality that I listed in my previous article. This is not the case. Expansionism is the expression of a demand for the use of force. Neutrality is the expression of a peace-loving people.
June 21, 2013
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.
Copyright © 2013 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.