It Can Happen Here
American government goes European
Nov 8, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 08 • By ROGER KIMBALL
I do not advise bringing up the legitimacy of the Sixteenth Amendment in serious conversation; there are some issues that are simply off-limits in polite company. It is nonetheless worth reflecting on what a privilege it is to be in the position of deciding which issues are “dead causes” and which are okay to broach. How about Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal? For many years that, too, was off limits. But the advent of Barack Obama has had the curious stereoscopic effect of making FDR’s legacy both more subject to scrutiny and criticism and more sacrosanct. Hannan is clearly skeptical, and he makes the provocative observation that “most disastrous policies have been introduced at times
Indeed. For Rahm Emanuel, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” when you can milk it to increase government control. But then there was Calvin Coolidge, perhaps America’s most underrated president, who (among others) is credited with commanding a busybody aide: “Don’t just do something; stand there!” (I cannot find the source, but I urge you to ponder the wisdom of Coolidge’s advice.) The point is that it is far easier to establish than to rid oneself of any bureaucracy, and of all mankind’s bureaucracies, the hardest to kill are government bureaucracies. (Still, while there is life there is hope: Coolidge did manage to reduce the size of the federal budget by some 50 percent.)
When the economic crisis broke in the fall of 2008, the United States and Great Britain were among the quickest off the mark to spend more, borrow more, and impose a raft of new regulation. In late October 2008 then-
In the past, I have often wondered why people, whether in Europe or the United States, put up with the promiscuous indignities of quasi-socialist rule. Why didn’t they fight back? I put it down mostly to something Hayek described as one of the “main points” of his argument in The Road to Serfdom: that one of the most important changes that extensive government control brought in its wake was
Such a change, Hayek acknowledged, was not easily demonstrated, but it could be clearly felt. It did not arise all at once but might take “perhaps . . . one or two generations” to flower fully. It was all, I thought to myself, part of what Alexis
I had concluded that something like Tocqueville’s analysis explained the quiescence of the citizenry in Europe and America when faced with the progress of socialism. As Hilaire Belloc put it, “The effect of Socialist doctrine on Capitalist society is to produce a third thing different from either of its two begetters---—to wit, the Servile State.”
Here we were, then. Or were we?
But appearances were deceiving. The clerks were going along with it. (Many observers would refer here to the “elites,” but “elites” is not quite right; “clerks,” as in “trahison des clercs,” is closer to the reality.) Those with their lips sewn to the government teat went along, as did the left-leaning commentariat. But the rest of the populace? The bumper sticker advising that “It’s a good thing Obama doesn’t know what comes after trillion” told you something. As did, for example, the Rasmussen poll revealing that only 21 percent of Americans approved of bailing out General Motors, which forever more will be scornfully known as “Government Motors.” Calls to “man up” were suddenly being heard across the land. Someone had miscalculated, and miscalculated badly.
I write this during the run-up to an election that, if the signs and portents are at all accurate, will be a disaster for—well, I was going to say “for the Democrats,” but it will be a disaster for all those politicians, be they Republican or Democrat, who have forsaken the Founders’ wisdom that discerned the unbreakable link between limited government and freedom.
“Clerks” is better than “elites,” but better than both is the image of those little, shriveled, meager, hopping “insects of the hour” that Burke apostrophizes. Insects, beware: This election is only
Roger Kimball, editor of The New Criterion, is the author of the forthcoming Much Ado About Noting: A Pedographophilic Chrestomathy of Sly, Admonitory, Informative, Scurrilous, and Amusing Observations from the Bottom of the Page.