The Telegraph UK is featuring an editorial by Janet Daley on how the BCC completely fails to understand the Tea Party movement in the U.S. The piece is succinct enough I almost want to quote the whole thing. Instead I hope the following quote motivates you to, as Glenn Reynolds would say, go read the whole thing.
The British generally and the BBC in particular have a real problem understanding the obsessive suspicion in which the power of central government is held in the US. This is not some funny redneck eccentricity: it is fundamental to the Constitution which gives individual states much greater sovereignty than the countries of the European Union enjoy. The states have independent judicial systems (some states have capital punishment, others do not) and separate taxation systems (some have sales taxes, others do not). Only a Supreme Court ruling can over-turn state law by, for example, declaring something (such as abortion) to be a legal right which a state legislature may not deny.
The rest of Daley’s piece is just as spot on. I’m often baffled in discussions with my more liberal friends. They either fail to see the pitfalls of having a centralized government with unlimited power or they are seemingly naive and are just hoping that this all-powerful government will always side on issues according to their individual beliefs and choices.
It doesn’t work that way. You may be excited, for example, if the federal government was empowered to step in and declare gay marriage legal. Would you be as excited if the government decided that two years of military service for all citizens was a necessary requirement (and that “conscientious objector” isn’t a valid out)? You may be overjoyed to hear that the federal government is going legalize marijuana across all states. Would you be equally happy to learn that it was going to make abortions illegal?
I’ve actually had discussions about systems of government where people suggest that “benevolent dictator” falls above “democracy” in desirability. I couldn’t disagree more strongly. Benevolent dictators are like parents for a society–deciding on things because the society is too immature or otherwise incapable of deciding for themselves. I don’t ever want to give up that right. Not to a single individual. Not to a centralized government.
Edit: A comment on a comment from reader Stan after the break.
We did have the government mandating two years of military service. It was called the draft.
Exactly my point, sorry if I wasn’t clear enough in my examples. Sometimes the government has powers to do things you’d rather it didn’t. It is wishful thinking that an expansive government will always think the way you want it to.
Another example. During the initial reaction to 9/11, there were many who called for then President Bush to have increased powers so he could “take care of business”. Now we have President Obama. How many of those people would be happy if President Obama had those same greatly expanded powers to take care of business?
Similarly, there are people that bemoan the “party of no” stopping Obama from getting really good things accomplished. Say he was granted those powers and did as he may. The mood of the electorate swings. In a shock to many, Sarah Palin is swept into office in 2012. To those that would support expanding Obama’s powers…how to do you feel about President Palin ruling without checks and balances?
Edit: Another good comment:
I agree fully with your view on this, despite its lack of originality. Plato figured that out well over 2000 years ago. His argument was that, while a dictatorship may be best under the best of circumstances (benevolence), it also turns out to be the very worst under the worst of circumstances (tyranny).
Well I am half-Greek, so this should come as no surprise. 🙂
But more seriously, I don’t agree with that argument either. I find it illogical that a benevolent dictator, no matter how well intended, could ever satisfy the differing desires of their populous at the same time and do so fairly. For example, imagine under this dictatorship one citizen was very concerned with global warming and wanted there to be a law that required everyone to live in small, energy efficient apartment in large metropolises. I, on the other hand, have always dreamed of living in the countryside and having a big house with a number of acres. The concerned citizen doesn’t think I should be able to do that. My house costs more to maintain and I have a longer commute into work. My carbon footprint is too high. I either need to be prevented from living like that or fined heavily for doing so.
What does our benevolent dictator do in this situation? He can’t satisfy us both. Does he tell the citizen that his concerns are overreaching? What if every other citizen was as concerned as him over my wasteful lifestyle? Does he tell me to pack up and move to that cube in city 647B? What if most people dreamed of moving to that country estate, like I do? Does he go with what the majority think? If so, he’s just a vote counter and we are back to a democracy.
Now, as with any thought experiment, you can pick holes in the above. I imagine the first argument would be to talk about that benefits of a representative democracy over a pure one. But I hope that my point is clear. I don’t want a nanny deciding what is right and wrong for me. I don’t want that nanny, regardless if it is a person, govenrment, or church.