Monday, July 8, 2013

Government And Freedom

As this thing—the State—is the monster we have to contend with in these pages, it is important that we understand clearly its essential meaning. We speak of the State or perhaps the government or the nation without defining too sharply these several terms. Randolph Bourne, who had a flare for illuminating such ideas with a gleam of fancy, has written the following revealing paragraph:
“What is the State essentially? The more closely we examine it, the more mystical … it becomes. On the Nation we can put our hand as a definite group, with attitudes and qualities exact enough to mean something. On the Government we can put our hand as a certain organization of ruling functions, the machinery of law-making and law-enforcing. The Administration is a recognizable group of political functionaries, temporarily in charge of the government. But the State stands as an idea behind them all, eternal, sanctified, and from it Government and Administration conceive themselves to have the breath of life.”

He then offered a practical illustration of this conception. Put a hundred men on an uninhabited island and, by a law of nature, a force springs up among them. They become a little State, even before the hundred men sit around to concert measures of law and personnel. The State is a force inherent in a definable population, which by the laws of existence and the supreme necessity of order, possesses the authority to create for itself a government. The nation is the people. The State is the collective power which inheres in the people. The apparatus of power and compulsion which is set over them to define rights, preserve order and protect the people under whatever authority they agree on is the government. The State is the corporate soul of the nation. Government is the apparatus of power employed by the State for its defense and the protection of its citizens. And this apparatus of power is entrusted at any given moment to something called the Administration.

In this group of functions we must never lose sight of the fact that this thing called government is an apparatus of power. It is the power to order and control men. It embodies within itself the power to make the rules which regulate the relationships of men, to interpret and enforce those rules and to punish those who resist them. When this apparatus of power—the government—is delivered into the hands of one man—a monarch—his power to oppress is almost irresistible. And the greater the apparatus of power deposited in his hands the greater will be his capacity to command and enforce obedience. If the total administration of government is deposited in a single person or a single group—an absolute monarch or an aristocracy—it will be able to exploit the people rather than to protect them.
The State, therefore, as the embodiment of authority, is the ultimate source of all tyranny. Even human slavery—the assumed right of one man to own another—is impossible unless it is sanctioned and enforced by the State. It must be clear, therefore, that the historic struggle of man to be free has consisted in the effort to sub-due the State.

In a republic the ultimate authority is recognized to be in the citizens. But of necessity the people must commit it to agents, depositing all or a part of it with a group of officials who compose the Administration. Once the Administration comes into possession of this apparatus of power, it is essential that the people devise some means of restraining its servants in the use of it. The greatest protection the people can have is the rule by which the Administration is compelled to lay down its powers at stated intervals—surrendering them back into the hands of the people to get a renewal of its authority or effect a transfer to those chosen to succeed it.

But it is at this moment—when the Administration surrenders power back to the people—that society is exposed to its great risk. The authority deposited with the government and wielded by the Administration may be so compulsive and irresistible that the Administration may be able to control the electorate by intimidations and favors. At the moment when the Administration in office must go back to the electorate for a renewal of its commission to govern, a grave danger arises for the people. During the interval in which the electorate is going through the processes of an election, the Administration remains in control. And that control can be used in various ways to influence votes by favors, intimidation or bribery. The power of the Administration may be so great that the electorate will be helpless to escape the formality of renewing its lease of authority. The scattered, divided groups in the constituencies will be no match for the highly organized central Administration and its Janizaries, armed with public funds and with the compulsive machinery of the government.

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Decline of the American Republic

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