On Government: Domination
Government is a state of human nature. Like family, it always exists in some form, whether we’ve chosen it or not.
Consider that for a moment.
At its most basic, government is a set of rules by which we deal with other humans. If you have two humans who know of each other’s existence and who are in proximity to one another, you have government. It can be nothing more than “I’ll not go into your area. You don’t come into mine.” Conversely, it can be “You’ll do as I say, and give me some of your stuff.” to which “I am afraid of you and will acquiesce.”
If men treated each other respectfully, taking only what was theirs to take, government, as an institution, would be negligible. Do you need police when nothing is stolen, lives are not taken nor property trespassed? How many courts are needed when people take responsibility for their own actions? What bureaucrats are necessary when income is not redistributed, but instead held by its earner? What need for taxation when the job of government is done by the governed?
We generally consider government to be a mutually beneficial, willful creation of man. It can be, but it hasn’t always been. For most of our existence it has been, for most people, something forced upon them. From earliest history, we know only of those who ruled over others. The clan leader, chieftain, or king was the strongman who imposed his will upon clan, tribe, or kingdom. All others bent to his rule. His word was law.
The propensity for man to dominate is innate. It is who we are. We try to control things, and often others. “Here’s some land. It looks good. I’ll take it.” How many times in history has this happened? How often was that same land already claimed by others? These encounters probably went one of three ways:
“Oops, my bad. No harm, no foul, right?”
“OK. I’ll fight you for it.”
“Please, don’t kill me! Do my children have to be slaves, too?”
Even those systems we look to as “enlightened” were in fact far from it. The demos of Ancient Greece was not the entire population. It was in practice an enlarged oligarchy or aristocracy, available only to some men. Only around ten percent of the Athenian population held citizenship. If you were not a citizen, you were little better than slaves, and were in no way represented. Women were seen only as extensions of their men, and had no rights of their own.
The publicus of Rome was a much larger body of people than was the Greek demos, but citizenship was held by only a minority of Romans. It too was largely controlled by an aristocracy, patricians. The common citizen, plebian, had to have fealty to a member of this group, a Pater familias, who ruled and represented his extended “family” and was either a Senator or loyal to one. The Roman Senate was “representative” only in a way similar to the English House of Lords before the advent of the Commons. The plebian ostensibly had a voice in direct democracy, the assemblies, but it was limited in scope and any true authority was eventually removed to the Senate.
Ultimately, these systems which allowed participation of the governed in government, limited as it might have been, crumbled under the seemingly inexorable effects of man and time in society. As witnessed repeatedly in history these men succumbed to the impulse to dominate. They were either overthrown from without, or they willingly gave up power to a leader, be it Tyrant or Caesar. Here is demonstrated the other side of domination in man: Given the right circumstances, all men may feel the need to be dominated.
The desire to be led, to be told what to do and how to do it, is evidenced in all societies. Some cultures, particularly traditionalist societies, have built entire systems around mores and rules which inculcate a belief in the necessity to be lead, to submit to the authority of others. Other societies, such as ours, have developed a culture where the individual is taught to find his own way and to bridle at the bit of authority. Regardless, every people have felt it necessary at some point to give control to an overarching power.
Throughout history, we have seen the people grant near absolute power to a One. What commonality has there been to these episodes? It has always been in times of perceived mortal danger. When we are in fear for our very existence, we want something to ease our worries and someone to take the reins from us. Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon, Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt. These men, their ideas, and their governments were allowed to take control because the people believed it was necessary for survival.
The ability for a “strongman” to dominate in times of trouble is oft touched upon in political history and theory. Less discussed is this phenomenon’s half-brother, the human preference for security over liberty. It is a tool used constantly to slowly strip away our freedoms in exchange for the perceived lessening of risk. Like the proverbial frog in a pot, we allow our liberties to slowly cook away in the nice, warm bath of government.
Those who seek to subjugate their fellow-man have seized upon our aversion to risk as the means to induce us toward our own imprisonment. By making us fearful, they can enact laws and regulations restricting our actions and liberties. They want us to believe that if we give up certain small freedoms, our lives will be safer, healthier and longer. “Just put on this straightjacket and your life will be better.” At no point are you reminded that even a life lived in a rubber room eventually comes to an end. What possible life have you traded for “safety?” Was it really worth the cost?
Most people only see today. The scope of history to them is no longer that the length of their own lives. Those of us fortunate to be born in a nation conceived with the ideals
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
should most jealously guard these rights. We should honor the sacrifices made by those who came before us and guaranteed for us these God-given rights. We must not repeat the mistakes of history and allow fleeting, momentary needs to undermine the base upon which our mansion of liberty is based.