On our masters and commanders 4

Why do some people want power over the lives of others?

Theodore Dalrymple writes in a discussion of privileged eduction in France and whether the state should provide ‘equality of opportunity’ – which is to say, a discussion of socialist thinking – that he is mystified by this question.

The heart of the problem lies in the unassailability of the term ‘equality of opportunity,’ and the unthinking assent it commands. I was once asked on Dutch TV whether I was in favour of it, the interviewer assuming that I must be so in spite of all my other appalling opinions; and when I said that I was not, and indeed that I thought it was a truly hideous notion, his eyes opened with surprise. I thought he was going to slip off his chair.

Only under conditions reminiscent of those of Brave New World could there be equality of opportunity. But, of course, the very unattainability of equality of opportunity (in any sense other than that of an absence of formal, legal impediments to social advance) is precisely what recommends it as an ideal to politicians such as President Sarkozy, and indeed to most other western politicians, virtually irrespective of their putative political stripe. The fact that, reform notwithstanding, there are always differences in outcomes for different groups or classes of human beings in any society means that there is always scope, in the name of equality of opportunity, for further interference and control by politicians and bureaucrats. Not permanent revolution (to change the communist metaphor from Stalinism to Trotskyism), but permanent reform is the modern western politico-bureaucratic class’s route to lasting power and control.

Why anyone should want lasting power and control is to me a mystery: I suppose it must be the answer to a deep and insatiable inner emptiness.

And Bill Whittle at PJTV (here) seeks an answer to the question: ‘What type of person wants to run for office?’ He cites two men in history who attained supreme power and did not cling to it. Each of them saw his position as a temporary job, the exercise of power as a duty he owed to the people, and when he had done what was needed, stepped down from high office and returned to private life. One was the (5th.century B.C.E.) Roman leader Cincinnatus, and the other was George Washington.

If there are any politicians now who consider taking on elected office only as a service, they would be found (and it’s really not very likely that they exist) on the conservative right. Leftist politicians want above all to command, manipulate, control people, even force them to change their nature. There’s an old and ongoing debate among political philosophers of the left as to whether The Revolution will bring about a transformation of human nature, or whether it is necessary for human nature to be reconstructed first in order for The Revolution to be accomplished. (An infamous example of a Commie who fretted over this artifiical problem is Herbert Marcuse, guru of the 1968 New Left in Europe.)

Right now, ‘progressive’ bureaucrats in New York see it as their  business – and of course their pleasure – to interfere not just in New Yorkers’ but the whole nation’s private lives by dictating what people may eat or not eat.

Daniel Compton writes in OpenMarket.org:

On Monday, city officials rolled out an initiative to curb the salt content in manufactured and packaged foods. But the idea behind it — that salt intake has reached extreme levels in America — is a myth, and this “solution” wouldn’t work, anyway.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley aims to lead a national campaign to reduce the amount of salt in manufactured foods by 25 percent over the next five years. Cutting salt intake is supposed to reduce hypertension-related health problems. But while doctors may advise particular patients to cut down on salt, the science tells us that this is not a public-health problem. …

In other words, Farley’s trying to fight a problem that doesn’t exist. Worse, his new guidelines say that daily sodium intake for most people shouldn’t exceed 1,500 mg — which is a ridiculous 45 percent below the bottom of the normal consumption range [a] UC Davis study identified, and a full 60 percent lower than the worldwide average. …

The UC Davis study also cites surveys showing that sodium intake in the United Kingdom has “varied minimally” over the last 25 years, despite a major government campaign to reduce it.

Overall, the researchers found, salt intake “is unlikely to be malleable by public policy initiatives,” and attempts to change it would “expend valuable national and personal resources against unachievable goals.”

The New York guidelines are voluntary — for now. But the city’s ban on trans fats started that way, too. And the federal Food and Drug Administration has also been looking to get in on the action — it may classify it as a “food additive,” subject to regulation, sometime this year.

Then he comes to what all this regulation-for-our-own-good is really all about:

But this campaign isn’t about public health — it’s about grandstanding on a pseudo-issue ginned up by activists, when science clearly shows that there’s neither a crisis nor a way for the government to actually alter our salt intake.

All these initiatives do is win headlines for ambitious policymakers (New York’s last health commissioner parlayed his trans-fat activism into a promotion to FDA chief), while making food slightly more costly and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of consumers — literally.

Of course, if (or is it when?) the state is the sole provider of health care, it will claim justification for dictating to us what we may eat and how we must live, on the grounds that as it pays for our cures it has the right or the duty to instruct us to stay healthy. That’s why Obama and the Democrats so desperately want their health care legislation to be passed: not really to help keep us alive, but to have the means and the pretext for controlling us. As always with the left, they will boss us about in the name of a benign intention and an essential need.

The despotic personality is hard if not impossible for libertarians to understand. Individualists are appalled by the totalitarian vision of collectivists. Speaking for ourselves, in no conceivable circumstances would we want to organize a community. We find in the weakness of our unreconstructed human nature that it’s hard enough to run even one life – each our own.

  • mattw – The Party of a political busybody is irrelevant. The appetite for power is what we're talking about. We're saying that the personality that seeks election to high office is more likely to be driven by an appetite for power than by a wish to serve. In any case, there are 'progressives' among Republicans (Schwarzenegger, for instance, in my view), just as there are 'conservatives' among Democrats – or so we're told by the polls. It seems that a majority of the electorate think of themselves as conservative, yet a Marxist has been elected to the White House!
    And please don't knock our snarky/outraged tone. It took us years to perfect it, and we're ever so proud of it.

  • mattw

    re: ‘progressive’ bureaucrats in New York.

    The salt plan, like the smoking ban, was hatched in the offices of Bloomberg, a Republican. I am against the salt thing as I was the smoking ban, but it's silly to take a snarky/outraged tone when it's your side that is committing the offense.

    • I am the author of the article, and I think a few things need to be clarified.

      First, the “snarky/outraged tone” was not my doing. The way I wrote it, it was more or less neutral in tone, focusing only on the facts. The snarky tone was courtesy of the NY Post Op-Ed editor. If you are familiar with the NY Post, you will know that they only print things with that sort of hyper-sensationalistic tone, and I was happy to let them change it to get it printed.

      Second, and more importantly, I most certainly do NOT consider Bloomberg, or any Republican by that virtue alone, to be on my “side”. I am a non party-affiliated libertarian–a minarchist of the most radical slant, devoted to free markets and free people. I do not side with the Republicans, I do not side with the Democrats, and I do not side with the Libertarian party itself. I side only with those who express commitment to the same ideals to which I have committed myself. Toeing the party line is an act suited only for those who are incapable of independent thought, or are too cowardly to exercise it.

      • Daniel Compton – thank you for your comment. We too are minarchists (I like your word for it) and entirely agree with what you say.

        We were glad to find your excellent article. Your points are clear even though the NY Post imposed its house style on it. It is an issue we wanted to deal with, and found that you had done all the work for us.

        I thought that mattw meant our style is 'snarky/outraged'. Actually, I don't think either ours or the NY Post's in this instance fits his description.

        But we often are outraged, as one ought to be by much that's happening in America.