29 April 2008

Decline and fall, reversible?

Johnathan Pearce, who writes a mean column for Samizdata, last week used my "Decline and Fall" matrix as a catalyst for generating a debate about how we should oppose the current trend towards collectivism. Of the comments, I thought the following two were interesting.

Mike:

Sadly, I do not hope to see a libertarian culture in Britain in my lifetime - even should I live to be a hundred years old (I am twenty eight). In the three years since I left England, I have come to this conclusion - all talk of reversal, of revolution, of abolishing this that or the other - all of it is delusion.

Why just the other day, the European Commission signalled its intent to begin implementing its new constitution - quite in utter disregard for the fact that this historic document has yet to be ratified by member states, let alone receive a collective 'oui' from a even a single referendum! Yet some people continue to dance around beneath the moon under delusions of gradually and democratically rolling back the state!

Consider this: the collectivist game is so far ahead of us, its chief actors could stand still for twenty years and we would still be struggling to merely undo the damage they have wrought. Although it may not be possible to roll back the state from across the country, it certainly is possible to gradually reduce its influence over the minds of individuals. The first of those individuals of course, ought to be ourselves.
Laird:
Unfortunately, by this time nearly everyone has been co-opted by the system. The socialists have won; we all have a vested interested in keeping at least some portion of the current system intact, and we have all been conditioned to believe that we are entitled to continue receiving some benefit or other now provided by the government. Those of us over about 45 want our Social Security benefits (and we don't give a damn if it bankrupts the country or puts an unbearable burden of our descendants); those receiving some form of welfare or other social services feel entitled to continue receiving them; big business (not so much the actual shareholders, who don't really count, but the professional managerial class) wants its tax benefits and subsidies, its lucrative government contracts and a regulatory scheme which inhibits competition; the elitists can't imagine a country without Public TV and radio, and the multitude of subsidies to the arts; and of course academia makes a wonderful living conducting governmentally-funded studies of meaningless subjects of interest only to those engaged in performing them. And of course we mustn't forget the hordes of government employees whose livelihood depends upon a massive and ever-growing state. Simply stated, there is no almost one left with any interest in materially reducing the size of government, when such reduction would mean having our own personal ox gored.

So I'm extremely pessimistic about our chances of having anything more than marginal success at shrinking the government. (I like Bill's analogy of killing a tiger with nail clippers!) There will be no revolution; we're all too fat and happy with the status quo. There will be no meaningful improvement until the whole house of cards collapses under its own weight, and the entire system breaks down. That won't be a happy time. I hope I'm not still around then.
Some may find the sentiments expressed here unduly negative. However, in some circumstances realism is likely to be better than false hope.