A Life Beyond the State
It is not the State, but individuals that constitute a nation.
For most of its first 150 years, the U.S. federal government subsisted on a budget equivalent to two percent of GDP, mostly from tariffs and none of it from personal or corporate income taxes. It was only under the progressive Woodrow Wilson that a personal income tax was established along with the Federal Reserve Bank and other expansions of the State. Harding and Coolidge attempted to slow and even reverse federal spending, but during the Great Depression, FDR vastly expanded the scale of federal spending in response to the "crisis" of the Great Depression. Every Democrat since FDR has discovered another crisis as the basis for further expansion of government power over the individual.
Today, the power of the State has grown to the extent that those who oppose the growth of government powers are "nudged" (Obama's favorite word), censored, and intimidated. Those with less awareness — liberals and progressives — actually support this ongoing assault on liberty. They are mindless robots who mumble the phrases they have been taught, such as this year's "democracy is dead if Republicans win," despite the fact that it is government expansion under Democrats that truly imperils democracy.
According to one estimate, the average American adult, whether on the right or the left, spends almost 12 hours a day watching and listening to media, much of it news and political commentary. This interaction with media is largely a one-way street. Viewers are not engaged in active discussion or thought; they are told what to think, even as they are encouraged to "like" and "follow." With most media, such as the mainstream news channels or morning shows, they are harangued by anchors who raise their voices, lift their eyebrows, and employ all sorts of other gestures and expressions to end the discussion even as they read the "news." Viewers are made to feel that they are ignorant or immoral if they dare to disagree.
This has certainly been the case from the beginning with reporting on COVID, when liberal media endorsed the Chinese lie that the disease originated in a "wet market" and followed up with a string of justifications for lockdowns and restrictions, including long-term school closures. As with everything else, liberal media served as the handmaiden of the State.
This dependence on media is deadly for the life of democracy. A free people should live confidently beyond the control of the State, conscious of their own rights and careful to preserve them. They should exercise their own common sense, not rely on Harvard experts to decide what is best. Unfortunately, we are now a long way from this ideal of freedom.
Government spending at all levels has risen to $10.3 trillion out of total U.S. GDP of $21 trillion. Much of that spending is directed toward "educating," shaping, and intimidating individuals so that they become enthusiastic supporters of the State. There is no reason why the federal government can't exercise its specified powers on 2% of GDP rather than the current 33.4%. Government spending not only deprives individuals of their earnings, but provides government with the means of controlling them. Freedom is impossible when the State spends half of the money that should be in the hands of individuals.
An obvious first step would be the elimination of both the individual and corporate income taxes, coincident with the elimination of many government departments. The Heritage Foundation's Budget Blueprint, which involves reduction in personal and corporate taxes and elimination of unconstitutional departments and agencies, is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. The Budget Blueprint does stress the correlation between government spending and loss of individual freedom, and rightly so. To take one example, the proposed doubling of IRS funding in the name of catching tax cheats would lead to huge intrusion and repression into the lives of innocent individuals who would be forced to think of how their actions might look to auditors and regulators. That is not the condition of free men.
What we have is tyranny at every turn and progressives planning on vastly greater tyranny in the future, all of it funded by enormous expansion of government spending. I admire those individuals who practice peaceful civil disobedience in the name of freedom. I have done so myself, at cost to my career and academic reputation. There must be resistance, or the State will surely pervert our democracy and strip us of the freedoms we enjoy.
Along with civil disobedience, individuals can defy tyranny by meeting informally and speaking freely about what they believe. Tens of millions of Americans have begun to participate in this underground resistance. When they come together, they mock Biden, speak of government excesses, express their resentment of progressive policies, and pledge never to give in. That sort of informal rebellion is healthy because, even if in private, it builds solidarity. But it is only the beginning.
Individuals must speak out in public as well — at school board and town council meetings, and at town halls with their elected representatives. They must demand accountability from politicians, social media, teachers, university professors and administrators, and every other extension of State power. And they must always work to reduce that power.
The midterm election was a disappointment for conservatives, even though Republicans took the House of Representatives and a large number of state and local offices. The blame game has begun, but the truth is that not enough voters understood the stakes or cared enough about their future, including tens of millions who were willing to endorse greater government control in exchange for support for special issues such as abortion "rights," LGBT legislation, and expansion of affirmative action with talk of slavery reparations.
Taking the House and state and local offices is a victory, and it should have a positive impact, but the midterms revealed above all that America is divided, equally, between those who wish to be clients of the State and those who wish to preserve liberty. The impact of State propaganda via the traditional liberal media and new social media is so great that it may be difficult ever to return to a nation of free people under limited government — a democracy in which one does not hesitate to speak for fear of being ostracized, demoted, labeled a "denier," or accused of hate speech. In a democracy, one can say whatever one likes so long as it is not slanderous or imminently dangerous to others.
Without exception, our Founders would have understood our condition as the just sort of tyranny that they strove so hard to escape under the British and prevent in the future. We can resist, but for the present we cannot escape because half of our population is willing to sell its vote in exchange for special recognition. Those of us who wish to be free must struggle, peacefully but with determination, to block the expansion of State power and to preserve our freedom. Success will not come quickly or easily, but we must live with our partial victories while we hope for more.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture, most recently Heartland of the Imagination (2011).
Image via Max Pixel.