Mises Daily

A
A
Home | Library | D.C. Meltdown

D.C. Meltdown

December 28, 1998

No political expert could have predicted that in one remarkable month, the speaker of the House would be forced out, the speaker-designate would resign, and the president would be impeached, despite his use of foreign aggression as prime agitprop in his personal war against the truth.

As Democrat impeachment debaters warned, the system of government as we have known seems to be coming apart at the seams. It's about time, because, as the rising stock market would indicate, this is not a bad thing. A total shakeup is long overdue. What Washington doesn't want to face is that the rest of the country—indeed the rest of the world—will be better off without the last remaining Leviathan state.

Consider the larger historical processes at work in reshaping public life. In the early part of our century, it seemed the total state would displace the classical liberal ideal. Communism was called progress, and freedom was called reactionary. But these days, a powerful new logic of history has taken hold. The forces of power are being overwhelmed by the forces of liberty.

This glorious renaissance began with the crumbling of Soviet socialism. Toppling as well were the regimes that had been ideologically and financially sustained by Soviet power. The Berlin Wall was torn down, Ceausescu was shot, Czechoslovakia was divided up, and Poland and other ancient civilizations were freed from barbarism. Only two communist states remain—Cuba and North Korea—and they are isolated, impoverished, and crumbling.

While each of these events can be explained through purely economic analysis—socialism is an unviable system that must fail—the forces that came together to smash the regimes were even more sweeping, broad, and powerful. The people had lost all confidence in the reigning ideological apparatus. As the people became ever-more bold, and the leadership lost its will to power, these permanent-looking states fell apart.

The U.S. establishment was anxious to interpret these events as a victory for "democracy," as if the stability or non-existence of the right to vote were all that was at stake. The hidden hope was that the ruling regime could never be overthrown here, where democratic mechanisms mask a massive, entrenched, and unconstitutional power structure.

And yet the meltdown of the communist states underscored the best-kept secret about political power, identified first by French philosopher Ettiene de la Boetie, and then by Scottish historian David Hume, South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, and Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises: political power is always far more fragile that it appears.

The rulers in every society must constitute a tiny minority, since they live off the majority as a parasite lives off its host. The rulers sustain themselves and their privileges by convincing the public of their inherent legal, moral, and political legitimacy. That's why the state always needs an ideological rationale. If this rationale breaks down, the rulers find themselves without a pliable citizenry, and can be forced to abdicate.

This well-kept secret is no less applicable in democratic states than in autocratic ones. The more intrusive a government becomes, the more it risks its own legitimacy and thus existence. When the state becomes an institutionalized threat to liberty and property, the leading source of social instability and injustice, it invites the many who are ruled to look more critically at the position and character of the few who rule them.

The people of the United States have put up with a vast expansion of government power in our century—requiring the virtual scrapping of the Constitution—because there has always been some overriding rationale. There were wars to fight, depressions to end, poverty to abolish, and foreign foes to vanquish. The American people proved to be longsuffering to a fault.

But with the collapse of the Cold War, the U.S. regime seemed to grow rather than shrink. It claimed to be "indispensable" to the entire globe, even as it nationalized medical care, curbed the right of individuals to own guns, harassed businesses with ever-increasing regulations, raised taxes to historic highs, revoked the freedom of association, and even murdered an entire community of religious secessionists. The U.S., founded to be an exemplar of the blessings of liberty, had been transformed into an arrogant, imperial power without a persuasive pretext.

The seeds of revolt were planted in 1994, when an increasingly radical GOP extended its critique from the competing political party to the entire structure of government. The "revolution" of 1994 was delayed through betrayal and strategic maneuvering, but the impulse that gave rise to it gained strength.

In his trysts and lies and coverups, Bill Clinton may have thought he was merely living out a teenage fantasy. In fact, he was setting himself up as Exhibit A in an ongoing public trial of the arrogance and hypocrisy of big government itself. This is symptomatic of a long-run trend of the best and brightest to eschew the things of government and return to private pursuits. The most astute and guilty of our oppressors are already packing their bags. The most arrogant and power mad will stay until the bitter end.

Behind the mayhem, then, there is a clear, long-term logic at work. Imperial D.C. rule over the country and the world is being radically challenged, and systematically brought down, by dawning public awareness that government has become a terrible drain on our economy and culture. If the process continues long enough, we can abolish the cruel welfare-warfare state, and restore the model and ideal of liberty that America was meant to be.

* * * * *

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

Follow Mises Institute