by Robert Maynard
The left likes to cover their big government proposals with lofty rhetoric like “Putting People First”. Why on earth would anyone want to oppose putting people first? The truth is, that those of us who oppose the left’s big government proposals, would like to see people being put first. Our problem is that most of the proposals but forward by the left puts government bureaucrats first. Those are not the “people” that lovers of liberty want to be put first. The problem is that, in oder to put people first, you have to trust the people. If we trust the people we will let the people make most of their own decisions.
You put people first by keeping most of the decision making power in their hands. Doing so indicates that you trust in the people to make their own decisions.
From health care to education to gun control, and a host of other issues, the common thread holding the proposals put forward by the left is that they seek to take decision making out of the hands of average citizens and put it in the hands of supposedly enlightened bureaucrats. How can they claim to put people first when they do not trust people to make their own decisions on most matters. With elections coming up this year it is a good time for more clarity in the public debate as to just what is at stake on these issues where proposals result in removing decision making power out of the hands of the average citizen and puts it into the hands of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. To do this, the proponents of liberty need to step back and point to the larger trend behind these big government proposals and not merely oppose each proposal on an issue by issue basis. Trust in the decision making capacity of the average citizen is crucial to the functioning of a democratic society. When Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in the early 1800’s he was looking for a cure to what he saw as a new form of despotism that democratic societies are particularly prone to. He called it “soft despotism” to distinguish it from the obvious tyranny of “hard despotism”. Soft despotism does not forcefully enslave anyone, but slowly relieves them of any burden associated with making their own decisions. It trades initiative for dependency and liberty for security. This was the new danger that he saw facing democratic societies and came to America to find the cure to this disease that Europe seemed to be catching. America’s tradition of trusting ordinary citizens to make their own decisions free of government interference was seen as a powerful check on the drift towards soft despotism that democratic societies are vulnerable to.
The other powerful check was a social solidarity network of voluntary associations that mitigated the loneliness that some associate with individual liberty. The glue that held these voluntary associations was our sense of religious value that upheld the dignity of the individual human person, who was “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” Over time the welfare state has not only traded initiative for dependency and liberty for security, but is usurped the role of the family, churches and a whole array of other voluntary associations that acted as our social solidarity network. Have we been able to cure poverty and other social ills by replacing this network with the bureaucratic welfare state? The answer to that question would appear to be a resounding NO!
As we move further along into the 21st Century Information Age, the twin pillars of a free prosperous society, that trust and solidarity represents, are more relevant that ever before. Information Age technology not only empowers individuals, but the related “social media” has the potential to greatly aid in the forming of solidarity networks without boundaries. Perhaps this election season will see the proponents of liberty rise up and push back against the rising tine of soft despotism by holding up the twin banners of trust and solidarity.