Grump the First is here.
We will win an election when all the seats in the House and Senate and the chair behind the desk in the Oval Office and the whole bench of the Supreme Court are filled with people who wish they weren’t there…
America’s elected and appointed officials ought to be longing to return to their personal lives and private interests. They should feel burdened by their powers, irked with their responsibilities, and embarrassed at their prominence in the public eye. When they say they want to spend more time with their families, they should mean it.
A small group of decent-hearted and intelligently self-interested people might agree to live loosely together, abiding to a mutually decided upon set of rules that don’t weigh heavily on anyone’s shoulders. And they might make a very pleasant little society. But over time, as some people die off or move away, and new members are born or strangers attracted to the little society’s decencies and comforts ask to join and are admitted, there will be some people who will decide that this rule or that rule or all the rules don’t apply to them.
When that happens the orderliness and the safety of the little society will be threatened and the other members will have to take steps to bring the rule-breakers back into line or drive them from the circle.
They will have to give themselves what are essentially police powers.
Now the little society has to decide how they will exercise those powers and in which of them they will invest those powers. They can try to spread the powers out among the group, which can be inefficient or they can hand it all over to one strong man or something in between. Whichever way they decide, they’d better have a way of supervising and controlling the exercise of those powers or they’re going to wind up with mob rule or under the tyranny of a warlord.
Basically, they need too add a little more governing power to their government.
If things are managed---governed---well, life inside that little society will grow safer, more orderly, and more secure. Possibly happier. The little society will thrive and more people will join it. More babies will be born, more children will grow up to be adults, more adults will live into old age. More outsiders will ask to be admitted.
Now instead of having a tribe or a clan you have a village.
With a village you have houses and ways to get from one house to another. You have streets to keep clear, property to protect. With all these people rubbing up against each other, you’ve got frictions that have to be dealt with before they burst into flame. That means the little society must police itself a little more energetically and it must offer a means of settling disputes that don’t involve fights in the street and murders in the dark. That means some form of court system.
Suddenly, in addition to having to supervise its police, the little society needs to supervise street sweepers and fire brigades, lawyers and judges.
If things continue to be managed---governed---well, the village will grow into a town, the town might grow into a city. The streets will get busier. That’s traffic that has to be regulated and controlled. Trade will increase. More sources of friction there, more need for regulation, policing, and adjudicating.
Other towns and cities, similarly well-governed and thriving, might like to do business with yours. More roads. More traffic. More money changing hands. More people and property to protect. More sources of friction.
You’ve got all these workers to hire and fire, all this building and repair work to do, all these citizens to look out for, to serve and protect, if they’re good citizens, to keep in line if they’re not, all these rules that have to be enforced, all these departments that have to be administered, all this money that has to be spent and taxes or fees that have to be collected to pay for it all---do you really want all this handled by bored and restless amateurs with other immediate and to them more pressing demands on their time, energy, and attention?
This was tried once in a centuries-long failed experiment usually referred to as Europe from the about the time of the fall of the Roman Empire until about 1850---until the end of World War I in some parts.
Feudalism, in its harsher forms during the Middle Ages, and its more benign form after the rise of moneyed and meritocratic aristocracy to rival the old landed and hereditary aristocracy, worked fairly well, at least from the point of view of the aristocrats.
Feudalism is essentially a system in which bored, restless, and self-entitled amateurs run things in ways they expect will have maximum benefit for themselves, in the way of profit and safety and continuation of their place at the top of the heap, with the expectation that their self-interest, compassion, and senses of duty and responsibility will make sure things work out for the profit and safety and continued well-being of everybody else.
When you look closely at the grousing of supposedly small government and libertarian conservatives like O’Rourke, you often see that what they want is a return to feudalism.
They want an aristocracy of like-minded people---that is, people who think like them---to run things as they see fit and for the rest of us to shut up and leave them alone to run things as they see fit.
But what you usually see are anti-social grumps who just want to be left alone, period, to go about doing what they think is best for them with nobody telling them they can’t or shouldn’t do this or that or that they might think about what’s best for other people once in a while.
They especially don’t want to be asked to help pay for bringing about what’s best for anybody else.
There’s something inherently Scrooge-like in them, and I’m not calling them misers, because, if you remember, Scrooge’s failing isn’t that he’s a miser, it’s that he’s an oyster---secret, self-contained, solitary:
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, 'My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?' No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, 'No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!'
But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call 'nuts' to Scrooge.
“Warning all human sympathy to keep its distance…”
Scrooge’s tight-fistedness is symbolic of his refusal to recognize a connection between himself and other people or to admit that they have any demand on his time or attention, never mind his money.
Not coincidentally, Scrooge has a very low opinion of other people. He treats them all as he treats Bob Cratchitt, as a combination of fool, incompetent, and would-be thief.
The O’Rourkian philosophy of limited government is based on two unshakeable principles.
The first is that things are just fine as they are or at least as fine as they’re ever going to be---which is true in that things as they are are working out just fine for them---and anyway trying to change things is bound to make them worse---which is also true in that trying to change things will inconvenience them, by raising their taxes, probably, but also by asking them to care.
The second is that other people are no damn good.
Quiz the O’Rourkes of the world and they’ll tell you, usually in no uncertain terms, that they have a Scrooge-like opinion of their fellow men and women.
Everybody---everybody else, that is---is a fool, an incompetent, or a would-be thief, which turns out to be a very useful thing to believe because it provides an instant defense against arguments that they are somehow responsible for and obligated to other people. Nobody deserves your help if everybody is by definition and natural design undeserving.
At the heart of O’Rourke’s grumpy old man post about elections not changing anything until we stop electing professional politicians to office is the Scrooge-like belief that it’s not just professional politicians who are fools, incompetents, and thieves. Everyone who collects a government paycheck---especially teachers---and all the other kids in his kids’ school and their parents are also fools, incompetents, and a form of thief, which pretty much amounts to an argument that the public school system is dedicated to employing and serving the undeserving but also, by extension, that all public services are dedicated to employing and serving the undeserving.
And that boils down to any government actively dedicated to solving problems and making life better for its citizens is dedicated to taking O’Rourke’s tax dollars and handing them over to fools, incompetents, and thieves.
Worse, from the grumpy old man’s point of view, it’s a government dedicated to not leaving him alone to mind his own business without having to worry about society and to reminding him that he is a part of it and therefore responsible in some part for its other members:
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,' returned the gentleman, 'a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink. and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned -- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can't go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,' said Scrooge, 'they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It's not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”
End of Grump the Second. Click on the link for Grump the Third.