Liberals and control

Strongly held beliefs are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.
  - Friedrich Nietzsche

With the coming nomination, and the possible election, of Barack Obama, history is repeating itself. A venerable liberal yearning finds human expression anew.

For nearly two hundred years liberals have believed that the government can solve complex economic problems like the provision and fair distribution of goods and services. For two hundred years they have tested that belief and for two hundred years they have failed. How is it possible for human beings to stay fixated on an idea that has proven untenable time after time after time? The reason: control.

Liberals, like the rest of us, do not expect the government to mow their lawns. They know how to do that. They control the growth of their lawns. Liberals do not expect the government to repair their cars when they break down. They may not know how to fix their automobiles, but they know how to find someone who does. They can control the working condition of their cars.

But when it comes to almost any problem that is not directly under their control, liberals tenaciously cling to the belief that the government can and should fix it. Our socialized system of education is a deteriorating wreck. I can't fix it by myself -- and neither can you. The liberal solution? More government control of education. Our health care system is the best in the world. But not everyone in America has immediate access to all of its amenities. The liberal solution? Governmental control of medical treatment.

Conservatives have misunderstood this notion of control that dominates the liberal mindset. Conservatives tend to believe that liberals want power.  Conservatives point to liberal politicians and their efforts to socialize various aspects of our lives as proof. But all politicians want power. Generally speaking, politicians are driven by two things: election and ego. The actions of the politician are dictated by the beliefs of the electorate plus the politician's egocentric desire for the recognition of that electorate. Democrats running in the south run as conservatives-not liberals.

As a percentage of the population, very few Americans run for federal office­ -- far less than one per cent. The vast majority of liberals do not want power ... they want control.  These are, for the most part, decent, caring human beings. They want control of things that they feel are unfair or unjust. They want to control, collectively, the things in their lives that they cannot control individually.

There is a problem with this liberal effort to establish communal control over things outside of the ability of the individual to control. It does not and cannot work. Individuals labor and create and provide. Governments do not. A government may hire a person, call that person a government employee, pay the person, and order him to perform a certain task; but the individual hired must choose to perform and then physically perform the requested task. The work of governments is performed by individuals.

Individuals even perform shared tasks. If you and I decide to cooperatively lift a heavy bag of cement, you must lift your half of the bag and I must lift mine. We do not literally share lifting the bag. I lift half and you lift half.  If I refuse to do my "share," you are stuck lifting the entire bag. If you cannot physically lift the bag alone, then the bag stays put. If the bag is too heavy for you to lift by yourself then you cannot control the movement of the bag. Not even if you are a liberal. That is the way human action works in this world.

What holds true in lifting cement bags holds true in social contracts. If you and I contract to "share" the costs of "public" housing for the indigent, you will pay half and I will pay half.  If you refuse to pay your half, then I am stuck with the entire bill. If the price of the housing is too expensive for me to pay, or if I refuse to pay, then a fellow citizen will not be housed for free. That is the way economics work in this world.

And it all comes back to control. Without the direct intervention of force, I cannot control your actions and you cannot control mine. Nor can I, again without the use of force, designate some abstract process of sharing, call it "government," and pretend that I can control something outside of my immediate sphere of influence.

We can talk about communal control and such speech appears to be rational to most people. But it is not. If I say, "The government should clean up the environment." I have not made a rational statement. Governments cannot clean up anything. "Government" is an abstract concept -- not a labor-performing subject, like a janitor, that exists in the real world. People can clean up the environment. More exactly, individuals can clean up the environment.[i]

Liberals falsely believe that speech about communal control can result in actual communal control. But there is no such thing as "communal control."[ii] Nearly all of the millions of people who chant in unison with Barack Obama "yes, we can change," do not want power. They want the impossible. They want communal control. And if they cannot have that control, they can still feel good about their effort to obtain it.

These people will vote for Obama. And, if they succeed in electing him, they will get not communal control ... they will get more government control.

There are thousands of examples of failed socialist experiments that demonstrate this point. But the point itself is not historical. It is factual. It is a simple matter of cause and effect.

Friedrich Nietzsche also said:

Before the effect, one believes in different causes, than one does after the effect.
This seems to be an aphorism that liberals cannot understand ... and that conservatives are beginning to abandon.

Larrey Anderson is a philosopher and writer living in Idaho.  He can be reached at
[i] This is true even if force is used. That is why workers in the former Soviet Union had the saying, "The government pretends to pay us and we pretend to work.

[ii] This is a generalization of a very technical point. Here is the problem: How does one define "communal control?" The vote of elected representatives? A majority democratic vote on every issue? The barrel of a gun?