One of the most fascinating aspects of the 2016 presidential race is the large number of people who continue to ask, “How is it possible that in a nation of 300 million people, we ended up with two horrendous presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?”
There is an explanation for this phenomenon but it’s one that all too many people just don’t want to think about. The explanation was provided by Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek in Chapter 10 of his book The Road to Serfdom. The chapter is entitled “Why the Worst Get on Top.”
Hayek explained that under a dictatorial type of government, the worst people are inevitably going to be the ones who rise to the top, owing to the very nature of the system. He writes:
There are strong reasons for believing that what to us appear the worst features of existing totalitarian systems are not accidental byproducts, but phenomena which totalitarianism is certain sooner or later to produce. Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful in a society tending toward totalitarianism.
What people who lament that we’ve ended up with Trump and Clinton just don’t get is that Clinton and Trump are the logical outcome of the welfare-warfare state system that modern-day Americans have chosen to embrace, a system that encompasses the wielding and exercise of totalitarian powers. This is reflected by people’s continued steadfast allegiance to the welfare-warfare state apparatus and their unwavering hope that it will someday produce good presidential candidates.
It isn’t going to happen. It’s a pipedream. As long as America continues to embrace a bad system — one that orients toward totalitarianism, Clinton and Trump and others of their ilk will be the ones who get on top.
From the first grade in the public (i.e., government) schools to which American parents are required by law to send their children, students are inculcated with the notion that Americans are a free people, especially by virtue of the fact that the federal government is a democratic one.
Yet democracy has nothing to do with freedom. As 18th- and 19th-century Americans understood, democracy is an enormous threat to freedom. That’s why the word democracy is not even mentioned in the Constitution. It’s also why the Bill of Rights protects American society from democracy.
Freedom? Oh sure, Americans have been indoctrinated into believing they’re free. But the reality is that Americans epitomize the people described by Goethe when he pointed out that “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
Americans live under a government that wields the omnipotent power to assassinate them any time it wants. No due process. No trial by jury. No federal court interference. No congressional interference. No wrongful death actions. All that any president has to do is order his troops or his CIA agents to label an American a terrorist and kill him. The hit can take place when an American is traveling or living abroad or even here in the United States. In the war on terrorism, the entire world is the battlefield and every American is a potential terrorist. Just ask the family of Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, both of whom were assassinated by U.S. military or para-military forces.
Americans live under a government that wields the omnipotent power to arrest them, put them into a military dungeon or concentration camp for the rest of their lives, and torture them. No due process. No trial by jury. Just raw, unrestrained power over every citizen. Just ask the families of Japanese-Americans. Or just ask Jose Padilla, the American citizen whose military incarceration and torture on American soil was upheld by the federal courts.
Americans live under a government that wields the omnipotent power to spy on them, monitor their activities, read their mail and email, and listen to and record their telephone conversations. Even if some of the activity is considered illegal, everyone knows that nothing is ever going to happen to any federal agent who engages in these activities so long as he did it in the good faith belief that he was protecting “national security.” Every American now lives under the prospect that the government knows about the most private and confidential parts of his life, and he inevitably acts accordingly.
On the warfare state side of things, the national-security branch of the government — i.e., the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA — operate in secret and oftentimes lie about what they are doing, in the name of “national security.”
On the welfare state side of things, the government wields the omnipotent power to take whatever percentage of people’s income it wants and give it to other people. The IRS, which enforces the federal income tax, is one of the most tyrannical and feared agencies in history. Sometimes public officials are nice and keep the percentage relatively low. Sometimes they’re not so nice and set it higher. But make no mistake about it: Public officials are the ones setting the percentage. They are deciding how much people are going to be permitted to keep, much as a parent determines an allowance for his children.
As a practical matter, the government spends as much as it wants. What happens when expenditures exceed tax revenues? No problem. Public officials simply borrow the difference, adding to the mountain of federal debt that hangs over the nation like a Damocles sword. To pay off the debt in debased dollars, the Federal Reserve, an agency of unelected bureaucrats, wields the omnipotent authority to inflate (and destroy) the currency to any extent it wants.
In the drug war, federal officials jail people, oftentimes for decades, for doing nothing more than possessing or distributing drugs that public officials say are harmful.
None of this is consistent with a free society. It is all consistent with totalitarianism, including regimes whose officials are democratically elected. The test for a free society is not how officials get into power but rather with the nature of the powers they wield over the citizenry.
Many of those who lament that Clinton and Trump have risen to the top don’t want to change their welfare-warfare state system. Instead, they just want better candidates. They fail to realize that Clinton and Trump and others like them come with the welfare-warfare system they favor. They fail to see that the only way to get better candidates is with a system based on individual liberty, free markets, and a limited-government republic, which necessarily entails a dismantling of the welfare-warfare state, not a reform of it.
When people are living under a government that wields totalitarian-like powers, it is in their interests to have nice people wielding such powers. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, if people have to live under a dictatorship, including a democratically elected one, they’re better off with a nice dictator rather than a nasty one. Hayek writes:
No doubt an English “fascist” system would greatly differ from the Italian or German models; no doubt if the transition were effected without violence, we might expect to get a better type of leader. And if I had to live under a fascist system I have no doubt that I would rather live under one run by Englishmen than under one run by anybody else. Yet all this does not mean that, judged on our present standards, a British fascist system would in the end prove so very different or much less intolerable than its prototypes.
The big problem facing the American people in the 2016 presidential race is that both of their presidential candidates are not very nice people. In fact, they are both very nasty, vicious people. That’s really what’s creating anxiety for Americans. Having brought into existence a government with dictatorial powers over them, it is dawning on them that, either way, they are about to end up with a very nasty, vicious person wielding those dictatorial powers over them.