June 8, 2015

Democracy and the Over-Politicization of Life

By In Articles, Politics, Society and Culture

The United States has always had a strange relationship with democracy. The founders largely despised and feared it, and for good reason. The country was to be a constitutional republic, voting itself was limited by the electoral system and only allotted to property holders. As has been written about elsewhere it has been slowly drifting more and more towards social democracy.

The left and right are both united in their near worship of democracy. One may sooner question motherhood and remain in the mainstream than democracy. Democracy is considered the final Hegelian destination of history, the terminating ideological advancement beyond which there can be no progress. It is to many’s surprise then when they first hear of or encounter libertarian’s disdain for democracy, but democracy is and always has been morally bankrupt. The reasons for this are myriad. The difference is in name only between “might makes right” and “majority makes right”. It is necessarily the tyranny of the majority over a minority. It has placed no checks or accountability on government. It has and inherently does tend towards socialism and relativism. Shouldn’t it be pointed out that democracy was not only helpless but an instrumental aid for bringing about Nazi Germany and other dictatorial regimes? Not to mention the absolute myth that democracies never go to war against each other. In fact as Hoppe has pointed out, as opposed to old monarchical wars over territorial or inheritance disputes, democratic wars tend to be ideological and therefore perpetual since the standards of  “winning” are no longer territorial control but ideas and thoughts which can never be truly conquered but only suppressed by continual standing occupation and the squashing of any and all subversion.

Biblically speaking it is hard to point to anywhere that democracy and the will of the masses really worked out for anyone (golden calf anyone?). Even the setting up of Israel’s first king was a rather democratic rejection of God’s rule, contempt for their decentralized court’s, lack of a standing army, and desire to be like the other nations. Yet many would be moral reformers (whether moral majority republican Christian’s or progressive idealogues) see democracy, and politics in general, as the supreme tool for conforming their neighbor into their image. Indeed many did and do see it as bringing about their various eschatological goals, whether it is the left’s egalitarian utopia or the right’s Americanized  theocracy of God’s special nation making the world safe for democracy where no one will smoke, dance, chew or go out with girls who do.

The truth is that democracy is largely the universalizing exportation of plunder to the masses. If the State is the institution of theft writ large then democracy is the institution of theft writ wide and publicized, the socialization of theft. Where once the making of laws might have been restricted to one class (and the benefits restricted to that one class) the whole population now jockeys for control, and not so that the subjected class may end injustice but institute legal retribution of their own favor. It pits man against man and every neighbor at his neighbor’s throat instituting the rule of the jungle. It is as H. L. Mencken wrote the idea that the people “know what they want, and ought to get it good and hard.” It is this last point that this article will address, that democracy, politics, and taxation introduce a fundamental antagonism and class warfare into society and arms the people for the fight, and that the Christian, and the Church more specifically, has been given a much better tool for changing his neighbor–even saving him.

Fredric Bastiat, Plunderers and the Property Owners and the End of the Law

Frederic Bastiat begin his treatise The Law in a very similar fashion to Oppenheimer by establishing that there are two ways a man can live, property or plunder. The economic means versus the political means, as Oppenheimer labeled it. First “Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.” On the other hand “it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder….It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.” He argues from here that it is self evident that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work. All the measures of the law should protect property and punish plunder. Yet two very different influences have perverted the law–“naked greed” and “misconceived philanthropy”:

“Unhappily, law is by no means confined to its own sphere. Nor is it merely in some ambiguous and debatable views that it has left its proper sphere. It has done more than this. It has acted in direct opposition to its proper end; it has destroyed its own object; it has been employed in annihilating that justice which it ought to have established…it has placed the collective force in the service of those who wish to traffic, without risk and without scruple, in the persons, the liberty, and the property of others; it has converted plunder into a right, that it may protect it, and lawful defense into a crime, that it may punish it.

The problem rest in that “generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men…This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice.” The law is used to legitimize before the public and legalize before the courts the process to restrict competition, advance personal interest, and transfer wealth. This is done for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion to the power that he holds.”

As a natural response those classes of men who have been the victim of this legalized plunder take it upon themselves to enter into and participate in the making of laws, either by revolution or other means. As a solution it may be proposed that all classes of men be given the “right” to participate in this law making (whether by vote or representative). Yet “these plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.” The latter is much more likely. The participation in the making of laws becoming universal, the plunder itself becomes universal. Democracy becomes the great fiction by which men try to live at the expense of one another. “Up to that time,” Bastiat continues:

lawful plunder has been exercised by the few upon the many, but now it has become universal, and the equilibrium is sought in universal plunder. The injustice that society contains, instead of being rooted out of it, is generalized. As soon as the injured classes have recovered their political rights, their first thought is not to abolish plunder, but to organize against the other classes, and to their own detriment, a system of reprisals—as if it was necessary, before the reign of justice arrives, that all should undergo a cruel retribution—some for their iniquity and some for their ignorance.

