Yesterday in his insightful and wonderfully rendered article Dr. North wrote:
“A state that does not claim the ability to heal, the legal right to heal, and the moral responsibility to heal is a night-watchman state. It does not make comprehensive claims for delivering men, so it does not make comprehensive claims on the allegiance of men. It is limited government, precisely because it acknowledges that it cannot heal.”
Ah, the limited government. As durable as the morning dew. Or the snowball in Hell.
We don’t think that the state can ever limit itself to nightwatchman. Not for long. It’s like the butterfly limiting itself to the caterpillar stage. All states must move toward their final form, growing as large, intrusive and destructive as they possibly can given the surrounding conditions of zeitgeist and economy.
So the state that started out as the freest the world had ever seen wound up using the riches generated by its (initially) laissez faire economy to become the world’s largest aggressor. Full of the most rampant fascist corporatism. The most military spending, the biggest army and greatest number of foreign entanglements. The one seeking to monitor every single thing its subjects do anywhere and at any time.
“Just return the government to the one proscribed by the Constitution!” you might say. But the Constitution itself was a power grab by the elites of the day. A “compromise” between the desires of the monarchy-minded Alexander Hamilton types and the existing Articles of Confederation…which themselves did a much better job of limiting how much central government there could be in these United States.
If you doubt this thesis, just take a look at the reality. Ask yourself how well the Constitution has protected liberty and limited government. Not that the Articles would have worked all that much better or for that much longer (though they might have).
Like any virus worth its capsomeres, the state will find a toehold wherever said toehold may be and then evolve to fit prevailing conditions.
And when conditions are right — when the host is rich and plump from laissez faire but still drunk with jingoism and the mythology of the “good, night watchman” government — then watch out. For such conditions will give you the monstrosity that is Washington, D.C., with its globe-spanning armies…its armada of flying robots that can spy or kill without ever being seen by their targets…its data centers through which every utterance, every whisper in the world will one day flow…
The nightwatchman state always harbors grand ambitions in its heart. It may promise to limit its roll to keeping you and your house safe as you sleep. But it dreams of barging into your home and carting you off to prison and taking your property as its own.
Gary Gibson is the managing editor for Whiskey and Gunpowder. He joins the Whiskey staff as a long-time fan and reader of both Whiskey and Gunpowder and the Daily Reckoning. A graduate of Fordham University, Gary now spends his days reading about and writing on limited government, sound money, personal responsibility and resource investing.
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It’s a scary picture, Gary. And hard to disagree with when one studies history and governments. They all seem to go through the cycle. I couldn’t help but think of some of the greats as I was reading your post. Like Rome or even further back, Babylon, or Greece. At some point the state seems to get to the point where it feels as if it is a god and can command and bully and stand up to whatever and whomever it wants. I really hope we’re not heading down that route but some of the recent political moves do cause great concern for a fair number of folk. Sadly, though, it doesn’t seem like enough are concerned.
Violent revolution never seems to work, since the new beast arises to replace the old. Education has limitations, since Leviathan controls the indoctrination centers for children, a tough act to overcome. Money may be the silver bullet. I think Bitcoin may be that bullet. Many people now have phone apps, and bitcoin would be used to pay for goods and services via this innovation. It would be a veritable black hole, since it is anonymous and encrypted. If only half of all enterprises and transactions were done through bitcoin, we could starve the beast at its most vulnerable point.
I often hear anarchists bring up this argument to limited government people that states can never be restrained–they will always grow. While I agree with this point I am not sure why it is made so often.
What the anarchist should point out is that even if governments could be held back and prevented from growing into the leviathans we have today, the limited government advocates arguments would still be bunk. This is because all governments–no matter how limited and restrained they are–are still unjust, from day one. They are unjust even before they grow into leviathans.
I wrote about this in a brief critique of Frederic Bastiat’s ideal limited government on my blog:
I also recommend the following video that shows why any government, no matter how little it does, is still necessarily unjust:
Undoubtably there was something in the air during late 1700’s and early 1800’s – namely people want a laissez-faire society. With some exceptions America was a near-Libertarian before the Revolution and, depending on you where, it was less free after the Revolution. The whole West were going down the path towards laissez-faire during the early 1800’s but started to retract in the late 1800’s.
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