Fear not: this will be brief. I’ve actually written at considerable length on these topics before, but all I want to accomplish here is to lay down a few markers, as a season of what promises to be incredible silliness bears down on us.
We’ll need touchstones with which to think about what’s going off the rails. The basic problem is always more fundamental than the details by which we tend to navigate. We come up with shallow hypotheses and explanations, but they’re situational and ultimately unsatisfactory. I don’t propose to dictate what people conclude about causes and effects here, so much as suggest ways to think about our problem that are more fruitful than what we usually do.
One of the good effects of this is to adjust our thinking to a level as profound as the one the American Founders operated on, when they were deliberating the concepts of law and government for the new republic.
The starting point for discussing these three mindsets is a key matter of perception about why the American polity finds so little to agree on today. The most salient reason isn’t that all those other people have lost their minds, although at times it sure looks like people have gone crazy.
The most salient reason is that we’ve accepted making literally everything in life a matter for regulation and government enforcement.
Government isn’t a benign presence, and it isn’t supposed to be one. Government exists first and foremost for enforcement. It isn’t suited for open-ended therapy or benevolent suggestion. What we allow it to have a say on will in every case become a situation of mandate, prohibition, and usually punishment. It will coercively alter lives.
When at least one side is invariably aiming to chart the course of government coercion, as today’s Left is, of course the other side can’t agree. It’s one thing if the topic is something merely ill-judged and evil-precedent-setting, like banning incandescent light bulbs or drop-sided cribs. It’s another thing entirely, if the topic is demanding that ideological zealots have access to people’s minor children for the purpose of preaching “sexuality” and transgender theory to them.
It’s also another thing – an intolerable thing, one on which there is no compromise position – if the goal of government coercion is to force people to change their life arrangements in service of an ideology, anyone’s ideology, or in ways that violates people’s consciences and faiths.
Government coercion as the end-state raises the stakes on every public debate. The stakes have been too high for compromise for years now. The intensity level could be instantly dialed back on a lot of things we argue over, if the purpose of argument weren’t about wielding government to crush other people’s freedom.
But for the advocates of government intervention in everything, that’s what the purpose is.
A great many people who don’t want to be intervened with, on ever-growing lists of life arrangements and decisions, are nevertheless unable to see that the problem is our expectations of government. We’ve accepted it as the intervening juggernaut it has become. And it’s going to keep pursuing us for more intervention until we reset our premises about that.
With that in mind, three mindset/thinking tools to ponder. I will state each as an affirmative proposition.
- Humans are incapable of deliberately and systematically reshaping the physical, moral, or spiritual world for good.
Government doesn’t enable us to do this. The coercive power of government, and our complacent post-modern view of our scientific prowess, combine to delude us that we can be so enabled.
Government’s great delusion is that we can approach the project of reshaping as a scheme, viewing the cosmos, the earth’s environment and natural furnishings, and our fellow humans as systems to be tuned, remodeled, renovated, or otherwise altered by some formula to produce better outcomes.
We aren’t capable of that and we never will be. We are capable of living well, each individually; showing direct and personal kindness and integrity to others; picking up after ourselves and being careful what we leave behind. By doing our best in the span of our own reach, we can each and all affect the world around us for good. But we cannot have a larger, systematic effect for good by seeking to command what’s all around us with the threat of government force.
Unfortunately, this deluded premise is precisely the energizing idea of progressivism. We don’t realize how much it has infected our thinking over the last 100 to 150 years. But as with Marxism, which is the framework in which virtually all popular, mainstream discussion of the human condition is now conducted, progressivism has overtaken our lexicon and common premises. Our thinking doesn’t know how to breathe without it today.
Yet it, like Marxism, is a lie about reality. Collective efforts to defy and replace the extant realities of our existence not only don’t work; they are always and invariably distorting and destructive.
We will never throw off the shackles of a government that’s too big for goodwill and agreement without rejecting the false “reshaping” premise.
- Government regulation corrupts, and is much less necessary than our progressive thinking imagines today.
The best government doesn’t set itself up to be bribed, or to enforce rent-seeking schemes at the point of a gun. Regulation is a vehicle for both arrangements. Always and everywhere; there are no exceptions. The variations are not in whether the effect is felt, but in how egregious and invasive it is.
Endlessly writing new regulations is equal to endlessly expanding the opportunity for corruption.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has reached the point at which there is little pretense anymore that regulators do the work their offices were originally intended for. To see this clearly, you don’t need to look beyond the Food and Drug Administration’s and the CDC’s infamous exertions with the COVID-19 vaccines. But you could also look to the astonishingly feckless attitude of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in the months before the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. It wasn’t watching the capital asset health of the bank (its actual charter); it was obsessing over “DEI” issues.
