The State Can't Stop At Night Watchman

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.