Dual Threats to Liberty

Columnist Ron Hart looks at both Dems and Reps lately and starts shaking his libertarian head:

As a result of the populist pandering of both parties, our country's future is at stake here. If you look at other cultures and democracies in history, they tend to flourish up until the point where voters determine that they can elect leaders who will give them the most generous payouts from the public treasury. Voices of reason and economic sensibility do not get elected until it is too late....Every great civilization's lifecycle appear to follow a similar trajectory. One cycle ascribed to Alexander Tyler identified the process as follows: "from bondage to spiritual faith; from faith to courage from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; & from apathy to dependence; from dependence back into bondage."

Note that liberty leads to abundance. And liberty - the freedom of people to choose and do as they will - is what libertarians stand for. We must not lose sight of that, and when our politicians want to take away our liberties under the guise of national security or expediency, we must not allow it.

Whole column here.

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  • edna||

    stole it from heinlein. "a democracy is stable only until the citizens find out that they can vote themselves bread and circuses."

  • ||

    If you look at other cultures and democracies in history, they tend to flourish up until the point where voters determine that they can elect leaders who will give them the most generous payouts from the public treasury.

    Any examples where the democracy has lasted over 50 years?

  • lunchstealer||

    Oi. Lotta cheap shots in that one. "Bush... folding to the religious right faster than a British soldier in Iran..." Leaving aside that it's an inapt metaphor, given that Bush is pandering to friends rather than failing to resist enemies, it just seems to be beating up on people that aren't really relevant to the discussion. Got a beef with Bush and the Democrats, fine - I've got the same beefs. But this column just seems to be shooting scorn off in random directions, and comes off just sounding cranky, rather than clever.

  • ||

    FDR and the New Deal Congress came to power 75 years ago.

  • ||

    David Walker for President!

  • lunchstealer||

    Any examples where the democracy has lasted over 50 years?

    You mean aside from Japan, France, Germany, the UK, America, Ireland, Switzerland, Canada, Australia - hell, even India?

  • ||

    Nick,

    Can you explain the headline reference? I don't get your newfangled minimalism.

  • ||

    Hart writes satire, so you have to realize he has to make fun of things in his columns. He is one of the best we have now, so do not be too harsh. He is our new PJ O'Rourke and in a ton of papers here in the South.

  • ||

    Thomas is right, he is very good and well followed. His points are well taken. Lets not eat our young here. Humor is a great way to get our message out.

  • ||

    Well, the examples in history are rife, the most telling for our little experiment being what happened to the Roman Republic. The Gracci, Marius, Sulla, Caesar, et al. all saw the opportunity for extra-constitutional personal power by catering to the masses. Free bread, land distribution, etc. There's a big difference, of course, between the people at large having rights (or even providing them with social services) and buying off their votes/inaction/action with a panoply of promises and/or scare tactics. Whether you agree with the immediate stated goals of the parties, you must recognize that these tactics present at least a potential threat to the concept of limited government. Not just the libertarian vision of that but the Constitutional vision as well. Is it so inconceivable that someone will take advantage of the ever-increasing power in DC to seize absolute power in some sort of emergency?

    In the United States, the recognition that we do respect democratic principles up to a certain point has historically had an opposing tension that we want our system to be balanced--not based on rule by the mob, by authoritarians, or by "aristocrats" but by some blend of the three. We are not merely a democracy, though, even now. Nor is any other major country. The variations on the Western theme all center on the old idea that the government is a res publica--a public thing. It's our creation and subject, ultimately, to our will, but it is not a direct instrument of democratic rule.

    Anyway, if the Roman Republic was undermined by using the populace to circumvent constitutional limits, that failing is important to us, because, of course, their republic had a significant influence on the design of our republic.

  • ||

    You mean aside from Japan, France, Germany, the UK, America, Ireland, Switzerland, Canada, Australia - hell, even India?

    My point exactly. Have any of these fallen back into bondage?

  • ||

    I think the UK, Switzerland, Canada, and France are all in soft bondage right now.

  • ||

    Or, looking at the countries that did "fall into bondage" in the 20th century, were any of them wealthy democracies whose dictatorships grew out of bureaucracies established to carry out economic redistribution?

    Germany? Russia? Italy? China? Japan? Poland? Iraq? Iran? Vietnam? Myanmar? Operation Condor-era South America?

