The Myth of Limited
December 20, 2001
taught that the change from monarchy to democracy is progress; that is, a
change from servitude to liberty. Yet no monarchy in Western history ever taxed
its subjects as heavily as every modern democracy taxes its citizens.
But we are taught that this condition is
liberty, because we are freely taxing
ourselves. The individual, as a member of a democracy, is presumed
to consent to being taxed and otherwise forced to do countless things he
hasnt chosen to do (or forbidden to do things he would prefer not to do).
Whence arises the right of a ruler to compel?
This is a tough one, but modern rulers have discovered that a plausible answer can
be found in the idea of majority rule. If the people rule themselves by collective
decision, they cant complain that the government is oppressing them. This
notion is summed up in the magic word democracy.
Its nonsense. We are not
doing it to ourselves. Some people are still ruling other people.
Democracy is merely the pretext for authorizing this process and
legitimizing it in the minds of the ruled. Since outright slavery has been
discredited, democracy is the only remaining rationale for state
compulsion that most people will accept.
Now comes Hans-Hermann Hoppe, of the
University of Nevada Las Vegas, to explode the whole idea that there can ever be a
just state. And he thinks democracy is worse than many other forms of
government. He makes his case in his new book Democracy The God
That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural
Order (Transaction Publishers).
Hoppe is often described as a libertarian, but
it might be more accurate to call him a conservative anarchist. He thinks the state
a territorial monopoly of compulsion is inherently
subversive of social health and order, which can thrive only when men are free.
As soon as you grant the state anything, Hoppe
argues, you have given it everything. There can be no such thing as limited
government, because there is no way to control an entity that in principle
enjoys a monopoly of power (and can simply expand its own power).
Weve tried. We adopted a Constitution
that authorized the Federal Government to exercise only a few specific powers,
reserving all other powers to the states and the people. It didnt work. Over
time the government claimed the sole authority to interpret the Constitution, then
proceeded to broaden its own powers ad infinitum and to strip the states of their
original powers while claiming that its self-aggrandizement was the
fulfillment of the living Constitution. So the Constitution has
become an instrument of the very power it was intended to limit!
The growth of the Federal Government might
have been slowed if the states had retained the power to withdraw from the
confederation. But the Civil War established the fatal principle that no state could
withdraw, for any reason. So the states and the people lost their ultimate defense
against Federal tyranny. (And if they hadnt, there would still have been the
problem of the tyranny of individual states.) But today Americans have learned to
view the victory of the Union over the states, which meant an enormous increase
in the centralization of power, as a triumph of democracy.
Hoppe goes so far as to say that democracy is
positively immoral, because it allows for A and B to band
together to rip off C. He argues that monarchy is actually preferable,
because a king has a personal interest in leaving his kingdom in good condition for
his heirs; whereas democratic rulers, holding power only briefly, have an incentive
to rob the public while they can, caring little for what comes afterward. (The
name Clinton may ring a bell here.)
And historically, kings showed no desire to
invade family life; but modern democracies want to protect children
from their parents. By comparison with the rule of our alleged equals, most kings
displayed remarkably little ambition for power. And compared with modern war,
the wars of kings were mere scuffles.
Democracy has proved only that the best way
to gain power over people is to assure the people that they are ruling themselves.
Once they believe that, they make wonderfully submissive slaves.