Democracy then makes collectively possible for the broad masses to carry out actions otherwise illegal to carry out as an individual. It is the zero-sum game by which wealth cannot be created but only transferred. It is the political process which institutes the jungle rule, the survival of the fittest.

The consequences of this perversion are manifold. In addition to the fundamental tear in the fabric of society this also introduces a corruption of the moral conscience of a society. As the instrument for justice becomes the tool for legitimizing injustices the distinction between justice and injustice is blurred in the individual’s conscience. For a flourishing society to exist there must be a healthy respect for its laws. As Frederic Bastiat argues the most sure way to make the law respected is to make respectable laws. However “when law and morality are in

contradiction to each other, the citizen finds himself in the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense, or of losing his respect for the law—two evils of equal magnitude, between which it would be difficult to choose.”  The simplest in society are led to the supposition that an action “must be just, only because it is law.”

The second effect is the focus of this article. “This deplorable perversion of the law,” writes Bastiat “gives to human passions and to political struggles, and, in general, to politics, properly so called, an exaggerated importance.” The State specializes in inflation. In the economy it inflates assets, prices, and lowers interest rates to give the illusion of prosperity. In foreign affairs it exaggerates and plays off of fears to engender hatred of complete strangers and bolster support. Political democracy enrolls each individual and tells him “you are the government,” “you have as much say in what happens as anyone else,” “One person, one vote,” and thus provides him the illusion of control and even responsibility. Every man is now a politician, he is no longer homo economicus but homo politicus. He must care about, be informed of, and truly have a say in every issue no matter how far removed from his expertise or tangential to his daily life. Everything that happens in Washington D.C. is as important as what happens in his very own neighborhood.

In considering the question of universal suffrage in Bastiat’s day he exclaims that “what agitates, excites, and unsettles the nations, would lose almost all its importance if the law had always been what it ought to be. In fact, if law were confined to causing all persons, all liberties, and all properties to be respected—if it were merely the organization of individual right and individual defense—if it were the obstacle, the check, the chastisement

opposed to all oppression, to all plunder—is it likely that we should dispute much, as citizens, on the subject of the greater or lesser universality of suffrage?” These would be the true virtues of a libertarian society, to downplay, minimize, denigrate politics to the lowest and smallest corner of life.

But if the fatal principle should come to be introduced, that, under pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law may take from one party in order to give to another, help itself to the wealth acquired by all the classes that it may increase that of one class, whether that of the agriculturists, the manufacturers,  the ship owners, or artists and comedians; then certainly, in this case, there is no class which may not try, and with reason, to place its hand upon the law, that would not demand with fury its right of election and eligibility, and that would overturn society  rather than not obtain it. Yes, as long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true mission, that it may violate property instead of securing it, everybody will be wanting to manufacture law, either to defend himself against plunder, or to organize it for his own profit. The political question will always be prejudicial, predominant, and absorbing; in a word, there will be fighting around the door of the Legislative Palace. The struggle will be no less furious within it. To be convinced of this, it is hardly necessary to look at what passes in the Chambers in France and in England; it is enough to know how the question stands.

John C. Calhoun & Class Warfare

There can be no such thing as a “neutral” tax, a taxing system that will be neutral to the market and allow people to do what they would have done without the tax. Taxation itself, especially in a democracy, sets up a natural antagonistic division in society between those who pay taxes and those are the recipients of taxation whether as a salary or as a disbursement from the state. As John C. Calhoun argued the two–disbursement and taxation-constitute the fiscal actions of the State. The money is dispersed and benefits both the direct agents and mass bureaucracy of the state (“public” employees) as well as government expenditures which benefit private contractors including subsidies, grants, aids, welfare (corporate/personal), and government granted cartel privilege. Tariffs will always benefit one industry over another, occupational licensing will always favor the established over the start-up, taxes will always take from one and give to another. Calhoun wrote:

“Few, comparatively, as they are, the agents and employees of the government constitute that portion of the community who are the exclusive recipients of the proceeds of the taxes. Whatever amount is taken from the community, in the form of taxes, if not lost, goes to them in the shape of expenditures or disbursements. The two—disbursement and taxation—constitute the fiscal action of the government. They are correlatives. What the one takes from the community, under the name of taxes, is transferred to the portion of the community who are the recipients, under that of disbursements. But, as the recipients constitute only a portion of the community, it follows, taking the two parts of the fiscal process together, that its action must be unequal between the payers of the taxes and the recipients of their proceeds. Nor can it be otherwise, unless what is collected from each individual in the shape of taxes, shall be returned to him, in that of disbursements; which would make the process nugatory and absurd…Such being the case, it must necessarily follow, that someone portion of the community must pay in taxes more than it receives back in disbursements; while another receives in disbursements more than it pays in taxes…The necessary result, then, of the unequal fiscal action of the government is, to divide the community into two great classes; one consisting of those who, in reality, pay the taxes, and, of course, bear exclusively the burthen of supporting the government; and the other, of those who are the recipients of their proceeds, through disbursements, and who are, in fact, supported by the government; or, in fewer words, to divide it into tax-payers and tax-consumers.

