How did so many people ever fall for the fiction that “self government” means being governed by the majority of one’s neighbors? Being governed by some powerful elite is bad, but being governed by the “non-powerful masses” is just another brand of poison. Self-governance means just that — governing yourself.
Of all the national myths in this country, perhaps none is as nonsensical as the notion that there is a collective “genius of the American people” insofar as governance goes. It’s a myth that’s discussed in almost religious tones — and it leaves otherwise intelligent people acting in foolish ways to try to bring about things that aren’t possible.
I started thinking about this Wednesday because of a Cato Institute policy forum I listened to called “Citizens v. the Ruling Elite.” (You can watch the video of the forum at the end of this article. Or click here to subscribe to Cato’s audio podcasts via iTunes. Many of them are excellent.) The theme of the discussion was finding ways to elect people to Congress who would “represent the people” instead of elites.
One of the speakers was a co-founder of one of the Tea Party groups. Another speaker was with an organization working to get more people to run in party primaries to challenge incumbents. (On the pragmatic side, the group working for more primary challenges is just plain wrong to believe that this is a good way to defeat incumbents, but that’s a different story entirely.) The overall theme for all the presentations is that the people in office now represent “the elites,” but that if the right candidates would just run, “the people” would suddenly be represented and everything would change.
Since these people believe this, I wonder what other fairy tales they believe.
We get the government we do because it’s a representation of what the majority want — not what they say they want, but what their actions indicate they want. To believe that there’s some magical “genius of the American people” — to use a phrase from the policy forum — is to believe in fairy tales. There’s absolutely no evidence of any such thing. Even if you think you see it in history books — which I believe is an illusion brought about because of somebody’s narrative — there’s no reason to believe “the people” are suddenly going to want what you want.
When you get right down to it, there’s no serious difference between being governed by “the elites” and being governed by “a majority of the people.” In either case, you are handing sovereignty over your life to someone else. What’s the difference between a war because some elite wants it vs. a war because “the people” want it? What’s the difference between a tax or a regulation covering you if it’s passed by an “elite” and one that’s passed by the majority of your neighbors? Are you any more free because your oppressor is one group instead of another?
As long as you support “the people” ruling over everybody, you’re going to keep getting more of what we have right now. You can lie to yourself and claim that it’s going to magically change if we sprinkle democratic pixie dust all around, but the results aren’t going to change.
If you want to be free, real self government is the only way. You have to rule yourself. You have to have the freedom to choose what rules to live under. If you’re not free to do that, you’re somebody’s slave. If that makes you happy, that’s your business. Just don’t pretend you’re free. And don’t pretend that your neighbors are going to collectively wake up and become the benevolent rulers that the utopians believe they can be.
Real self-government — individuals ruling themselves — is the only form of political freedom. Any other type is slavery. Any other kind that promises freedom by giving others power over you is a lie, even if it’s a well-meaning lie.