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It is difficult to understand the long-range implications of current events. This is to say, it is difficult to know whether a current event is part of a historical sidetrack, a cultural fad or a mainstream trend.
Smart people have called our attention to this reality. For example, the late Ayn Rand described the insidious process which takes a society, inch by unremarkable inch, to socialism:
The goal of the “liberals” – as it emerges from the record of the past decades – was to smuggle this country into welfare statism by means of single, concrete, specific measures, enlarging the power of the government a step at a time, never permitting these steps to be summed up into principles, never permitting their direction to be identified or the basic issue to be named.
Thus, statism was to come, not by vote or by violence, but by slow rot – by a long process of evasion and epistemological corruption, leading to a fait accompli. (The goal of the “conservative” was only to retard that process.)
When the federal government took over the task of inspecting luggage at airports and terminals, it added more than 30,000 new employees to its payroll. Most of them will become dues-paying members of government unions. They will become unremovable, overpaid wards of a government monopoly. They will become predictably dependent upon – and grateful to – the advocates of big government and higher taxes. They will become Democrats.
Surely there can no longer be any doubt that America is well on its way down the slippery slope to socialism. The government continues to grow in size, power and arrogance as it asserts increasing sovereignty over the lives and behavior of its subjects. The noose tightens, and the rabble wear it like a badge of honor.
Our progression on this path is so subtle that only in retrospect, when it is too late to resist, will we understand that our freedoms have been irretrievably forfeited and our Constitution irreversibly abandoned. In the words of Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, “The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts.”
The idea of socialism is attractive. Its basic seductive premise is the same as that of modern liberalism: The government is responsible for implementing altruism throughout society. The government must control all available resources with a view toward equality and fairness. The government must fight the selfish impulse of people to keep the fruits of their own labor. Everyone, impelled by “compassion and caring,” must sacrifice for the common good, so that all may share and share alike.
This noble-sounding doctrine is often expressed this way: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” So what if it’s the creed of communism! However, there are a few problems when one descends from the political pulpit and attempts to translate this ethereal concept into practice.
Given a choice, people are disinclined to immolate themselves in service to others. The sacrifice of the fruit of one’s hard labor for the achievement of a larger social goal is not natural behavior and cannot be maintained on a voluntary basis. Sooner or later, it requires force, which will not come openly, but like a thief in the night.
What comes to mind is the observation of Lord Chesterfield that ” … arbitrary power … must be introduced by slow degrees, and as it were, step by step, lest the people should see it approach.”
The massively cruel and ruinous communistic experiment of the Soviet Empire would not have been necessary if philosophers and intellectuals had not ignored a basic truth about human nature: Human beings, as a derivative of the instinct to survive, are innately driven to act in their own self interest. Notwithstanding propaganda, conditioning or brute force, any government or institution which runs head on against the grain of this basic human drive is doomed to fail.
We seem not to have learned a basic lesson of history: Capitalism harnesses human self interest; socialism exhausts itself trying to kill it.
The bureaucrats, who seize and dole out other people’s assets, initially see themselves as humanitarians. Eventually, they conclude they are indeed superior to others, and treat themselves accordingly. They make laws to which they are not subject; they vote themselves and their wards privileges and benefits. Then, they no longer serve – they rule a nation of the government, by the government and for the government.