The burden of one group becomes the bounty offered to the other. The more that it is taken from one and given to the other the greater the hostility between them the more it is despised by some and favored by others. It is a fundamental irony that we call the State a “social” institution for it is indeed anti-social. As Bastiat pointed out, democracy does not bring this this plunder to end or seek to neutralize it, but seek to generalize it. If any equilibrium is sought between these two classes it is only in mutual exploitation.

Democracy then, does not check or rein in consumptive exploitation. In fact, in analyzing democratic political economy from a praxeological Austrian perspective democracies consume capital much faster than monarchies or aristocracies. Monarchies and nobility form a sort of private ownership of government:

“the expropriated resources and the monopoly privilege of future expropriation are individually owned. The appropriated resources are added to the ruler’s private estate and treated as if they were a part of it, and the monopoly privilege of future expropriation is attached as a title to this estate and leads to an instant increase in its present value (‘capitalization’ of monopoly profit). Most importantly, as private owner of the government estate, the ruler is entitled to pass his possessions onto his personal heir; he may sell, rent, or give away part or all of his privileged estate and privately pocket the receipts from the sale or rental.”[1]

irs-king-george-v-usa

In the privately owned government the king, or even the nobility, owns the current appropriation of resources and the capital value of the land and future resources. If he expropriates too much now or from one area he may diminish his own future returns or the value of the owned land or industry. The democratic ruler on the other hand, is not the owner as much he is a trustee or a caretaker. He does not own but at least can benefit from the current use of government resources though he does not own their capital value. He thus cannot benefit from increased capital value nor be harmed by diminished future returns.

He has no incentive to increase the value for the future and no proper disincentives against over-consumption of capital and government resources. He has no guarantee he will benefit in the future from wise economic decision made now, and whatever disastrous decision he makes will be the responsibility of the taxpayer to pay off. His time preference heavily favors current personal income versus future government wealth, since what he does not consume now he may never be able to use. There is no advantage to a policy of moderation since he cannot personally reap the benefits.

King George III

By contrast the monarch, if only out of self-interest, will optimize his total wealth between current desires and the need for investment and future value. “He will not want to increase his current income at the expense of a more than proportional drop in the present value of his assets.”[2] Public government ownership of the monopoly of taxation and legislation will always favor now over later and debt over savings. This also holds true in the case of military intervention, currency control, and even environmental care.

Democracy – A Poor Tool for Social Reform and the Advance of Christianity

As anyone on this site probably knows and agrees the State is wretchedly horrible at guiding and planning the economy. Every move it makes is either stupid or evil, and every once in a while bipartisanship happens and accomplishes that which is both stupid and evil. They establish a central bank to smooth out the business cycle and control inflation, and it becomes an expert in creating both. They establish the minimum wage to boost wages, but unemploy the young and inexperienced. They then establish welfare to make the young and inexperienced dependent on the political class, and create a bureaucracy and encourage unemployment and fatherlessness. They create Social Security for the elderly and disabled to put them on the State’s dole, and they hold them hostage with continual threats of bankruptcy and benefits cuts unless they support their political class. They give out federally backed mortgages so people can have homes, and it causes millions of foreclosures. This is who you want in charge of educating your child? In charge of morality? In charge of charity? In charge of marriage? In charge of social justice? An institution, whose very tools consist of, and only consist of, theft (taxes) and violence, can hardly be seen as an ideal candidate for bringing about moral virtue,  spiritual reform, or economic prosperity.

The futility becomes even clearer when one realizes that there is no relationship between what someone promises voters before an election and what he will do after the election, and that the only recourse they have is to not elect them later, after he has done what they did not want him to do. “Because ‘electorates normally do not control their political leaders in any way except by refusing to reelect them or the parliamentary majorities that support them,’ the distinct possibility—nay, the great likelihood—exists that the voters will find themselves time after time concerned about a horse that has already fled the barn, never to be retrieved.”[3]  As Henry David Thoreau pointed out:

“All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote.”[4]

Hence when we look at the many myriad of horrible atrocities the State has committed, the breaches of authority of the Federal government, we may answer the question “how did this happen under the ‘consent’ of democracy?” with Garret Garretts we can answer “more accurately, first it happened and then they consented.”

