This year marks the last year of the 20th century.
The century will be remembered for unprecedented technical progress,
advance of knowledge and improvements in living standards.
It will be also remembered as mankind’s most brutal century.
International and civil wars have yielded a death toll of roughly 50
million lives. As tragic as that number is, it’s small in comparison to
the number of people murdered by their own government.
R. J. Rummel, professor of political science at the University of
Hawaii and author of “Death by Government,” estimates that since the
beginning of this century governments have murdered 170 million of their
own citizens. Top government murderers are: the former Soviet Union, who
between 1917 and 1987 murdered 62 million of their own citizens, and the
People’s Republic of China, who between 1949 and 1987 murdered 35
million of its citizens. In a distant third place were the Nazis, who
murdered about 21 million Jews, Slavs, Serbs, Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians
and others deemed misfits such as homosexuals and the mentally ill.
Less well known murdering governments include Turkey, who between
1909 and 1918 murdered close to 2 million Armenians. Two million
Cambodians lost their lives under the Khmer Rouge; Pakistan’s government
murdered 1.5 million people; and Tito’s Yugoslavian government murdered
a million citizens. Our southern neighbor, Mexico, murdered about 1.5
million of its citizens between 1900 and 1920. Professor Rummel
estimates that prior to the 20th century, government murder, from the
Christian Crusades and slavery of Africans to witch hunts and other
episodes, totaled about 133 million.
We might ask why the 20th century was so barbaric. Surely, there were
barbarians during earlier ages. Part of the answer is that during
earlier times there wasn’t the kind of concentration of power that
emerged during the 20th century. Had Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong and
Adolf Hitler been around in the 18th century, they could not have
engineered the murder of millions of people. They wouldn’t have had the
authority. There was considerable dispersion of jealously guarded
political power in the forms of heads of provincial governments and
principalities, nobility and church leaders whose political power within
their spheres was often just as strong as the monarch’s.
In the case of Germany, when Hitler came to power, he inherited
decades of consolidation by Bismarck and later the Weimar Republic that
weakened local jurisdictions. Through the Enabling Act in 1933, Hitler
destroyed any remaining local autonomy. The decent Germans, who made
Hitler’s terror possible, would have never supported his territorial
designs and atrocities.
Decent Americans are paving the road for tyranny just as Germans did.
In the name of one social objective or another, we are creating what the
Constitution’s Framers feared — concentration of power in Washington
and the creation of a superstate. The Framers envisioned a republic.
They guaranteed it in Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution, making
an individual state’s authority competitive with, and in most matters
exceeding, federal authority. Now it’s precisely the reverse. In the
pursuit of lofty ideals like health care, fighting crime and improving
education, we Americans have given up one of our most effective
protections against tyranny — dispersion of political power.
Try this thought experiment. Pretend you’re a tyrant. Among your many
liberty-destroying objectives are extermination of blacks, Jews and
Catholics. Which would you prefer, a United States with political power
centralized in Washington, powerful government agencies with detailed
information on Americans and compliant states, or power widely dispersed
over 50 states, thousands of local jurisdictions and a limited federal
You say, “Williams, what happened in Germany could never happen
here.” I’m betting that Germans who lived prior to the end of the Weimar
Republic would have said the same thing.