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The Preservation of the Bureaucracy


Two hundred years ago, our American ancestors instituted the most unusual political system in history. The Constitution called into existence a government whose powers, for the first time ever, were extremely limited. Thus, unlike other people throughout history, Americans lived without such things as income taxation, welfare, licensure, immigration control, business regulation, drug laws, conscription, and passports. Generally, and with exceptions (slavery and tariffs being the most notable), laws were limited to protecting people from the violence and fraud of others.

What caused these Americans to institute this strange and novel way of life? The answer lies in the way our American ancestors perceived the relationship between the individual in society and his government. Americans of that time believed that the preservation of the individual — and the freedom to live his life and dispose of his wealth as he chose — was the highest political end. Thus, for them, government’s sole purpose was to assist in the achievement of this end. Government officials were viewed as servants, and only as servants, to ensure the preservation of the individual, the freedom to live his life, and to dispose of his wealth, as he saw fit.

Although Americans of today operate under the delusion that they subscribe to the same value structure as their ancestors, the uncomfortable reality is that they have instead rejected and abandoned it. Although they will rarely admit it to themselves or others, Americans today honestly believe that the supreme end in American society is not the preservation of the individual and his freedom to choose, but rather the preservation of the political bureaucracy and its unlimited power to control the lives and wealth of the citizenry.

How do the politicians and bureaucrats, in turn, perceive the citizenry? Paying lip service to their role as “public servants,” especially at election time, public officials, in reality, scoff at any such notion. In their eyes, the citizens are means, not ends, who exist solely to ensure the preservation of the bureaucracy.

This philosophical perspective — that the citizen is merely a “cog in the wheel” which can, and will, be sacrificed for the greater good of the bureaucracy — holds true, of course, with the civil bureaucracy. Usually under the guise of fighting some domestic “war,” or attacking some “crisis” — poverty, drugs, illiteracy, racism, or whatever — the civil bureaucracy exercises ever-increasing control over the lives and wealth of the citizenry.

But the same holds true with the military bureaucracy. No matter what the conditions are in the world — even if peace were to break out everywhere — even if democracies were suddenly found in every nation on earth — even if American politicians and bureaucrats appointed every ruler in the world — in the mind of the military bureaucrat, crises and wars will always be a “potential threat” to “national security.” And so the military bureaucracy also wields ever-increasing control over the lives and wealth of the citizenry.

All money which government has, of course, comes from the citizenry through the coercive process of taxation. Government officials understand that, in this sense, they are parasitic — that is, that they survive and flourish through the earnings that are sucked out of the pockets of the citizens. They comprehend, for example, that if the citizenry suddenly decided to stop paying taxes, the bureaucracy’s lifeline would, at the same time, dry up.

The bureaucracy recognizes that, since it is a parasite, it must perform a masterful balancing act. On the one hand, it must ensure that the citizenry continue paying taxes at such a level that the bureaucracy is preserved, and hopefully expanded. But it must also ensure that the level of confiscation and plunder never gets so high that the worst fear of the bureaucracy — a tax revolt among the citizenry — materializes.

Now, the intriguing question is: if the American people decided that their ancestors were right, and that 20th-century Americans are wrong — that is, that the preservation of the individual and his freedom to choose should, in fact, be the end, and the government simply the means to ensure that end — would the politicians and bureaucrats comply with the decision of the citizenry?

The answer is in doubt. Why? Because those in the bureaucracy honestly believe that they, not the citizenry, are “the country”; that is, they actually think that the nation, and the well-being of the nation, depend on their preservation. The dismantling of the bureaucracy, in their minds, would mean the destruction of the country. Therefore, it is entirely possible that, in the midst of what the politicians and bureaucrats would consider a “national crisis,” they would refuse to comply with a mandate of the citizenry to dismantle the bureaucracy and end the taxation necessary for its preservation.

One of these days, the American people will discover, much to their surprise and dismay, that which the Soviet citizens are discovering: that the bureaucracy will always tolerate the citizens’ “freedom of speech” to complain about bureaucratic abuses and inefficiencies; but as soon as the bureaucracy is threatened by the citizenry with extinction, it will fight them “tooth and nail” for its “right” to be preserved.

Complaints about governmental inefficiencies and corruption have become a well-recognized and accepted part of American life: “We must get rid of waste in government programs”; “We must get ‘better people’ into public office.” So, attempting to “correct the system” by gaining political power over their fellow citizens, Americans expend much time, money, and effort to get themselves, or their friends, elected or appointed to public office. And the results? Even when victorious, they learn that things only get worse: expanded control, greater plunder, increased waste, and more corruption — only this time by them and their friends, rather than by others.

Americans must finally come to the painful realization that their ancestors were philosophically correct: that the taking of money from one person, through the political process, in order to give it to another person is evil, immoral, and destructive; and that political interference with how a person chooses to peacefully live his life, and dispose of his wealth, is equally evil, immoral, and destructive.

Moreover, Americans must finally conclude, as painful as it may be, that waste in government programs (actually somebody’s income), no matter how great an effort is expended, is impossible to eliminate. Evil and immorality, even if democratically enshrined, cannot be made to work efficiently.

And they must learn that getting “better people” into public office is not the solution either. One does not change the nature of a house of prostitution by voting in a new board of directors. And that is exactly what the American people of this century have permitted their government to become — a house of prostitution in which, for example, the principles receive “campaign contributions” and “speakers’ honoraria” for “services rendered.” Of course, some people, and especially those who were taught civics in their public schools and who were required to pledge allegiance every day for twelve long years, will consider this observation to be highly unpatriotic. But if it be unpatriotic to oppose a house of prostitution where once stood a great and glorious edifice, then make the most of it!

No, the answer is not to engage in a futile quest to eliminate waste in government programs. The solution is to constitutionally prohibit the programs themselves. No, the answer is not to get “better people” into public office. The solution is to constitutionally prohibit public officials, whoever they may be, from plundering the citizenry and doling out money to others. No, the answer is not to reign in the bureaucrats. The solution is to dismantle the bureaucracy and return the bureaucrats, kicking and screaming, to rewarding and productive lives as private citizens. No, the answer is not tax reform. The solution is the repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment.

In other words, the solution for America, as we enter the third century of this nation’s existence, lies with the American people’s recapturing the principles on which our nation was founded and limiting the power of government even more severely than our ancestors did. Not only would this restore our political system to a sound moral foundation and our society to one based on volunteerism rather than coercion, it would also unleash an economic prosperity unparalleled in history.

But the heart of the solution is to make the individual in society once again sovereign over the state. Until the American people make the preservation of the individual, as well as his liberty and property, the highest political end, they will continue living their lives in subserviency to what has been the highest political end in the 20th century: the preservation of the bureaucracyand the discord, misery, impoverishment, and destruction which it has brought in its wake.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.