Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Perfect Government

Mankind has been searching for the perfect government, longer than it has been searching for the ability to transmute lead into gold. But while transmutation can turn lead into gold, no amount of energy in the world can make a government perfect. The atomic structures of every metal are a known quantity, but human beings are not. And never can be.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applies not just to electrons, but even more so to the paired entanglement of government and the governed. No system that rules over men can ever work perfectly. Nor was it ever meant to. But that hasn't stopped progressive ideologies and philosophies from trying over and over again in age after age. Their goal is to create a perfect government that can then turn out perfect men.

Most such philosophies seek to use the power of government to regiment and thereby uplift man by imposing their system on him. Society is their petri dish. The citizens are their microbes. Squirt a drop here or there to see what develops. If the American experiment was in self-government, most of its modernist counterparts were experiments in comprehensive government. In the absolute imposition of modern scientific government to make its citizens better people.

The problem with setting out to create the perfect government is that it demands perfect people, among both government and the governed. You can turn government into a machine, but you can't turn the people who run it or the people who live under it into machines. Most governments, even the bad ones, recognize this. A tyrant knows his limits, a progressive does not. His goal passes beyond the relative power of a tyrant, to the absolute power of a god. The tyrant seeks to dominate men. The progressive wants to recreate them.

The perfect government represents an idea in its chrysalis. It is more than a set of offices, rather it is a set of beliefs about how people should live. The perfect government is a plan for making perfect men. It is a plan that never succeeds, but its moral authority nevertheless derives from that plan.

The people of the Soviet Union did not live under Communism. They lived under a Communist government whose goal was to one day achieve true Communism, at which point the whole system of authority wielded by the Party would no longer be needed. The rulers always assured the people that True Communism was only a generation away. Like a mirage, the perfect system, whether it is Communist or any other, is always on the horizon. And always just out of reach. When the idealists die off or are sent away to the Gulags, it recedes into nothing more than a justification for holding power.

Ideological government exists for the sake of the plan. Every time Obama gets up and delivers another teleprompter fed speech full of grandiose yet pointless spending plans, he is keeping hope alive in the plan. The constant flow of new proposals is vital to maintaining the illusion of forward momentum by a progressive government. True Communism and the brotherhood of man is always just another 5 year plan away.

The basic structure of government is a set of rules governing the behavior of those under its purview. For governments, the predictable is also the ideal. If you can convince most people to behave the same way, then the task of governing them is made much easier. With this shift in attitude, the predictable becomes the lawful, and the unpredictable becomes criminal. Laws no longer exist to prevent harm to others, but as sheep fences to keep everyone moving in the same direction. This marks the shift from the representative to the bureaucratic-- from self-government to comprehensive government.

Self-government is concerned with ownership, comprehensive government with its plan. And the plan requires predictability, which it then confuses with perfectibility. The ideal citizen becomes sheeplike, a predictable tiny gear in the vast machine of government. And though he may deficient in every capacity, his compliance with the plan makes him seem like the perfect citizen that the perfect government is seeking. Comprehensive government robs its people of initiative in order to maintain the plan. But since it is people who must implement the plan, the perfect government becomes a dumb machine in which everyone follows orders and no one is aware of consequences.

The dumb machine of government cannot be adjusted without initiative, whether it is at the local DMV office or at the highest levels of power in Washington D.C. And a government that deliberately breeds initiative out of its people, not only destroys them, but also destroys itself. The people learn to adjust by entering black market economies. But the government cannot make the same adjustments. And eventually the people, whether in authority or in the streets, tear it down. The death of structural initiative always puts the ball in the rebels' court. Whether it is the rebels on the inside or the outside. That is how Communism fell.

The perfect government desires to remake men in conformity with an idea. But the idea is always more ephemeral than the man. Ideas come and go, but humanity endures. A thousand Ozymandias statues have been erected and toppled to numerous and varied ideologies. One statue falls, another rises. A revolution against one state ushers in a new state. No system of government is immortal. But that is what the perfect government wishes to be. Its ambition is to put its undying stamp on the future. To stamp humanity in a final and unyielding mold.

The scientific government was one of modernism's greatest illusions. If man was nothing more than another set of biological phenomena, then it seemed to the progressives that there was every reason that science should encompass his every thought and deed. From the Behaviorist to the bureaucrat, the science of man seemed immutable. A rich field waiting to be mined by armies of social science researchers and cabinet professors.

But while science did roll back poverty-- it did so through economics of productivity, not sociology. Every social measure meant to treat poverty, from eugenics to welfare, left an ugly stamp on the nation. While the ugly factories with their black smokestacks raised a generation out of the dim abyss of poverty. The attempts to perfect man by sterilizing the unfit or pandering to them failed, man succeeded not by tinkering with human nature, but by plying his own ingenious art of productivity.