You could look as well to the Department of Homeland Security and its administration of the U.S. border, which now uses the Border Patrol itself to usher in illegal migrants rather than preventing their entry.
A key danger for accountable government is that when misuse and abuse of regulatory power produce bad outcomes, officials blame it on a need to regulate better, which invariably means more heavily. In the vast majority of cases, however, the problem is either that the law isn’t being enforced, or that the congressional intent of a regulatory power is being ignored, with some other intent quietly substituted for it.
No nation has ever been as heavily and thoroughly regulated as the United States of America is today. The rubric of regulation has the effect of separating government behavior from the accountable expectations of the people. But it also hides itself in plain sight: by becoming mere background landscape, the banality of regulation desensitizes us to its existence.
Many younger people today actually think what’s going on around them is not regulated. They clamor for regulation, because they have no idea that what they’re seeing 24/7 is the result of regulation, with both its magnetic properties for corrupt practices and its distortion of incentives and expectations.
They’ve been taught for decades now to be terrified of life without government supposedly watching out for their interests, against the imagined predation of a mankind defined for them in the divisive, vilifying terms of Marxism.
Yet such “watching” is a giant bribery, extortion, and rent-seeking scheme, and indeed has gained so much institutional and economic power today that it forms an expanding basis for controlling and limiting the people.
It’s a very hard mindset to break: the mindset that regulation works uniformly as intended and we’d be in unacceptable danger without it. Some mild forms of regulation, especially at the state level or below, may work well enough over time to justify their cost. (Regulation always imposes additional costs.) But most of it also becomes outdated and counterproductive over the same period.
Regulation isn’t a magic wand for making things better. It carries significant, ever-present moral hazards, and unlike lawsuits and criminal law, it doesn’t deal in demonstrated specifics but in theories about causality. It coerces the public while escaping the obligation to prove or justify its premises – all it needs is an original charter from Congress and it can make prophylactic whoopee.
It will take moral courage to break the mental chains of the regulatory mindset, but unless we do, our political environment will only worsen.
- Voting is a veto on government power, and was meant to be by America’s Founders.
We lost touch with this founding idea so long ago that saying it today will seem impossibly strange to the generations that have been taught to revere the menu-voting excitement of “democracy.”
But for the Framers of the Constitution, voting for federal offices was one of the Constitution’s checks and balances. They didn’t intend it foremost as an exercise in selecting from a menu of policy proposals in every election cycle. They intended it to prevent the growth of such a menu.
The federal government was instead supposed to have a more limited charter, such that long menus of policy proposals wouldn’t even come up. The Founders wrote often about the hazards of changing government’s vector with every change of majority power in the two elected branches (their view of what democracy is). They deliberately gave the U.S. a government that wouldn’t see the people’s lives dragged around from pillar to post by the majority of the day. The Founders understood that to be the corrupt, destabilizing career of democracy in ancient Athens, and their goal was to prevent it taking hold in America.
Voting in a democracy is about voting on everything, as if it’s a civic duty to agree that we must use the ballot box to opine on our neighbors’ business.
The purpose of voting in the constitutional republic the Framers crafted was to be the opposite: a check on government’s tendency to inflate its idea of itself and set the people against each other.
Not one syllable of the U.S. Constitution conveys enthusiasm for government and what can be done with it. The whole document is about keeping government in check, with the Constitution and the people acting as the ultimate checks. The people’s power is wielded through voting. In a document like the Constitution, it’s not just unlikely; it’s impossible, that the envisioned purpose of voting was for the people to pursue their dreams and passions, or express their every heartfelt preference, through government.
That’s not what government is properly for, and it’s not what voting is for. Unless we de-romanticize voting and the role of government, we won’t break the chains of encroaching government that are layering up about us like the clanking, clattering burden of Marley’s ghost.
The idea of shedding these mindsets will be alarming to many. Some who see the need for it will still think it’s too hard. But so much is shifting tectonically underneath us today that I think more and more people realize we do need fundamental changes in how we now approach government. Our approach today isn’t that of our nation’s beginning, and certainly not that of its vision. In terms of the people’s mass indoctrination in it, it’s barely 50 years old, if that. Those of my generation – Gen W – can clearly remember a time when the people didn’t walk around petrified of not being regulated enough, and anxious to vote mandates on their neighbors.
