Opposing Interests

The State is no proper agency for social welfare, and never will be, for exactly the same reason that an ivory paperknife is nothing to shave with.  The interests of society and of the State do not coincide; and any pretense that they can be made to coincide is sheer nonsense.  Society gets on best when people are most happy and contented, which they are when freest to do as they please and what they please; hence society’s interest is in having as little government as possible.  The State, on the other hand, is administered by jobholders; hence its interest is in having as much government as possible.  It is hard to imagine two sets of interests more directly opposed than these. -AJN, Snoring As A Fine Art and Twelve Other Essays, p. 191

…For I Am Their Leader

Not long ago I saw a sticker on a car bumper which read: “There they go.  I must hurry and catch them, for I am their leader!”  Amusing.  I’ve seen a variation of this notion in action; it happens with great regularity in politics.  I was a college student in Ohio in 1969-1970, and for a couple days after the Kent State debacle in May 1970 my friend, Royce Rumsey, and I made a point of observing the activity on the University of Cincinnati campus, which culminated in a “student” march on downtown Cincinnati.  We did not march.  We rode the bus downtown and watched the parade approach the city center.  Just as it came into our view, a pair of “students” trotted themselves into the front of the entire procession, and, on a pole they carried between them, they bore a very large Viet Cong flag, as a pair of bearers will carry a banner ahead of a marching band.  They gave the parade the appearance of being a march in support of the North Vietnamese enemy that we were fighting in Vietnam.  The peace marchers behind them had no idea; more than followers of a cause, they were a herd to be paraded.

The cute bumper sticker recently spotted seemed original enough, but I had only to go back to Nock’s 1948 A Journal of Forgotten Days to discover that he attributes the this illogical imperative to “the French revolutionist” and, furthermore, brings in the opportunism of the flag-carriers.  -DAW-

Slave-mindedness is the hateful thing, whether it follows Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, Mussolini — what matter?  Is not the mass-leader, too, the most slave-minded of all?  The French revolutionists saying: I must follow the mob, because I lead them, ought to be embroidered on every national flag, it strikes me.  How right Huxley was about what he called the coach-dog theory of political leadership, i.e., that a leaders duty is to look sharp for which way the social coach is going, and then run in front of it and bark.  -AJN, Journal, p. 231-232

The Three Laws of Organisation

In response to an urgent social demand, a revolutionary regime was set up in France in 1789.  At the outset it was backed and promoted by men of far-seeing intelligence, including a good part of the aristocracy. . . .

Then at the moment when the revolution became a going concern, Epstean’s law brought in a waiting troop of political adventurers whose interest was not social but institutional.

Their views of the social demand which brought the revolutionary organisation into being were shaped by that interest.  As Benjamin Franklin put it, they were of the sort whose sense of political duty is first, to themselves; second, to their party; and third (if anything be left over) to society. . . .

Then Gresham’s law struck in.  As the numbers of this latter group increased, their interest became the prevailing interest, and their view the prevailing view.  Social interest was rapidly driven out, and as almost always happens in the case of political revolutions, those who represented it were lucky if they escaped with their lives.

Then finally the law of diminishing returns took hold.  As the institution grew in size and strength, as its confiscations of social power increased in frequency and magnitude, as its coercions upon society multiplied, the welfare of society (which the original intention of the revolution was to promote) became correspondingly depleted and attenuated.

These three laws dog the progress of every organisation of mankind’s efforts.  Organised charity, organised labor, organised politics, education, religion — look where you will for proof of it, strike into their history at any time or place.

-AJN, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, p. 165-6 as quoted in Cogitations