The perfect government had failed at every turn, yet it endured. Its plans drained the economy and sucked away the blessings that productivity brought at every turn. But it endured where productivity did not. Productivity offered the promise of a better future, but the 'Plan' promised a perfect future. The productivity demanded responsibility, the 'Plan' only pliant compliance. Productivity was realistic. The 'Plan' was unrealistic. And it is the unreal that appeals to the human imagination, more than the real. 'Hope and Change' resonates more than 'Hard Work'. A chance to return to the Garden of Eden, even if it is the serpent that offers us the key.

Perfect governments are abusive, but hold an undying appeal. Their power over the human imagination is as dangerous as their contempt and cruelty toward their imperfected subjects. A government that exists to impose the authority of its rulers is bad enough, but one that exists to impose ideological compliance is worse. The disparity of power in all forms of government breed corruption and abuses, as well as stretching a reality gap that prevents the rulers from being in touch with the actual situation on the ground. But ideological government dramatically increases the reality gap and the power disparity, and quickly become more corruptly abusive than any ordinary government will.

It is easier to oppress in the name of an idea, than in the name of a man, because there is no accompanying recognition of cruelty. Once the idea has been defined as the absolute good of mankind, then no act however cruel and merciless will appear so. Thus a private insurance company denying insurance coverage to a dying patient is perceived as behaving monstrously, while a government health insurance system doing the same thing is acting for the good of all. This is collectivist morality, the belief that the morality or immorality of an act is defined by whether its placement on the sliding scale of the collective good or the selfish individual. And collectivist morality is the moral principle of progressive government. To compromise the rights of individuals, for the needs of the many.

The only law that the perfect government recognizes is its own plan. It will kill for the plan. And it will disown any institution or power that is an obstacle to the plan. It will wreck economies, slay millions and ignore reality in the pursuit of its plan. The worst crimes will come to seem like virtues and the ugliest deeds of its followers will shine like gold. It will hold to no consistent ideas or principles, but the perpetuation of the plan. It will dance with the devil one night, and build a ladder to heaven on the next. Its lofty ambition will make its cynicism seem like idealism. It will have no loyalties or allegiances to anything but the mirage of the plan shimmering over the far desert sands.

The perfect government is the plantation. Its idealism expresses itself as regimentation. Its plan is to lay the whip on their backs until they trot through the right gate and out into the maze of progress, which will lead them at last to the plan. The less certain the authorities are about the plan, the more they lay on the whip.

Imperfect mankind is the enemy of perfect government. It is the bane and the inspiration for it. It obstructs all its plans and its one great plan, in which men seek to overcome the collective nature of humanity, when they have invariably not even overcome their own natures. The leader worship and the cults of personality associated with perfect government create the illusion that the leaders have already been perfected. That we should allow them to be our guides because they have already achieved a higher state of being. But the halo on their heads is nothing but a trick of the light. They are the avatars of a secular religion which places its faith in its own power to remake mankind with the reins of government. But men cannot be remade, imperfectly they remake themselves.


Anonymous said...

The best government is always limited government - the founders of course knew this to be true. A great illustration to your story is smoking. I don't smoke, nor do I care to inhale smoke. However, I never had a problem with the solution being a smoking and non-smoking area in a restaurant. As long as they are separated enough it was never a problem. Now we have a Government campaign that has shut down smoking almost everywhere because of its ill effects to our health. Now the sheep all agree that its an outrage to be forced to be around smoking (not questioning what is next.) I think the ultimate progressive government destroys the ability of people to reason and make judgments for themselves. This becomes dangerous when it begins to challenge other aspects of our lives - from what we eat to what we believe - all in the name of a good and benevolent government.

Thanks for the article I enjoy reading your blog just about every day.

lemon said...

I believe mankind rejected perfect government in Gan Eden (garden of eden) when he rejected divine revelation as the source of all knowledge.
We are now stuck for a while with ugly substitutes.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with what Lemon said. We could've had direct communion with God but it was rejected and so we're stuck with "ugly substitutes.

Great article, Daniel. There can never be a perfect government because people are imperfect. A utopia would be impossible because one group's idea of perfect may not align with what another group would want. Any kind of "utopia" that was instituted on this earth would come with some kind of a price. That's exactly what you said, but much more eloquently than I.

By the way, after watching Jihad Bells the other day I then got caught up on the other Latma videos I've missed. I had seen one or two, I think you linked to the Under the Sea with "Obama" singing. I also did some reading of Caroline Glick's past articles. She's great and so from now on I will be adding "read Caroline Glick" on my to do list right after "check Sultan Knish's blog."
I'll be looking forward to your round up tomorrow. Hey, after a week and a half of snow days I've been able to read to my heart's content.


Anonymous said...

I just posted a rather long comment and I forgot to preview it first. I've noticed that when I don't preview my comments you don't post them, so I'm wondering if it's because my comments are getting lost in cyberspace. This is a test to see if my theory is correct.


Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

thank you anonymous. the progressive government is always looking to make people feel that they need layers of regulation to protect them from increasingly imaginary threats

debra, Glick is certainly worth reading. So is Sarah Honig. People sometimes say comments don't go up, it's hard to know why. But I don't think you need to preview a comment for it go through

Anonymous said...