We can’t afford to ignore root causes of dysfunction that are hard to dislodge. Moreover, time and a series of remarkable, mind-blowing developments are doing much of the work for us. People increasingly don’t need convincing about the inevitability of a “mindset reset,” as much as they need thinking aids for it.
Postscript: I sympathize with everyone who says the most fundamental thing we need to do is turn back to God. I agree. But that condition is not one to be brokered by or for government, or shaped by our continuing temporal need for government. It’s a spiritual precondition for everything else, including having wise and proper expectations of government. My project here is to propose elements of those wise and proper expectations.
Feature image: Pixabay; author composition.
10 thoughts on “Three mindsets that need a reset if we want a return to constitutional governance”
Core: “The most salient reason is that we’ve accepted making literally everything in life a matter for regulation and government enforcement.” and three specific key points. Instead of the mostly nitpickery of allegedly conservative media & punditry, JED needs a bigger platform, and echo. Please retire VDHansen!
(What is Gen W?)
Thanks, D4x. Always good to hear from you. Gen W is the one between Boomer and X. Other people have other names for it, but I 4/4ths don’t care; I call it Gen W (started doing so before the other people figured out that we in Gen W are not Boomers in any sense), and someday everyone else will too. 🙂
I’d hate to see VDH retire. I don’t think he gets everything on target in his commentary on the human condition, but he’s always worth hearing from. It will be sad to see the day when commentators grounded in Western classicism depart the scene.
Hope you are well and that your treatment is progressing.
Thx JED. Can you explain why “Gen W are not Boomers in any sense”?
Must be more than preferring Kenny Loggins to the Grateful Dead?
Apologies, but VDH may be good at expressing his sorrowful concerns, but he never offers any positive solutions. He swallows Ukraganda™ whole, with zero historical curiosity, about Russian history or the reality 2014 -2021, including the Nov. 10, 2021
https://www.state.gov/u-s-ukraine-charter-on-strategic-partnership/. Plus, posting same at amgreatness, JWR, extra credit at zerohedge, and always a realclearpolitics pick is because of his legacy, not any current ‘must-read’.
Most of my must-reads are at indianpunchline and americanconservative.
VDH lost me when I read his ” The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won” which needed two edits and more coherence. Arthur Herman’s 2013 “Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II” was 10x better, and more readable.
Alas, getting worse. Almost do not care. Except, there are still great history books to read.
I believe JED is referring to late 1950’s to early 1960’s born (includes myself). While we are lumped into the BB generation, we don’t share that much in common, and often identify closer to Gen X in some regards. Too late to be drafted to Vietnam, or part of the hippie, anti war movement, etc. We tend to be more conservative, skeptical of big government, and our service in the military was as volunteers, not draftees. Always grates me to be called a boomer, and I am quick to disavow!
Glad to ‘see’ you. As a middle-Boomer, circa 1952, I don’t understand the animus.
Age-cohorts are usually 20-years. ‘Boomer’ refers to the big increase in # of births immediately after WW2.
Whatever. Just finished Chris Miller’s “Soldier-Secretary. It was great read until he totally bought the fake narrative on the June 2 2020 “photo-op” after Park Police “tear-gassed ‘ protestors.
Anyway, I keep secretly thinking we really are in ‘devolution’
Thanks for being ok.
Excellent. Thank you for this and for all your work.
Thanks, aez. Invariably good to see your arond.
Re “the human condition”…
The human condition or world we live in has always been in plain sight for everyone and is no mystery …
The TRUE human condition, or world we live in, is the history of human madness mainly thanks to the 2 married pink elephants in the room and has never been on clearer display than with the deliberate global Covid Scam atrocity — see “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room –The Holocaustal Covid-19 Coronavirus Madness: A Sociological Perspective & Historical Assessment Of The Covid “Phenomenon”” … https://www.rolf-hefti.com/covid-19-coronavirus.html
“2 weeks to flatten the curve has turned into…3 shots to feed your family!” — Unknown
““We’re all in this together” is a tribal maxim. Even there, it’s a con, because the tribal leaders use it to enforce loyalty and submission. … The unity of compliance.” — Jon Rappoport, Investigative Journalist
Welcome, Sonia Apologies for the delay in your comment “approval.” That’s a one-time thing, so you should be good to go now. (One thing does make it kick in again, and that’s a comment with two or more links in it. I’ve tried changing that filter in the past but the spam gets out of control.)
“we need to do is turn back to God. I agree. But that condition is not one to be brokered by or for government”
You might need to check in with your Christian Nationalist Extremist buddies (MTG has ’em all on speed dial), because when it comes to the intertwining of government and God, they believe (and are fundraising on) the exact opposite.
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