Wednesday, June 23, 2010

With enemies like these, who needs friends?

Paul Craig Roberts has a nice article at Counterpunch on the Left and gun control. This is something that has had me shaking my head for years. I find myself baffled by the mentality of someone who believes that:

1. The government is controlled by a malevolent cabal of greedy corporate plutocrats who seek to exploit and oppress us, and

2. Only police and the military should have guns. Police and military personnel who work for the government. The one that's controlled by a malevolent cabal of greedy corporate plutocrats who seek to exploit and oppress us.

Then again, these are largely the same people who think that the only thing that can save us us from the malevolent cabal of etc. etc. is giving greater power over society in general to the government. It truly is bizarre, when you think about it- there's generally a strong positive correlation in America between the belief that the government is controlled by some despicable cabal that has pulled the wool over most of the country's eyes and the belief that that same government should have more power than it currently does, because that will somehow solve the problem.

My guess is that this is what happens when the standard-issue public school civics textbook view of politics- we are the government, modern managerial liberalism is the best of all possible worlds, powerful government is inherently antithetical to powerful moneyed interests who would otherwise eat us all alive, and so on- collides with reality hard enough to be bent, but not hard enough to be broken. The evidence that the government is not what good-government liberalism advertises it to be becomes too much to deny. Too much happens that, according to this worldview, doesn't or can't happen, and it's too pervasive to write off as minor glitches and imperfections in a good system.

And yet at the same time, the belief that interventionism and the institutions of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and so on protect people from rapacious businessmen is too deeply rooted to challenge; it is the core of almost all mainstream politic. "Hostile to big business" is implicitly treated as part of the definition of economic interventionism. Thus, the idea that the government institutions beloved of progressives actually help rather than hinder the wealthy and powerful, or that owners and managers of big corporations could actually want more regulation rather than less, seems to strike many people as not merely untrue or unbelievable but nonsensical, if they're exposed to it at all.

Put the two together, and the result is an incoherent worldview in which the existing government can change from good to evil and back again in an instant. My favorite example is probably campaign finance "reform": Things are bad because the government is controlled by evil, greedy special interests, so we should solve the problem by passing laws giving the government greater power to control who can contribute money to political efforts and what can be said during elections, thereby driving out the special interests... and this will work because the government that enacts, enforces, and interprets those laws is controlled by We the People and exists to promote the common good. It only makes sense if America has two effectively indistinguishable federal governments that somehow exist side by side simultaneously, one good and one evil.

(Or if reform is so powerful that its effects can actually travel back in time, and thereby prevent the special interests pulling the government's strings from using campaign reform's powers for evil by destroying them in the past, before the reform's own creation. Our current understanding of physics does not rule out the theoretical possibility of time travel, so this arguably has a better chance of success than most liberal projects.)

It's quite a testament to how powerful the myth of the democratic interventionist state as defender of the common man has become. How many kings, oligarchs, and despots of past ages could boast that even most of the people who hated them were passionately dedicated to pushing more power into their hands?

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