My wife grew up in Lithuania when it was part of the Soviet Union, so she had plenty of opportunity to observe the new Soviet man that the ideologists of the Communist Party thought they had created in their planned society. She was not impressed and nor were the rest of the Soviet people. Popular culture and specifically anti-Soviet jokes, found plenty of ways to pillory the idea of the new Soviet man as in the saying “They pretend they are paying us, and we pretend we are working.” Since then I have always been interested in the effect that governments have on the character and manners of its citizens.
H.L. Mencken wondered why it was that most people would consider theft from the government to be a less serious crime than theft from an individual. He answered the question in his usual inimitable way:
“When a private citizen is robbed, a worthy man is deprived of the fruits of his industry and thrift; when the government is robbed, the worst that happens is that certain rogues and loafers have less money to play with than they had before.”
Is there any justification for this assumption that government is full of ‘rogues and loafers’ or is this just a political statement by a notoriously crotchety essayist? Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek thought the former. In his classic work ‘The Road To Serfdom’ he included a chapter called ‘Why the Worst Get on Top’. Although Hayek was trying to explain the rise of totalitarian governments his arguments are pertinent to the makeup of all powerful governments. To attract a large group of supporters with similar views, Hayek claims that governments have to appeal to people with less education and intelligence. This is simply because people with more intelligence and education tend to have more varied and distinct views and to find a large enough group of people with identical views you have to appeal to people with lower standards where ‘the more primitive instincts prevail’. Secondly, to expand the number of its supporter’s government must appeal to people who have no strong beliefs of their own and so are more willing to accept someone else’s neatly packaged views. In addition, the easiest way for a government to bind its supporters together in a close-knit group is to have a negative agenda in which ‘we’ are contrasted favorably with ‘them’ whether they be Jews, kulaks, ‘terrorists’, the rich, the one percent, environmentalists, welfare recipients, private employers or illegal immigrants. Finally, as government has a monopoly on the use of force in society, it makes sense that only people who are comfortable exercising such force or power, would be attracted to work in government.
According to law enforcement examiner Jim Kouri, politicians share a number of traits with serial killers. Kouri writes:
“What doesn’t go unnoticed is the fact that some of the character traits exhibited by serial killers or criminals may be observed in many within the political arena. While not exhibiting physical violence, many political leaders display varying degrees of anger, feigned outrage and other behaviors. They also lack what most consider a “shame” mechanism. Quite simply, most serial killers and many professional politicians must mimic what they believe, are appropriate responses to situations they face such as sadness, empathy, sympathy, and other human responses to outside stimuli.”
If you still believe that Hayek’s arguments are no more than the musings of an ivory tower academic, then consider the following quotations, and ask yourself whether our system of government was in some way responsible for bringing to positions of supreme power these two men, from both sides of the political spectrum, who were either totally lacking in integrity to start with, or who valued it so lightly that they were willing to throw it away for the sake of a lie.
“Now, I have to go back to work on my State of the Union speech. And I worked on it until pretty late last night. But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people. Thank you.” Bill Clinton, 1998
“I was not lying. I said things that later on seemed to be not true.” Richard Nixon, 1978
If we accept that our government consists largely of ‘rogues and loafers’ what should we do about it? Just because integrity does not mean much to them does not mean that we should abandon ours. If we keep true to ourselves, honoring our word, being measured in our speech and refusing to put a spin on anything, we surely earn the right to demand the same of our ‘servants’ in government. A citizenry confident of its own integrity would not tolerate the absence of integrity in its leaders. Until that time comes we are likely to be stuck with the rogues and loafers.
Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plain, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman. Leon Trotsky