Random Reflections: Paternalism, Republicanism, Capitalism

Once you accept the general premise that safety trumps freedom, there is absolutely nowhere to draw the line. For all life is risk, difficulty, unexpected threats, and the ever-present, universal certainty of impending death. Thus, on the above premise, freedom can never be the primary concern or the highest goal.

If I see you stepping in front of an oncoming car, I will grab you and pull you back against your will, even at the risk of hurting your arm or startling you, and you will likely (and reasonably) thank me for my well-meaning roughness. If, by contrast, I examine the traffic death statistics and determine that for your own good, I ought to physically restrain you from ever crossing any streets, although this means artificially and indefinitely limiting your range of activity and opportunity in life, then you will come to despise me (very reasonably) as a monstrous and manipulative oppressor. Recognizing and respecting the difference between these two contexts and all their analogues is of the essence of both good parenting and good governing.

American voters who still have their marbles, but who see something odd about the 2020 election results, may simply and correctly observe that had that election been held under normal (non-pandemic) conditions, and thus without such an inordinate number of mail-in ballots, then — leaving aside all the poppycock about “massive fraud” and a “stolen election” — Donald Trump would very plausibly have beaten Joe Biden and retained the presidency. Imagine a world in which Donald Trump, the most buffoonish and transparent fraud in modern history, could not only win the highest elected office in the longest-surviving constitutional republic, but even hoodwink enough people to gain re-election. To this day, there are tens of millions of Americans who are longing to wake up tomorrow to discover that this result has somehow happened after all — indeed, who adamantly refuse to accept that it did not happen in November 2020. What are the rest of us supposed to think, who once honestly believed that the United States of America was the last bastion of modern liberty and the spiritual home of good old-fashioned common sense individualism? Good God.

Conservatives and libertarians used to argue, somewhat disingenuously and all too conveniently, that if you opened up trade with China, you would simultaneously open up Chinese society. Today, that seemingly honorable free trade impulse has made the Chinese Communist Party rich, and it is using this wealth to buy up the world, through both land and resource acquisitions and the debt enslavement of half the global population. Meanwhile, the Party is currently closing up Chinese society, physically and psychologically, to a degree that is intended to make the early days of Maoism look like a sloppy first try. So much for the favorite old saw of Friedmanesque conservatism, “Capitalism works every time it is tried.”

Yes, it works; but one would do well to remember what it works for, and what it leads to — every time it is tried. It works to produce wealth and general prosperity, as long as a society retains the moral impulses and political structures needed to prevent prosperity and wealth-production from degenerating into petty self-absorption and oligarchy. But it leads, in psychological mechanism and historical practice, to rule by greed, rule by power lust, rule by the fear-induced desire of a few to control and suppress all “competition.” People whose primary motive is material gain and “being Number One” will not abide by your quaint principles of limited government, or not for long. Men whose souls are enslaved to their low desires will certainly pay lip service to your free principles, and exploit your rule of law — until they find more efficient and effective means of getting what they want, at which point freedom, or rather your freedom, becomes increasingly expendable to them.

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