    We have plenty of examples of nations falling into bondage. None of them were democracies full of people voting themselves wealth from the treasury.

  • ||

    Hart is funny as hell. If you have not read his stuff Google Ron Hart. His web site is there first thing.

    His quote ascribed to Tyler is thought provoking. One must agree the Democracies in Europe, many salvaged by the US in WW I and II, are in decline.

  • ||

    Did Russia not spend itself (trying to keep up with the U.S. in the arms race) from a superpower to a broken democracy? Granted it was Communist before, but so was/is China--yet they both have a subculture of capitalism.

    Hart is right about this, we cannot take our Democracy for granted.

  • lunchstealer||

    Dunno joe,

    Germany's a bit of a mixed case there. Certainly it was an example of a leader promising the impossible to get Democratically elected and using those promises to change the rules to secure absolute political power.

    It's not exactly what Hart's talking about, but it's a cousin thereof. And I suspect that's exactly the step that he's anticipating for the step from dependence back into bondage. The basic thinking being that the failed promises of a series of bread-and-circuses administrations would generate sufficient general malcontent to allow such a liberty-killing demogogue to come to power.

  • ||

    Man, democracy sucks.

  • ||

    lunchstealer,

    Weimar Germany is not a case of abundance, complacency, and apathy. It was panic and destitution that characterized German society during Hitler's rise.

    The propsperity and popular sovereignty that characterize modern democracies are forces that oppose dictatorship, not enable it.

  • ||

    Did Russia not spend itself (trying to keep up with the U.S. in the arms race) from a superpower to a broken democracy? Granted it was Communist before, but so was/is China--yet they both have a subculture of capitalism.

    Russia?!? First of all, the quote concerned "democracy" not "capitalism." Second of all, it's preposterous to assert that Russia was ever a developed capitalist country or a democracy.

    I understand what Hart is saying, and I agree, but let's not make up b.s. history to justify libertarianism.

  • ||

    Reinmoose, you nailed it.

    Democracy's greatest asset is that the people present a serious challenge to any would-be tyrant who seeks office. Its greatest liability is the license it grants to those very people to tyrannize themselves.

  • Jacob T. Levy||

    All due homage to Heinlein, but the fact that there's not a single clear case of a post-Roman well-established democracy or republic bread-and-circusing its way into collapse or even decline means this just doesn't have the ironclad-rule status many libertarians claim for it. There are some arguable Latin American cases (Argentina under Peron), but American/ western European cases only work tautologically (if social spending *constitutes* "soft bondage," then it's not also the *historical determinant of* that bondage). The Roman case is supposed to make us think that social spending brings about some bad result other than itself, e.g. military dictatorship. And, however powerful the Roman case and the logic seem to be, the claim just doesn't seem to be true.

  • TallDave||

    "a democracy is stable only until the citizens find out that they can vote themselves bread and circuses."

    That's one reason why there are virtually no pure democracies today, but lots of democratic republics. Otherwise, the poor could vote to seize the assets of the wealthy using the power of the state -- oh wait, we already do that. Well, more of their assets, anyway.

    Venezuela and Zimbabwe are the only places where this seems to be happening in a way that could really be called creeping totalitarianism, and that was only with the help of vote fraud.

  • ||

    Hugh Akston,

    The people in a democracy can certainly make a mistake and back a tyrant. A tyrant can come about in any political system.

    Bush under democracy, if the tyrant is bad to the people, they remove him. There is a self-correcting element to democracy that, however imperfect, is absent in any other system.

  • TallDave||

    "We usually make money like Republicans and have the sex lives of Democrats."

    Hehe, great line. Great column, except for a couple calumnies:

    "He has us in what can only be viewed as a religious war" -- Uh, no. We're trying to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan to liberal democracy, not Christianity. Do libertarians believe in liberty for everyone, or just Westerners?

    "it is increasingly apparent that he spun intelligence to get us in this mess" If that's so, then so did Clinton and the Dems. The intelligence was just wrong, not spun.

  • ||

    Populist pandering? Really? I don't think the politicians have ever cared less about public opinion. Why should they, when they get re-elected at a 98% rate?

  • lunchstealer||

    joe,

    Yeah, I recognize that. And your other examples stand. I just think that Germany's example shows a rough framework of how Hart's scenario could go down.

