Sidebar to "Polite totalitarianism," Part two

Keeping up appearances



From time to time, we see certain statist measures defeated: assigning infants Social Security numbers in the Carter years or, more recently, the Freedom of Choice Act, those parts of H.R. 6 that would have extended Central Government jurisdiction to home schoolers, and the religious-harassment proposals of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — the defeats of the latter three being spearheaded at the grassroots level by James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Such setbacks to the statist agenda deepen Americans' sense of living in a free society. In fact, what we live in is a democratic totalitarianism, i.e., a totalitarianism that employs the democratic process and so-called democratic institutions to determine its particular shape and emphasis, and the particular areas of intrusion.

The term democratic totalitarianism is not an oxymoron. The world has seen elected monarchies and elected dictatorships. And surely a world that accepts "democratic socialism" cannot be scandalized by the possibility of democratic totalitarianism. Election, after all, is merely an instrument for determining who holds de jure power; it does not determine to whom those holders may be accountable or who may hold de facto power.

That apparent victories against statism are essentially meaningless for the prospects of liberty is suggested by features profitable to tyranny, but unsuited to a democracy with genuine ties to liberty:

On any given day the number of statist incursions into our lives — originating in Congress, in the regulatory agencies, in court judgments, to say nothing of parallel developments at the state and local levels — is simply staggering. On the day that a watchdog group might mobilize its supporters and force the withdrawal or defeat of a single proposal in the Federal Register, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other incursions have slipped by, not merely virtually unopposed (or unopposable) but unnoticed. If there existed any group capable of monitoring all of them and mobilizing successful support against more than 10 percent of them, that group would be large enough and wealthy enough to overturn the entire system.

Even if certain publicized amendments or clauses in a bill are defeated, the bill can still pass into law. H.R. 6 may not have successfully extended central jurisdiction over home schooling, but it did extend the Central Government's control over local school boards.

Even defeated measures can resurface (as in the case of assigning SSNs to newborns) under different purposes and in different contexts.

Virtually no statist measure is ever repealed, except to make room for something worse. Privatization schemes are hardly ever truly free-market undertakings, but are rather government-business partnerships, often establishing monopolistic fiefdoms. Or they are legalization measures incorporating licensure and taxation.

The breakup of monopolies can hardly be cited as a move toward the free market, for it usually signals nothing less than a march to regulated oligopoly. In any case, as we are seeing in the telecommunications industry, while demonopolization often frees up an industry, so that we enjoy an explosion of innovation and technological advance, the Permanent Regime later settles on new directions of control and regulation.

Even when there takes place a social transformation that seems to weaken the state's hold on us, the Permanent Regime has an uncanny aptitude for turning it into a force for statism. For example, the movement in the late 1960s that reduced the state's control over sexual behavior gave birth to feminism. Before you could count to twenty, Women's Liberation, as it was originally called, was agitating for wage regulation and government-supplied day care. It has since allied itself with virtually every statist political movement and is in the forefront of the suppression of both any form of expression — spoken or printed — alleged to exploit or demean women, and any action that its principals choose to regard as "harassment."

Thus, whatever the participants in policy recommendation and activism may intend, their efforts normally serve to indicate in which direction statism can move with the least opposition. The Permanent Regime has learned that change — political, economic, and spiritual — is a fact of human existence. Other regimes have collapsed by attempting to limit change using the methods which the imagination associates with the police state. Our regime has learned, rather, to direct it, to co-opt it, and cooperate with it — and in some cases to foster it. Trends and personalities that seem inimical to it are ultimately accepted or manipulated to supply new definitions of acceptable opposition.

The apparent defeat of occasional statist agendas thus serves to minimize the risk of a revolution against the Permanent Regime and to maximize the public's sense that "the system works" and that a revolution — even supposing that the thought of one was ever entertained at all — is unnecessary. Individual creations of the Permanent Regime (e.g., presidents) may ignore the feedback represented by apparent defeats of statist measures, but in doing so they risk losing their influence and effectiveness, as surely as an entrepreneur who ignores his profit/loss statement risks bankruptcy.

Posted November 15, 2007

Published in 1994, 2007 by WTM Enterprises.

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