Tuesday, 7 November 2006

The Coldest of All Cold Monsters

When old Friedrich opined that the “State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters” [1], he was reacting, we may presume, against the increasing development of the impersonal and rationalized form of government which grew apace in his day. Nowadays, despite all the hindsight that history may provide, but perhaps because of the growth of this State, we find many who are of almost the opposite opinion: that the State is the name of the benign deity that will secure our salvation. One such is Polly Toynbee of The Guardian, for whom few developments in State-power would be unwelcome, and for whom talk of despotic tendencies is the talk of delusion:
It takes a delusion of some grandeur to imagine that an all-seeing eye really cares what you are up to every minute of the day. But it’s one that seems to be shared by the vociferous campaigners against ‘the surveillance society’.
.....
ID cards is the issue these fears coalesce around. . . . [T]he threat to fundamental civil liberties somehow eludes me. [2]
That something eludes Ms Toynbee should not surprise us. It should alarm us, however, that she, and many like her, are so deluded as not to have noticed the many and diverse ways in which the State has grown ever more watchful, and are so lacking in thought not to have considered that the “all-seeing eye”, if not a practical possibility, is nevertheless the logical end of this development. But then, I suppose, since this development has happened over centuries, one could be forgiven for having come to regard it as part of the natural order; for indeed therein lies not so much a conspiracy—though no doubt some have conspired for greater power—than a development of the natural desire to overcome insecurities. In a similar vein, Leszek Kolakowski remarks:
Many technical, demographic, and social circumstances conspire to devolve the responsibility for more and more areas of life onto the State. We are accustomed to expect from the State ever more solutions not only to social questions but also to private problems and difficulties; it increasingly appears to us that if we are not perfectly happy, it is the State’s fault, as though it were the duty of the all-powerful State to make us happy. This tendency to bear less and less responsibility for our own lives furthers the danger of totalitarian development and fosters our willingness to accept this development without protest. [3]
Ms Toynbee and her kind, however, are bearers of a faith that allays such fears, namely, the cod-panacean faith of democracy:
[F]or as long as the state remains democratic we can decide what use is made of it and how we are protected from possible abuses. [4]
Such baby-talk befits the age, wherein too the mother-talk of demagogues babbles soothingly into countless heads the belief that “we the people” contains to any significant extent “I the person”, and that the rulers and the ruled are in essence one and the same. But as Hans-Hermann Hoppe tells us:
[W]ith a publicly owned government . . . [t]he distinction between the rulers and the ruled as well as the class consciousness of the ruled become blurred. The illusion arises that the distinction no longer exists: that with a public government no one is ruled by anyone, but everyone instead rules himself. Accordingly, public resistance against government power is systematically weakened. While exploitation and expropriation before might have appeared plainly oppressive and evil to the public, they seem much less so, mankind being what it is, once anyone may freely enter the ranks of those who are at the receiving end. Consequently, not only will exploitation increase, whether openly in the form of higher taxes or discretely as increased governmental money ‘creation’ (inflation) or legislative regulation [but also] the number of government employees (‘public servants’) will rise absolutely as well as relatively to private employment, in particular attracting and promoting individuals with high degrees of time preference, and limited farsightedness. [5]
By such tendencies, illusions, and limited farsightedness, it may even be that democracy is more perfectly suited to totalitarianism than any other form of government. Against this view, one might suggest that public opinion would secure us against the worst excesses of State-intrusion; for it is true that public opinion determines to some extent the direction of the democratic State. Again, however, we do not escape, since the government that depends upon public opinion for power tends to shape it towards its own ends, as Lord Acton noted:
[A] government entirely dependent on [public] opinion looks for some security what that opinion shall be, strives for the control of the forces that shape it, and is fearful of suffering the people to be educated in sentiments hostile to its institutions. [6]
The situation would be all the worse if the State were to grow even more powerful than it already has; for the greater its power, the greater its power to shape public opinion in favour of the maintenance and growth of that power, even to the end that one day the democratic-totalitarian State would be able to proclaim quite truthfully that it really does represent public opinion.
.....Now, whilst we ought to suppose — in harmony with our humility — that human life is messier than our logical and empirical abstractions thereof suggest, we ought nevertheless to pay due heed to such insights as they provide, so as to have eyes for the actual tendencies towards the logical consequences of those abstractions, and so as not to fall into the complacency and ideological faith that so often pass for sound judgement and fact amongst the rag-scribblers and their followers.
.....
[1] F.W. Nietzsche, “On the New Idol”, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Part One), in The Portable Nietzsche, tr. & ed. by W. Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1976), p.160.
[2] Polly Toynbee, “CCTV conspiracy mania is a very middle-class disorder”, The Guardian, 7th November 2007.
[3] Leszek Kolakowski, “The Self-Poisoning of the Open Society”, Modernity on Endless Trial (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p.173.
[4] Polly Toynbee, op. cit.
[5] Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “On Monarchy, Democracy, and the Idea of Natural Order”, Democracy: The God that Failed (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001), p.48.
[6] J.E.E Dalberg-Acton (Lord Acton), Review of Sir Erskine May’s Democracy in Europe, in the Quarterly Review 145, January 1878, reprinted in Selected Writings of Lord Acton, Vol.1: Essays in the History of Liberty, ed. J.R. Fears (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1985), p. 57.

6 comments:

dearieme said...

"The state is the fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else" - Bastiat, I seem to feel I think I remember.
P.S. "Ms Toynbee and her ilk". The blessed Bernard of Levin would have given you a good ticking off for that, and recommended "Ms Toynbee and those of her kidney", since she is not Toynbee of Toynbee - he seemd to have an animus against English misuse of Scottish expressions, although I dare say that he called his apartment a "flat" all the same.

Deogolwulf said...

Aha, well spotted. I was, of course, using the broader meaning of "type" or "kind". (In Old English (ilca), it meant "the same".) But perhaps He of Levin is right that we should use it in the restricted sense which usage has given it. I might therefore take your editorial advice and change it. I might also take to using "those of his/her kidney" more often, since I rather like it.

niconoclast said...

Lenin (he wrote Revolution) would be envious of our embryonic (or is it fully fledged?) Totalitarian State.

james higham said...

It takes a delusion of some grandeur to imagine that an all-seeing eye really cares what you are up to every minute of the day. But it’s one that seems to be shared by the vociferous campaigners against ‘the surveillance society’.

What a twat.

jomama said...

That was fine statist twaddle, James.

Finely crafted piece, deogolwulf.

Akaky said...

One of the reasons that Ms Toynbee and others of her statist disposition do not fear the power of the state is because they intend to be on the commanding heights of that state, looking down on the poor helots they get to lord it over. If you intend to be a master, then, by definition, you are for increasing the power of masters, even if you tell yourself that what you are doing is for the helots' own good.