God’s Ordinary Means of Grace and Change

Christian’s attempt to reform our society’s problem mainly through politics and the force of the law will not bring inward purity or the kingdom of God on earth. Instead it will be a flesh and blood wrestling struggle to lay hold of the powers of this age for mere outward conformity at the point of a sword (or a rifle). It will be a continual fascination with Babylon and her sheer power to bring about change to the neglect of waiting for Zion and the descending city whose builder is God. It will be the trade to live by sight and not by faith, to have the short term, visible, institutional, influential growth now, to the despisal of the slow, the ordinary, organic growth that isn’t noticeable day to day.  It will be to focus so much on forcing change on your neighbor that you will forget to catechize and teach your own children. It will be the trade for the ministry of condemnation over the ministry of reconciliation, the letter that kills over the spirit that makes alive, the law over the gospel. It will be the work of making man righteous with threats and punishments. We will lift up and revel those in the church who have positions of authority, who go into politics, who wield the sword, and downplay those who simply work in the market as producers and service providers. We will glorify those who have great followings, influence, and power and devalue those who simply raise their children to know and love the Lord and live their lives in peace.

Know the differences between vices and crimes, between the need for repentance and counseling versus retribution and justice. Support the separation of Church and State, of education of State, of money and State, of charity and State, of marriage and State. Avoid all taxes you can, take every deduction, every rebate, every legal loophole and every credit. Don’t take welfare, don’t join public institutions, but as much as you are able be a part of and join voluntary private institutions. Own a gun, protect your family, and find alternatives to the police. Don’t call the cops when you’re neighbor’s stereo is too loud, go talk to him. Don’t enlist in the military[5], and teach your children so they come to that conviction even on their own. For your body is not your own, and it is certainly not the State’s either, to dispose of as its “national interest” sees fit. Make intercession, supplications, and prayers for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way, and that even they may come to a knowledge of the truth that is in Christ Jesus, for there is one mediator between God and man and even they need Him (1 Tim. 2). Opt out of Social Security if you are a minister or you’re able. Opt out of Obamacare and use a voluntary Christian medical bill share (they’re tax-deductible in Missouri!). Watch less cable news and read more good books on theology, economics, and literature.  Homeschool or private school your children, teach them good history, teach them Austrian economics, teach them productive skills and to be entrepreneurial,  catechize them, bring them to church even, let them sit with you, even more let them stay in church with you(the horror)! Be a part of a local reformed church that preaches the word, administers the sacraments, and disciples its people. Regularly sit under the preached Word and invite your neighbors. Attend your church’s evening service if they have it. If you’re one of those crazy confessionalist who believes there is 10 commandments observe the Lord’s Day, take a break from the chaos of this age and rest in Christ’s finished work and coming kingdom, set it aside and devote the day (even the whole day) to worshipping with the church, with your family, and personally.

What if Christians all stopped listening to right-wing talk radio, worrying if ISIS is tunneling under their basement, if Iran will have fancy electricity, or if Obama is from Kenya. I’m not against voting, or even political involvement, but I’m against putting all your hope, change, and effort eggs in that basket. Yes, vote no on propositions and politicians that attempt to steal, coerce, and kill no matter how sincere their generosity with others people’s property and children. Education, innovations, and free-market alternatives are far  more effective at undoing the State’s encroachments and society’s ills.   Our responsibility to moral reform is first to ourselves and our family affairs, then our church, then in service of our neighbor, and in a not even close last place the nation itself. For most of us, political involvement just isn’t and shouldn’t be our thing, it’s not our gifting and we don’t have the platform or the influence (or the stomach) for it, and we shouldn’t. It’s just not some of our callings. Some of us will advance the kingdom of God and the cause of liberty simply by being faithful churchmen, living at peace with all men, being dependant on no one, being prepared to give a defense for Christ,  serving our neighbor through our vocations, and raising children. Ordinary is ok, revolution is overrated. The means of grace, the ordinary work of the church in preaching, sacraments, and discipleship and the fruits it produces in its people, are God’s mean of change for ourselves and our neighbors.
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” 1 Peter 2:16-19

[1] Hans Herman Hoppe Democracy: The God that Failed

[2] Hans Herman Hoppe Democracy: The God that Failed

[3] From Robert Higgs’ essay in Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans Herman Hoppe

[4] Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

[5] Since this will be a stumbling block let me clarify. If ISIS, the Iranians, and the Russian are indeed hiding behind bushes and under rocks in your backyard feel free to grab a rifle and defend your homeland.

Written by Brian Jacobson

Brian Jacobson works as a quality technician for a manufacturing company in St. Louis, Mo where he lives with his new bride. He studied biblical and theological studies at Reformation Bible College under R.C. Sproul in Orlando, FL. He’s an Old-School Presbyterian who enjoys the simple means of grace, Machen, and living the high life on a budget. Follow him @briankjacobson on Twitter.
  • MikeD

    I’m reminded of the principle behind Proverbs 30:21-23

    Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
    a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
    an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.

    Great article… very thought provoking!