    Of course, it's also an example of how the Iraqi democracy could end up going even if the neocons were to succeed there.

  • ||

    If you look at other cultures and democracies in history, they tend to flourish up until the point where voters determine that they can elect leaders who will give them the most generous payouts from the public treasury.

    So, anybody here gotten their "payout" check yet? Know any elected leaders who have made the promise of payouts?

  • ||

    I see the collapse of the Roman Republic as a cautionary tale, not an absolute prediction of what will happen to us. Given that the current crop of democratic republics are all relatively new and have existed at a time of unparalleled prosperity, growth, and scientific and technological achievement, I don't think we've proven that this danger does not exist for us. The true test is in extremis.

    An interesting parallel is how revolutions for "the masses" are often co-opted by radical middle-class (or even aristocratic) groups. Like in France or Russia, for instance. Though not in the U.S.--hmmm.

    joe,

    I'm all for the democratic piece of our system, but voting tyrants in is much easier than voting them out. Sticking with the Roman analogy, Julius Caesar and Augustus had their extraordinary powers voted on and approved by the Senate. Ditto the more recent example of Adolf Hitler. In all three of those cases, the individuals in question were just building on the precedents set by previous leaders (though they all went far beyond what had been done before, esp. in the case of Hitler).

  • ||

    I shook my head like a bobblehead for so many years my spring finally wore out.
    Now the Little Woman and I have retreated into the recesses of cyberspace as peaceful anarchist hermits.
    Works for us.

  • TallDave||

    Just goes to show how important the nature of a democracy's Constitution can be. The difficulty in amending ours poses a real obstacle to tyranny.

    FDR with his court-packing scheme and third election was probably the closest we've ever come to a tyrant. A great President, but probably fortunate for the country that he died when he did.

  • Geneticist||

    Genetics may one day prove that liberty is an illusion.

  • ||

    So, anybody here gotten their "payout" check yet? Know any elected leaders who have made the promise of payouts?

    The closest thing would be tax cuts funded with debt.

  • ||

    Be careful with the Roman analogies.

    Julius Caesar and Augustus had their extraordinary powers voted on and approved by the Senate.

    Only because they had the personal command and loyalty of most, if not all, of the Roman legions and had defeated legions loyal to the Senate or other challengers. Naming Caesar dictator for life and later creating the Principate were offers the Senate "couldn't refuse."

    The founders of our government modeled it on their understanding of the Roman Republic, but in reality Rome resembled the Mafia more than the USA. The political structure of the Republic was mostly an artifice on the front of the extended patron/client system that really governed Rome.

    More on topic, I distrust theories that purport to explain complex history in such a neat and clean manner. And statistically speaking, there have been so few democracies and democratic republics that the sample size is too small to draw such easy conclusions. Our liberty will survive/grow if enough people value it, and certainly perish otherwise.

  • ||

    So, anybody here gotten their "payout" check yet? Know any elected leaders who have made the promise of payouts?

    I assume you're joking, but just in case: Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, the promise of universal health care, farm subsidies, various defense expenditures...

  • ||

    So, anybody here gotten their "payout" check yet? Know any elected leaders who have made the promise of payouts?

    I don't know where to begin with this question. Was this supposed to be a cleaver attempt at disproving the statement that people elect those who promise them the biggest payout by suggesting there are no examples?

    The welfare state, as we know it, is exactly that. Pork projects, for one, are a HUGE way of keeping a party in the majority and making sure the incumbent is re-elected. Promises of jobs and progressive income tax are using democracy to your political advantage by maximizing the number of people who think that they would directly benefit from your policies, when in reality they just sink your economy. Trust me, I know. I'm from Upstate, NY.

  • ||

    So the answer is labelling any government program you don't like as a "payout"?

    I use the public library - does that count? Once I had to use the services of the police, who never presented me with a bill. How about that one?

  • lunchstealer||

    Max | April 17, 2007, 2:24pm | #
    "So, anybody here gotten their "payout" check yet? Know any elected leaders who have made the promise of payouts?"

    The closest thing would be tax cuts funded with debt.


    Or more accurately, simultaneous tax cuts and massive new spending programs funded by debt.

  • lunchstealer||

    Once I had to use the services of the police, who never presented me with a bill. How about that one?

