Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hume and Little "r" Republicanism

Our federal government is a Hobbesian Leviathan, gobbling up power and amalgamating all things into itself. Think of the Trapper Keeper episode of South Park: everything in its path is consumed, and its size is ever-increasing.

Donald W. Livingston, writing at Anamnesis Journal, says Hume's thoughts on human scale and republican tradition need to be examined if Leviathan, and political absolutism, is to be defeated. Here is a sampling from the article:
One instrument of exploitation that especially worried Hume was the invention of public credit or the policy of mortgaging future revenues. This device had a number of pernicious effects. First, “national debts cause a mighty confluence of people and riches to the capital, by the great sums, levied in the provinces to pay the interest” and “by the advantages in trade ... which they give the merchants in the capital above the rest of the kingdom.” Second, a state with mortgaged revenues would have to create new ones; these would fall on consumption leading to “vexation and ruin of the poor.” They would next fall on the proprietors of land, making life more difficult for their tenants. Third, with the collapse of the landed gentry and nobility, a traditional order rooted in land and place would collapse in favor of rule by a new rootless class of stockjobbers and paper money men. “These men,” Hume writes, having “no connections with the state...can enjoy their revenue in any part of the globe in which they chuse to reside, who will naturally bury themselves in the capital or great cities, and who will sink into the lethargy of a stupid and pampered luxury, without spirit, ambition, or enjoyment. Adieu to all ideas of nobility, gentry, and family.” Hume’s criticism of public credit mirrors exactly Jefferson’s criticism of the public debt system proposed by Alexander Hamilton... [A] pure Hobbesian state would emerge with a centralized authority ruling directly over an aggregate of millions of individuals. In this condition, “every man in authority derives his influence from the commission alone of the sovereign.” And “the whole income of every individual in the state must lie entirely at the mercy of the sovereign.” Hume thinks this form of despotism intimated in eighteenth century centralized states, if realized, would be “a degree of despotism, which no oriental monarchy has ever yet attained.” What Hume considered despotism is viewed as normal today. A European monarch in Hume’s day could not order military conscription nor impose an income tax, which would have been viewed as a form of forced labor.

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Even if we reject Rousseau’s demand for direct political participation as extravagant, entertaining a larger sphere for republican life, as Hume did, the ratio of population to representation should still be measured by the human scale if it is to be called republican....consider the United States, which styles itself a republic. There are only 435 representatives in the House of Representatives, ruling over some 309 million people. This yields a ratio of around one representative for every seven hundred ten thousand people. A regime with this ratio cannot be considered a republic, not even a large Humean republic. What is true of the out-of-scale ratio of representatives to people in Britain and the United States is true of most large regimes in the world that style themselves republics. But if they are not in any meaningful sense republics, what are they? An answer was suggested by Tocqueville, who viewed the emerging European “republics” as in reality extensions of absolute monarchy. The French Revolution produced the first modern large scale republic ruling in the name of the people and declaring itself, in Hobbesian fashion, to be “one and indivisible.” The Revolution pretended to effect a total change of French political society, and was thought by many to have done so. Tocqueville, however, argued that the Revolution had fundamentally changed nothing.10 What he meant by this counter-intuitive claim was this. What was wrong with monarchy was not a hereditary executive, but the creation of a centralized bureaucratic administration with a would-be monopoly on coercion over individuals in a territory. The Revolution did not devolve power back to smaller, human scale units in France, but greatly expanded central power beyond anything eighteenth century monarchs could have imagined.

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[I]n large modern republics, the people are said to be sovereign, but their participation too is largely ceremonial and consists typically of choosing periodically between two candidates selected by national political parties of vast scale over which there is little popular control. Hobbes was the first to clearly understand the character of a modern European state. He theorized it as an artificial corporation, what he called an “artificial man.” Government as a public corporation differs from a business corporation in that it possesses a monopoly on coercion in a territory. Its subjects are compelled to buy shares in the corporation through taxes, but cannot trade them, i.e., they cannot secede from the corporation.

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[Hume believed that] the source of degeneracy in republics is the inevitable tendency to abuse public credit...[The effect of this abuse is the] hollowing out the economy of the provinces and, consequently, driving people as well as financial and political power to the center, where a few hundred people—through finance capitalism structured on public debt—would determine the economic prospects of millions.

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The Hobbesian state was said to be one and indivisible, so downsizing it through secession was...ruled out a priori. But that is no longer believable, given the relatively peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union and other modern states thought to be “indivisible”...Theoretically and practically, there is no reason why more small states, even on the scale of the Aristotelean polis, cannot exist today. Indeed, technological innovations and global trade make small states more feasible than in the past. And even large states such as Britain, France, and the United States could be reformed, with an eye to a human scale ratio of representation to population, by reconstituting a “national” legislature into the joint voice of several regional or provincial legislatures in accord with Hume’s model of an extensive republic.

The massive ObamaBudget is all the evidence one needs. Our bloated federal government will not stop, and will consume anything and everything in its path. The abuse of power by this administration and its imposition of debt is stunning. Yes, previous administrations abused power and increased the national debt. That is not part of the current debate. President Obama, his minions, and his useful idiots do not care one damn bit about you, the individual. Power is what they want. Just like the Terminator, they do not feel remorse, fear, or pain. And they absolutely will not stop - ever - until you are dead.

What should be done? To paraphrase Hicks from the movie Aliens, "I say we take off, and nuke the site - politically - from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."

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