With an acknowledgement to Hans Hoppe and his Democracy: The God That Failed, I offer an examination of similar sentiments from Bertrand de Jouvenel’s On Power: The Natural History of its Growth.
In my initial post on this book by de Jouvenel, I skipped ahead – choosing to comment on the usefulness to Power of the phrase “all men are created equal.” With this post, I will begin at the beginning.
This condemnation of our current state of governance begins in the Foreword, written by Dr. Dennis Wilson Brogan:
It was an illusion of the framers of the early American constitutions that they could set up “a government of laws and not of men.”
Somewhere I recall Rothbard writing something to the effect: if utilizing a written constitution as a check on government failed in the most propitious conditions, what’s the point? Where can it then be expected to succeed?
The issue is the not the mechanics of legislating, but instead the object of law; how is the law structured and enforced to minimize abuse by the ruler? What is under the ruler’s authority?
All governments are governments of men though the better of them have a high admixture of law too – that is, of effective limitations on the free action of the rulers.
The most thorough example of such law of which I am aware is the law as understood and enforced during much of the Germanic Middle Ages. The law was custom and culture; the law was only law if it was both old and good. The king had no role in legislating law; his only role was to enforce the law as understood by those who voluntarily supported (and could also remove this support) him as king.
“Law” was not delegated to some third party, experts acting supposedly on behalf of the rest of us. Skipping ahead to de Jouvenel:
Now Power in medieval times was very different: it was tied down, not only in theory but in practice, by the Lex Terrae (the customs of the country), which was thought of as a thing immutable. And when the English Barons uttered their Nolumus leges Angliae mutari [“We object to changes in the laws of England”] they were only giving vent to the general feeling of the time.
The consecrated king of the Middle Ages was a Power as tied down and as little arbitrary as we can conceive. He was simultaneously constrained by standing human law, i.e., custom, and by the Divine Law, and could hardly trust his own reading of his duty about anything.
Yves de Chartres, for instance, wrote in these terms to Henry I of England after his accession: “Never forget it, Prince: you are the servant of the servants of God and not their master; you are the protector and not the owner of your people.”
This leash on power saw its final fraying beginning with the Reformation and continuing with the ideas of the Enlightenment achieving prominence.
Returning to the Foreword:
Politics are about power; we cannot evade that truth or its consequences. We dream of a better world but it is in Utopia – that is, nowhere.
The check on power is not to be found in a written constitution or in democratic elections. Such mechanisms support the illusion that the people are in control, the people have the power. It is Utopia. It also pacifies the people; no, more accurately, it gives the people feelings of being accomplices.
It is in the popularity of the pursuit of Utopia that the aggrandizers of state power find their most effective ally.
And this is why the enemy is always the state. Those who dream of making the state more efficient, of bending the state to serve the good of the people, of believing that their vote matters – such are playing directly into the hands of state power; such are power’s most effective ally.
The sacrifices demanded of the people today, under the supposedly most free form of government devised, were never seen under the despots that came before: what was asked of the French people under the Republic made the days under even Louis XIV seem idyllic. The weight of government for Americans – who supposedly gained their freedom over 200 years ago – would be unrecognizable to the farmer in South Carolina in 1775; “why did we bother fighting,” he would wonder.
If a religion or a general cause not identified with the nation-state asked for these sacrifices, we should be far more critical than we are.
God thought ten percent was the upper limit. God knew that the sons would be called to war and the daughters to service. To paraphrase RJ Rushdoony, we tithe our children to the state – handing over their most precious asset, their ability to think and reason, to be formed in accord with the state’s wishes. We sacrifice to the state infinitely more than we offer to any other individual or institution; to offer the same to our church or our neighbors would seem preposterous – but to offer the same to the state seems…normal.
Further, “we the people” has only afforded those in control of Power to exercise it more freely, with less concern for revolution – after all, “we the people” would only be revolting against…ourselves. Moving on to the words of de Jouvenel, here citing Benjamin Constant:
…once let them entrust [power] to mandatories chosen by themselves, and there are no limits to what they will think its desirable extension.
As de Jouvenel offers: “No absolute monarch ever had at his disposal a police force comparable to those of modern democracies.”
Both the Jesuits and Hobbes come in for criticism from de Jouvenel: the Jesuits for offering that it is the community which establishes Power; Hobbes…well, for being Hobbes. Citing Hobbes:
By this establishment of the Republic, each individual is the author of whatever the sovereign does: consequently, anyone who claims that the sovereign is wronging him is objecting to acts of which he himself is the author, and has only himself to accuse.
Democracy is the ultimate usurper; returning to the Foreword:
…a majority can do no wrong, if it is our majority; that is, if we are part of it, it cannot do anything disastrously silly. It can and does.
A most important task for libertarians is to discredit the state – even (and especially) a state where “we the people” are supposedly in charge.
In this regard, the success of both Brexit and Trump are valuable to the libertarian cause.