The news is the same as yesterday. The corruptocrats are all spouting the same self-serving bilge, while the media dutifully pretend otherwise. So let’s talk about something else this morning.
I can’t remember the first time I heard a politician prattle about some “problem.” I’m sure the practice is a lot older than I am. And of course, politicians with problems in mind almost always propose “solutions,” that the Republic be made stronger, safer, and sweeter smelling. Yet the improvements the proposed solution will bring to our health, wealth, and couth almost never materialize. That makes the “problem / solution” paradigm worthy of scrutiny all by itself.
Constitutionalism was supposed to be a solution to a problem, too. The idea that our governments would be commissioned, empowered, and restrained by explicit written rules was intended to spare Americans the evils for which governments had been known throughout history. It was counterpoised to the tendency of governments to become corrupt, voracious, and tyrannical: a mega-problem no previous group of statesmen had ever managed to solve. And it worked, for a while.
During those years when our constitutions, federal and state, largely succeeded in restraining governments, individuals and their voluntary associations were free to solve the problems that mattered to them. That is: individuals and groups would conceive of a condition they wanted to change as a problem, would select a potential solution from the universe of possible human actions, and try it out. If the solution proved ineffective or perverse, they’d scrap it and try something else. While they had occasional recourse to their legislatures, by far the greater part of problem-solving action was entirely voluntary.
These Americans are the most peculiar people in the world. You’ll not believe it when I tell you how they behave. In a local community in their country, a citizen may conceive of some need [that] is not being met. What does he do? He goes across the street and discusses it with his neighbor. Then what happens? A committee begins functioning on behalf of that need. All of this is done by private citizens on their own initiative. The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.
That was the whole point of constitutionalism: to liberate the individual from government “solutions;” to unleash private energy, resources, and action. Governments’ “solutions” to “problems” invariably proved worse than the ills they were supposed to solve. Hearken to H. L. Mencken as regards a problem his forebears had vainly striven against: prostitution:
There is no half-baked ecclesiastic, bawling in his galvanized-iron temple on a suburban lot, who doesn’t know precisely how it ought to be dealt with. There is no fantoddish old suffragette, sworn to get her revenge on man, who hasn’t a sovereign remedy for it. There is not a shyster of a district attorney, ambitious for higher office, who doesn’t offer to dispose of it in a few weeks, given only enough help from the city editors. And yet, by the same token, there is not a man who has honestly studied it and pondered it, bringing sound information to the business, and understanding of its inner difficulties and a clean and analytical mind, who doesn’t believe and hasn’t stated publicly that it is intrinsically and eternally insoluble. For example, Havelock Ellis. His remedy is simply a denial of all remedies. He admits that the disease is bad, but he shows that the medicine is infinitely worse, and so he proposes going back to the plain disease, and advocates bearing it with philosophy, as we bear colds in the head, marriage, the noises of the city, bad cooking and the certainty of death. Man is inherently vile—but he is never so vile as when he is trying to disguise and deny his vileness. No prostitute was ever so costly to a community as a prowling and obscene vice crusader, or as the dubious legislator or prosecuting officer who jumps at such swine pipe.
Dead-center bull’s-eye. But what contrivance of rhetoric makes it possible for politicians, editorialists, preachers, and so forth to win minds to the idea that this “problem” – i.e., men seeking sex and women offering to provide it for a price – has a “solution” that’s not worse than the “problem” itself?
I propose that the heart of the matter is permitting politicians and aspirants to high office to speak of such things at all.
The constitutional idea embeds at its very heart that governments can only be trusted with sharply delimited responsibilities. While a good constitution makes provisions for amendment, it also makes the process difficult, so that proposed expansions of the government’s powers must win an overwhelming consensus. Trivialities and things better left to voluntary action must not bring about the return of the Omnipotent State: the mega-problem constitutionalism was conceived to address.
When a politician rises to rail against some “problem” and demand a “solution” to it, he’s virtually guaranteed to be transgressing the constitutional limits on his powers. Those limits were put in place to prevent the very thing he’s trying to do. Why should we grant him a quantum of respect? Why should we not drive him from his pulpit and off the dais? He’s groping for something that was purposely denied him; does he deserve any more than to be shouted down?
Yet if politicians ever do anything else, it’s an event rarer than a nine-planet conjunction.
Rare is the statesman who argues consistently for the observance of constitutional limits, or who denounces the efforts of his colleagues to violate them. There have been very few such since the World Wars. Among us generally, the Horatio Bunces have become equally rare. Which is why, after seven decades watching this nation’s politicians despoil it for their personal power and profit, I have become convinced that we must get off the Mishnory Road.
Shun all who orate about “problems” and government-imposed “solutions.” Grant them none of your time or money. Politics is an engine of destruction. Avoid it and all its works, for your life and the lives of those you love. Take good care of what is properly yours and leave all else to God.