    Drink!

  • lunchstealer||

    So the answer is labelling any government program you don't like as a "payout"?

    Well, in my job I use Landsat images provided by the USGS. Landsat is a government funded program. From a professional standpoint, I love it.

    But at the same time, it's a payout to my industry. I'm definitely getting something for nothing on everybody else's dime.

  • ||

    So the answer is labelling any government program you don't like as a "payout"?

    More or less all wealth redistribution is a payout. Must payouts be made in unmarked cash by the "payout agency"? Are you really that uncreative and easy to deceive?

  • ||

    So, anybody here gotten their "payout" check yet? Know any elected leaders who have made the promise of payouts?

    Top of my head, the first person ever to collect SocSec got a nice return on investment. Promised of course by FDR. My grandfather came out ahead in medical care as well.

  • ||

    "Every great civilization's lifecycle appear to follow a similar trajectory."

    Please. This sort of writing is pathetic. Did the ancient Greeks move from "bondage to spiritual faith"? Did the Romans? Did the Chinese? The Egyptians? The Persians? And how many of these achieved "liberty"?

    In the immortal words of Delmore Schwartz's father: "Things are getting better all the time!"*

    *Delmore tried to fill Dad in on Spengler's Decline of the West, but Pop, who sold real estate, couldn't be fooled.

  • ||

    Sorry about the long post, but I've always thought (with a few exceptions) Alexis de Tocqueville had it nailed:

    After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.


    I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.


    Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain.

  • ||

    Or all history is so complex that we can't learn anything from it--bah. Rome's republic wasn't ours, but the failure of its checks and balances--which ours are largely based upon (albeit for different reasons) is instructive.

    I don't think the patron-client culture was the problem, either, though it was a contributing factor. One of the biggest breaches in the Roman constitution occurred when the Senate decided to go murder Tiberius Gracchus. Once you introduce that sort of violence, you open the door to it being used against you.

  • ||

    Hey Einstein, Hart writing is great. You cannot take satire that is intended to make the masses think (his column runs in papers in the South mostly --he viewed like a Dennis Miller here) and grade it like some grad school term paper. He is also quoting someone else, and he does it to make us think---and apparently based on 45 posts so far, he has.

  • ||

    """So, anybody here gotten their "payout" check yet? Know any elected leaders who have made the promise of payouts?"""

    Yeah, Bush, he said he was going to give me a $300 payout and he did.

  • ||

    Will we really be so bad off when we are like the british but with better teeth -- a former empire known mainly for entertainers?

  • ||

    We have the best teeth in the history of mankind. No culture will ever surpass our achievements in dental hygiene.

  • CaesarI||

    The quote, regretably, is quite bogus. Alexander Tyler didn't right much of merit, Woodhouselee, Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord, 1747-1813 did, however that quote appears in none of his works.

  • ||

    A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."

    "The average age of the worlds greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

    From Bondage to spiritual faith;
    From spiritual faith to great courage;
    From courage to liberty;
    From liberty to abundance;
    From abundance to complacency;
    From complacency to apathy;
    From apathy to dependence;
    From dependence back into bondage."

    Alexander Tytler was a Scottish fella what wrote books in the late 1700's/early 1800s.
    yes Tytler is the correct spelling

  • ||

    [ "So, anybody here gotten their "payout" check yet? Know any elected leaders who have made the promise of payouts?"

    The closest thing would be tax cuts funded with debt.

    Or more accurately, simultaneous tax cuts and massive new spending programs funded by debt. ]


    No, the closest thing would be the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor which amounts to a negative income tax. It is especially generous to single parents. There are also a number of other special credits and deductions for those with kids.

  • ||

    The Scottish professor that is quoted has been quite a mythic type fellow for years. I think writing such a column around his purported ideas is a great idea. I certainly gets us thinking.

    Hart, as a satire writer (much like SNL or Jon Stewart on the Left) he can take issues like this and paint them with a broad brush. Hart is funny and very smart--- I read his column in my Florida paper. He has probably done more to move the libertarian cause forward down here than anyone.

  • ||

    I agree about Hart, he is the best. Our country is on the path of France or Sweden now with the Nanny State notion, and the Dems in office to carry it out. Bush gave them the keys to the White House. Hart is right.

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