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Liberty Is the Theme, Again

Once again, voters went to the polls to reject overweening government, responding to waves of rhetoric that decried the government takeover of health care, the bailouts and spending, and the arrogance of power. And again, domestic economic issues dominated. And so the “Obama regime,” as the Republicans have started calling it, got a much-deserved smack on the nose.

Strangely, it was a similar set of themes that brought Obama to power: resentment against the outrageous power abuses and wars of the Bush regime, and fear that the Republican Party represented more of the same. Looking back further, it was the same theme that brought Bush to power. He ran with the promise of a more humble foreign policy, while decrying taxes and big government. We could keep going back and back this way, to 1994, 1992, and throughout the eighties, and back through the seventies, and back all the way to 1932 and even to Wilson’s promise to keep us out of World War I. Voters keep pulling the lever against the state and yet the state marches ever onward, growing bigger and more abusive all the time.

How can we account for this? Following Rothbard, Nock, Van Creveld, Chodorov, and Oppenheimer, what the voters are voting on is not the state but merely a false front.

If the state is a giant building, the office holders we vote for are merely the facade. We are given buckets of paint to paint this facade red or blue or some combination of the two colors, but this has very little to do with what goes on inside. Our job is to argue and vote over which color we want it to be but never presume to have an influence over its actual affairs.

If we want to truly understand the state, and not just its appearances and its periodic election frenzies, we need to consider that the modern state is very different from the medieval or ancient state, which were personal states, inseparable from the ruler. Modern states are impersonal entities that have a life apart from their temporary office holders and spokesmen. If the Congress, Presidency, and Supreme Court were all put on a slow boat to China, for example, the state would endure and continue as always. Its machinery consists almost entirely in gears and parts that are not subject to referendums and democratic mandates.

This is why these elections never really accomplish what voters what them to accomplish. Elections deal with superficial issues, not fundamental ones. And isn’t this obvious just from listening to the victory speeches last night? I actually heard one Republican going on about the need for a “line item veto” and a “balanced budget” and a “strong defense” in this dangerous world. It was like 30 years ago all over again. The political class is strangely disconnected from the actual workings of the state.

Anyway, all these thoughts come from the great works on the state linked above. They are the books we need in order to truly understand and avoid getting tricked by this ridiculous spectacle every two and four years.

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Contact Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Editorial Director of the American Institute for Economic Research. He is author of It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes and Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo. Send him mail.

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