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Longing for Dictatorship

Mises Daily: Friday, August 29, 2008 by

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Politics brings out the worst in everyone, which is one good reason to completely depoliticize society. This way we can all busy ourselves in productive work or leisure, instead of wasting vast time watching these clowns on television promise the impossible to us.

What we are being offered on television is two flavors of dictatorship. One party imagines Athens, with fairness and justice for all, international brotherhood and sisterhood, a world free of hate and discrimination in which all wealth is shared and no wealth is made at the expense of nature.

Of course, this is an Athens of their own invention, since the original's culture and accomplishments depended on free trade, private ownership, sound money, and low taxes. What the Democrats are offering is a monstrously larger state that assumes control of all property, the crushing of private initiative, and an end to economic freedom.

Note that they don't talk about this. But that is the core of all their plans for fairness and justice: an increased use of violence in society, and an increased centralization of political power. Often the person who recommends this path imagines that he will be the dictator, and that his plans alone will prevail.

They don't consider that the state they advocate is also wholly capable of doing things that they do not like, like crushing civil liberties and starting wars all over the world. Note that the Left's critique of Bush's big government is not that it is crushing liberty; rather, they believe that government power is being used for the wrong purposes.

Another problem with these people: they can't stand capitalism. They resent the commercial society. They have not come to terms with the fact that without capitalism, most of the human race would starve to death. Why do they hate it? Because wealth under capitalism will always be unequally distributed.

They favor a different form of dictatorship.

Now to the Republicans, who imagine themselves creating a modern form of Sparta, with military strength and a disciplined citizenry unified in the drive to national greatness, courage, and heroism. Along with this comes support for national service (the draft) and a demand that Congress stop meddling in executive-branch matters.

They also say that they are for free enterprise, but what they really mean is that they support their main constituents who are large corporations dependent on government contracts and privileges. That goes for the banks and the mortgage companies too, whose interests they defend through a fiat-money system that further fuels state growth.

This too is their version of dictatorship.

It is long past time for both of these parties to admit it. They won't of course, so it is incumbent on the rest of us to at least recognize it for what it is. It is often said that there is not a dime's worth of difference between the parties, but there is little reflection on what precisely they have in common. It comes down to a love of some version of dictatorship, of which they believe they will be the administrators.

What is the alternative? It is pure liberty, a word that is used only as a slogan in public affairs these days. By liberty, I mean only one kind: a life without badgering from the state. There is nothing on God's green earth that the state can do better than we can as individuals and communities and voluntary associations. What I mean by liberty is no more or less than firing the state as the administrator of society.

The politicians are forever talking about their plans for us. We should reject them all, left, right, and center. Would this leave chaos in its wake? Not at all. It would leave the orderliness of the private-property society.

As Mises wrote,

The truth is that the choice is not between a dead mechanism and a rigid automatism on the one hand and conscious planning on the other hand. The alternative is not plan or no plan. The question is: whose planning? Should each member of society plan for himself or should the paternal government alone plan for all? The issue is not automatism versus conscious action; it is spontaneous action of each individual versus the exclusive action of the government. It is freedom versus government omnipotence.

Mises wrote those words in 1949. People said that he was being hyperbolic, that he was nuts and inflammatory. Surely our system has nothing in common with the German system we had just fought a war to destroy, and nothing in common with the Russian system that was becoming our new enemy.

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But people forget that in the 1930s, it was conventional wisdom that our essential choice was between two forms of dictatorship, socialism or fascism. People were more open back then, using these words not in a derogatory way. Here we are all these years later, and we no longer speak with deference toward socialism and fascism as systems of government.

Even so, the intellectual assumptions remain the same. Watch the conventions with an eye to what the political class wants to do for you. Everything they promise has a flip side of what they want to do to you. And the power to do these things has to come from the violence of the state, and using that violence requires a form of total control over government and society. They may look nice and sweet. They may claim to love you and your family and community. But their political ideology is actually steeped in hatred for your liberty and property. They seek an end to your freedom to seek a better life.

They seek dictatorship. All the rest is illusion.