Saturday, May 30, 2009

Powerful and Secure

Every ruling class wants to enjoy feeling powerful and secure. This usually means power over others, and security at someone else's expense.

Once a ruling class feels powerful and secure, it will not relinquish either its power or its security without a fight. Sometimes it will fight with words, sometimes with fists, sometimes with vast armies, but it will always fight.

It will use public money to defend its private advantages. It will call on the intellectual community to provide justifications and, when necessary, mythologies to defend its actions. Finally, as a ruling power, it will use its police and armies in the name of law and order to harass, imprison, and destroy its opposition. A threatened ruling class is the one of the most dangerous things on earth.

Consider the American Civil War. The ruling class of the Old South depended on slavery for its feelings of power and security. From the beginning of the United States, the South did not stop using words and violence to justify, preserve, and expand slavery, until it was humiliated by a military defeat, exhausted by war, and economically crushed by uncompensated emancipation. In short, the ruling class of the Old South refused to surrender its power and security until they were taken from its cold dead hand.

The price of this defeat is staggering. Over 600,000 citizens died, a vast region of the country lay impoverished for a century, and bitterness and humiliation led directly to a political legacy of racism enshrined in law.

History provides us a stark warning, for today we exist under a new generation of the ruling class. This one lives in Washington, DC, the last boom town in America. It believes with all the fervor of an ante-bellum slave owner that it is leading a less-enlightened population down the path of civilization and progress. Towards that goal, it is justified in all that it does, from taxation, to regulation, to fines, punishment, and imprisonment. It is the modern equivalent of the Master. We are the modern equivalent of the property it governs for our own good.

Like all ruling classes, ours will attempt to characterize any opposition as ill-informed, misguided, irrational, delusional, dangerous, disloyal, treasonous, or evil. But the opposition is not the dangerous group here. In fact, simple humanity means that we should be pulling for those who object to being treated like human inferiors. We should hope that they will win this fight with words. The consequences of losing are too terrible to imagine.

The goal of the good society should never be class power or class security. That simply creates a group of especially dangerous people willing to set the world aflame rather than surrender their position. The goal of the good society should be individual power, what used to be called autonomy or individual liberty.

In liberty, every individual is free to seek as much or as little security as he or she sees fit, and no group of individuals can insist on dragging the rest of us through another Götterdämmerung.

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