Vested Interests

In an interview on Book TV, Thomas Sowell explained that he was once asked whether he had ever tried to persuade America’s leading race hustlers to accept his anti-progressive views on racial politics and affirmative action, to which he answered, “I’m sure Jesse Jackson makes ten times what I make. How do you convince a man to reduce his income by ninety percent?”

There is a logically correct answer to this, of course: You convince Jesse Jackson that his true interest lies in a course of action that can only be gained at the price of ninety percent of his income. But Sowell’s point is taken nonetheless: A man already immersed in perceived advantages of some narrow or false sort — the kinds of things we typically mean by the phrase vested interests — will not easily hear the subtle whispers of reason and human nature, because it is precisely the character of vested interests to fill the soul with conveniently distracting noise at just the moment when those whispers are most needed.

You cannot win “the abortion debate” in a community that has normalized not only premarital sex, but serial casual sex — and not merely normalized it, but downgraded it to being the modern “dating” equivalent of eating dinner or watching a movie together. A society that effectively regards physical pleasure as a human right and basic need, that has reassessed delayed gratification as a mechanism of systemic oppression, and that has, both in moral theory and social practice, fundamentally detached the sexual impulse from all considerations of pregnancy and reproduction (let alone family and immortality), has given itself overwhelming incentives for rationalizing the elimination of unwanted pregnancies as a necessary convenience.

The man who wants to lead so badly that he is willing to live the life one must live to climb the political ladder is the last man one should trust with leadership. And if — as will almost always be the case — every man in practical contention for leadership is such a man, then an obvious implication applies: You should trust no one with leadership. This is, and always was, the most basic, albeit implicit, argument for limiting governmental authority precisely in proportion with the extent of the governing territory. That is to say, the most, and the most intrusive, powers ought to be invested in local government alone; the fewest, and the least intrusive, ought to be invested in any government authority presiding beyond the local level. For local leaders may be scrutinized, exposed, and if necessary overwhelmed, with relative ease, whereas national or imperial leaders are more remote and invisible to the people they lead, and therefore far more likely to succeed in establishing the most pernicious and permanent forms of corruption.

Our modern technology, facilitating instant communication over great distances, does nothing to change this dynamic, or the principles involved. On the contrary, it only increases the remoteness and invisibility of distant authority. The Greek city-state, though far from ideal, was always civilization’s most rational political model. The degree to which such a model appears impossibly distant from us today is the measure of our political deterioration as a species. We have no communities today, only “masses” — no friends, only fellow serfs. That today’s serfs have smartphones and social media changes nothing, or rather merely changes things for the worse, masking our serfdom so as to ensure that there will never be a general public awareness of the truth of our predicament, let alone a general will to resist.

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