"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything--and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
The Irrelevance of Government
Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
Today has been, so far, like many others. My wife and I rose early and had breakfast. We went to Mass at 8:30--we’re old-fashioned Catholics--and then came home to a few chores around the house: unloading the dishwasher, changing the bed, vacuuming, sweeping leaves out of the garage, and other such mundane chores. We’ll have lunch in another hour or so, then my wife will watch TV and read, and I’ll spend time on the computer, where my popularity and renown are such that my inbox brims with at least one or two emails every day.
So what? Just this: None of our activities this day, or yesterday, or tomorrow, involve any help from, participation with, or involvement in any way, with government. If Jefferson City had vanished during the night, together with the local town hall and Washington D.C., it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.
All three of the locations I mentioned--local, state, and federal--are occupied by people who believe that it is quite proper for them to involve themselves in my affairs. They do this by writing down what they want, which, according to my law dictionary, makes what they want the “law.” They want me to wear my seatbelt in the car, and put a “license plate” on the bumper, they want me not to smoke almost everywhere, and they want my money--although I’ve never been able to figure how, if it’s MY money, they can claim a greater right to it than my own by simply by writing down that they want it.
Well, I have no problem with their wanting me to do certain things. Wearing a seatbelt is probably a good idea, and if they want me to do it, fine. Smoking is a nasty habit, and I don’t do it anyway, so their not wanting me to smoke is OK with me. Putting a tin plate on the bumper of my car with numbers on it seems harmless enough. The thing that troubles me is: They are willing to punish me—pursuant to authority they have given themselves--if I ignore what they want. Apparently, the fact that they have written down their wishes justifies their belief that I must obey them. Why?
I’m pretty sure that those people who tell me what and what not to do and, without realizing the absurdity of it, call themselves “public servants,” would be astonished if I were to call them meddlesome busybodies and thieves. After all, they are just the latest in a long line of “public servants” who have worked for the good of mankind (they may actually believe that) since the days when the Israelites demanded that God send them a king, although He warned them against it.
These dedicated “public servants” are prolific in their legislating. They produce laws by the thousands every year. So what? Why should I care? As I mentioned above, I can get through life quite nicely without them. When they demand that I send them money (or what passes for it), I have asked why I should do so. The reply “It’s the law” simply means that I must do it because they’ve said so. That isn’t convincing.
My neighbors could send me a letter on an impressive letterhead, demanding money, or insisting that I drive no faster than a certain speed, or wear a seat belt. I could, and would, tear it up and throw it away; they couldn’t do anything about it. After all, I am not obligated to obey people just because they make demands upon me--unless they are my servants! Remarkably, these servants have taken an oath to uphold the state constitution, which says that all political power is vested in the people and derived from them. ALL political power! It is remarkable that my servants have derived from the people a power which the people do not have; namely, the power to take other people’s money, and direct their lives.
Freedom is impossible when assorted strangers claim the power to dominate you--and you accede to their demands. Of course, it is dangerous to defy them, because they know that, contrary to the lovely words of the Constitution, all political power does not come from the people, but, as Mao pointed out, from the barrel of a gun. They can, however, be ignored to the greatest extent possible, and when they forcibly intrude themselves into your life, they can be asked questions which they will not want to answer. They can deal with your queries very well if you accept their superior role. Ask them if a specific law is applicable to a particular circumstance, or how to calculate the tax they demand, and they will be fulsome in their responses. Ask them how their laws apply to you at all, or to provide some evidence that you have subjected yourself to them, and they will ignore you, or provide a non-responsive reply. Do it anyway!
My hope, perhaps unrealistic, is that among them there are a few whose consciences are not completely obtunded. After all, they go about their duties in routine fashion, and seldom think about what they are doing, any more than an electrician thinks about the electrons moving through the wires he places, or a plumber concerned himself with hydraulic theories. But maybe, just perhaps, if questioned, one of the servants may, for the first time, actually realize what he is doing.
Better to light one candle, as they say.