Shalom Mr. Knish (does it refer to the traditional yiddishe potato knishes?),
I began learning Torah a few years ago, after being raised almost without contact to Judaism, and at the same time I began to read about libertarianism and free-market economics at
I've been heavily influenced by Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard's ideas, and since then I know that the "ideal government" is NO government at all (or as smallest as practically feasible).
All forms of government are plain evil - only a Torah kingdom can be just. Man's laws are imperfect and change according to the winds of time, while our Torah is perfect and eternal.
Government only exists through violence; all taxes are theft - only voluntary contributions are morally correct, like the maasser and terumah.
But this space is limited to debate the subject in depth.
Congratulations for your article.

R. Halevy
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

S. said...

This is a brilliant summary of how a mechanistic view of human beings combined with utilitarianism, can lead to the progressive attempt to create an earthly paradise through the right combination of legal and economic formulas. Once you take it as a given that there is no transcendent reality, and that men are self-interested seekers of comfort and pleasure ("happiness"), there is no reason why the government should not intervene in order to coordinate self-interested individuals to maximize the comfort and pleasure of all.

Incidentally, faith in the power of free-markets to create the best possible society is a relatively benign form of the same underlying pathology, except in this case, the most efficient form of government intervention is deemed to be non-intervention.

HermitLion said...


As a rule of thumb, I always copy comments to the clipboard (Ctrl+C on windows systems) before posting. This way, if something goes wrong, I can paste them again easily; and when particularly paranoid, you can also save the text in a file through notepad.

Like they say - better safe than sorry :)

Anonymous said...

I will try that HermitLion - it's frustrating to write a long response only to lose it in cyberspace and then not remember all the great points (well at least to me) that I made:)


Walking Horse said...

The point about tyrants is crucial. The thoughtful tyrant knows that allowing some leeway for individual action means individuals produce more, so there is more for him to steal from the citizenry. The progressive is so in thrall to his delusions that the negative effects of control are overlooked.

-- WH

peter said...

"Kindly let me help you before you drown", said the monkey to the fish...putting him safely up a tree.
This is a paraphrased quote from my buddy, the late Alan Watts that comes to mind far too often nowadays.

I have thought about taking a stab (figuratively speaking) at world domination, but even in my own mind, knowing my sincere, humble and self sacrificing intentions...even truly "feeling" the reality of these intentions, I cannot envision anything even approaching a perfect world.

Anonymous said...

Well said..or written, anyway.

Your example of humans being treated as a petri dish brought to mind a scene in the movie "Serenity". After witnessing first hand the horrific results of the Alliance bio-engineered social modification experiment on the planet Miranda, Captain Mal Reynolds explains to his crew about the nanny-state mentality of the Alliance goverment:

"They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave."

The second one is from the Lord of the Rings books. Sam Gamgee, faithful friend of Frodo, is tempted by the lure of the Sauron's ring to use it's power to turn MiddleEarth into a beautiful garden. Fortunately, he sees the folly and cruelty that would result, and resists keeping the ring.

Would that our leaders would have keep those examples in mind.

Dedicated_Dad said...

To Anon#1 in re "smoking" -- what you're apparently missing is that restaurants are PRIVATE PROPERTY - and as such the only one with the right to make any decision about smoking (or farting, or dress-code, or... or... or...) is the owner of said property.

This does not mean that basic building codes aren't permissible, but the .gov has no right to dictate what LEGAL BEHAVIOR will or will not be allowed on private property.

I'd compromise on a demand that the door be posted "tobacco smoking is allowed on these premises" so those with allergies or other high risk to exposure would be notified before entering.

Otherwise, the owner of the restaurant is rightly free to decide - and the potential patron is likewise free to decide whether to enter or not.

Ultimately, THE MARKET will decide. If there's a bigger market for smoke-free establishments, they'll exist. If not, then they won't. In reality, there would soon be a mixture, including some smoke free, some all-smoking, and some with separated areas and good ventilation to keep them separated.

Spare me the "wait-/bar-staff shouldn't be forced to... -- because nobody is FORCING them to work there, or even in that field. We can't eliminate all risks from other fields (mining, steelworkers, electricians, etc) -- those risks go with the job, and the worker decides if the compensation is worth the risks involved.

Likewise, waiters/bartenders must do a similar thing, and decide if smoke-exposure is worth the other compensation.

What we currently have is tyranny.

Jesterhead45 said...


That makes sense, after all it is said that G-d saw that the World he created was Good or in other words "built to purpose", even the original purpose of Evil (which existed outside of Man prior to the fall) before its corruption was to more or less enable a person / nation / etc to grow and develop, sort of like a Boxing Coach or Drill Sergeant.

Than Mankind ate from the Tree of Knowledge and "became like G-d" in the sense that man now carried within him not only Good & Evil, but the belief that mankind / the world can somehow be "perfected" or remade into his image of how things should be in his subjective point of view.

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