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Soft Tyranny

From Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America  (published in 1840):

Thus, after taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its service with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.

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Sharp Decline in Historical Consciousness


From The Transformation of Economics by Richard Vedder in The Wall Street Journal:

Economics as ideology in camouflage. Economists who achieve fame for genuine intellectual insights, like Paul Krugman, sometimes then morph into ideologues—predominantly although not exclusively on the left. The leftish domination of American academia is partly explained by economics. Federal student-loan programs, state appropriations, special tax preferences and federal research-overhead funds have underwritten academic prosperity, even at so-called private schools. The leftish agenda today is one of big government; academics are rent-seekers who generally don’t bite the hand that feeds them. The problem is even worse in other “social sciences.”

A disconnect between economic reality and public policy. Three examples come to mind. First, the Keynesian orthodoxy of fiscal stimulus of the 1950s and 1960s, with its Phillips curves and the like, was shown to be spectacularly wrongheaded. The U.S. experience of the 1970s and the Japanese “lost decade” of the 1990s are two demonstrations. Second, centrally planned authoritarian states with no private property or free markets (e.g., the former Soviet Union or North Korea) have been shown to be monumentally inefficient and not permanently sustainable. Third, nations with some free-enterprise capitalism but with growing redistributionist welfare states start stagnating economically—Europe beginning after 1970, the U.S. after 2000. Yet many economists (including at the Federal Reserve) still champion Keynesian policies and welfare-state expansions such as ObamaCare.

One reason living standards in the U.S. have stagnated: There were 12.7 million fewer Americans working in January than there would have been with the 2000 employment-population ratio. Disability insurance claims have roughly tripled in the past generation (despite greater inherent workplace safety because of the declining relative importance of manufacturing and mining); government-subsidized student loans and grants have lured younger Americans away from work; extended unemployment benefits prolonged unemployment; and food stamps now go to nearly 30 million more Americans than 15 years ago. The government has provided much more income that is only available if people do not work. So fewer do. As Charles Murray has noted, this phenomenon has contributed to declining social cohesion and arguably even largely explains Donald Trump’s electoral success.

Modern computer technology and increased econometric sophistication sometimes yield useful information about the way the world works economically. But those gains are at least partially offset by the sharp decline in historical consciousness—today’s scholars sometimes think they know it all, having an arrogance arising from historical ignorance, often wasting time and energy relearning lessons that those with a good sense of economic history already know. It is still satisfying, after half a century, to try to counter that ignorance, and to teach young people the logic of the price system, the importance of private property and other institutions for freedom and prosperity.


I would only add that the loss of any historical consciousness is not limited to economics.

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Doomed Forever to Be Free


“That the American Revolution and the American people –of all the world’s peoples the most materialistic and most vulgar and least disciplined- should have produced a governmental system adequate to check the very forces they unleashed; this was the miracle of the age, and of the succeeding age, and of all the ages to come. The French, the Russians, the Italians, the Germans, all the planet’s peoples in their turn, would become so unrestrained as to lose contact with sanity.  The Americans might have suffered a similar history, had they followed the lead of those who, in 1787 and 1788, spoke in the name of the people and of popular “rights.”  But there were giants of the earth in those days, and the spoke in the name of the nation, and the people followed them.  As a result, the Americans were, despite themselves, doomed forever to be free.”

The concluding paragraph of E Pluribus Unum- The Formation of the American Republic 1776-1790 by Forest McDonald.


McDonald’s story of the development and ratification of the constitution is an excellent companion to his Norvo Ordo Seclorum- The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution.

The development of the constitution while shepherded by some of the most intellectually capable men we have ever produced was an extremely fragile enterprise exposing sharp cultural differences and very pragmatic and economic concerns of the day.  It was radical in numerous ways, but two are worth noting.

The supremacy of the written law all branches of government were held accountable to was of more significance than the concept of democracy.  While we take this for granted today it was radical at the time.

Secondly, the concept of a republic that did not depend on virtue to hold it together was quite different from the view of republics at the time.  Perhaps the colonies’ experience with the failed Articles of Confederation led them to be quite skeptical of depending on mankind’s good nature.

The structure to divide government with checks and balances was meant to frustrate man’s illusions, ambitions and factions.  It was necessary for the early Progressives to delegitimize these two significant accomplishments in order to promote the greater power of the central government they sought.

Unlike Wilson,  FDR sought to sanction his progressive policies through a rationalization to carry out constitutional wishes rather than to delegitimize critical constitutional principles as historical relics unsuited for modern times.

While capitalism was a new concept and largely unfamiliar to the founders, their radical constitution which limited and decentralized power proved to be an exceptional mate for an economic system which also decentralized decision making authority.  While this marriage of personal liberty and economic freedom has produced  an extraordinary nation, it is worth remembering how fragile it was at its birth and why its core principles are as relevant today. 

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What About Gandhi ?


from National Review,Liberals Rewrite History, Make a Few Mistakes by Josh Gelernter

“The white race of South Africa should be the predominating race,” said Mahatma Gandhi. He also said, of himself and his followers, “We believe as much in the purity of race as” white South Africans. He called black South Africans “kaffirs,” which is South Africa’s equivalent of “niggers,” and objected to blacks living among South African Indians: “About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population.” He wrote that “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized. . . . The reader can easily imagine the plight of the poor Indian thrown into such company!”

“The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink,” said Che Guevara. He added that members of the “African race” had “maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing.” After the Cuban Communists took over, Che promised that they were “going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing.”

And do those students realize that the only man as universally well-regarded as Gandhi — Nelson Mandela — said, during a visit to Israel, “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing [from the West Bank and Gaza] if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders”? Of course, that’s an opinion that carries the day on NRO, but what would all those undergrads chanting Viva, Viva Palestina! say about Madiba supporting Israeli “apartheid”?

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Circumventing Congress

from Charles C.W. Cooke in The National Review, Our Presidents Are Beginning to Act Like Kings

Most important of all, why are we not up in arms when the president openly abuses his position as the head of the bureaucracy in order to circumvent Congress’s explicit will? When even left-wingers such as Georgetown Law School’s Jonathan Turley are warning that Barack Obama has now become “the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid,” should our ears not perk up? Our Founders’ ancestors in Britain spent centuries trying to rid their constitutional structures of opportunities for abuse. Why are we so indifferent to their return?