Time to abandon the preferential option for the federal government?
Large parts of the West already are subject to such regimes; Western European countries we still call “free” are devoid of private schools and colleges, bare of private charities, unfriendly to parents’ rights in education (some, such as Germany, jail homeschoolers and take away their kids), and willing to punish impolitic speech with terms in prison. These are the countries good American liberals look to as exemplars, while too many “conservatives” respond by promoting a kind of anarchism, or denying that real injustices can occur in private life or local government. It is our task as sober defenders of ordered liberty to recognize real injustice where it occurs, and offer solutions that do not play into the hands of power-hungry or utopian ideologues.
We must promote the values demanded by the principle of solidarity — our obligations to each of our fellow human beings merely because they are human — guided by the dictates of subsidiarity, which warn us not to give the federal government any power it does not absolutely need. Such transfers of power, from the individual to the local government, or the local government to the federal, are usually irreversible.
As Robert Higgs demonstrated in his classic Crisis and Leviathan, national “emergencies” (real, perceived, or manufactured) are frequently used by the advocates of centralized bureaucracy as the pretext for grabbing control over citizens’ lives, or seizing the powers proper to local communities and states. But even when the emergency ends, those citizens’ rights or local liberties are rarely given back. Clawing back liberties from a central government is always and everywhere like trying to take back a bone from a snarling dog. Why else did the federal government, which rightly instituted the military draft in the wake of Pearl Harbor, keep conscription in place for almost thirty years after the surrender of Japan? A policy which was necessary after our country had been attacked was left in place once it was no longer really needed, giving politicians the manpower they needed to engage in other “wars of choice” where the nation’s survival was not really in peril. Had the World War II era draft not still been in place, and had President Lyndon Johnson been forced to rely on volunteers, would he have marched so confidently into the war in Vietnam?
Our defeat in southeast Asia did at least give politic
ians the impetus to dismantle the draft. If that had not happened — if presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama had had at their disposal the means to coerce millions of Americans into service — who knows how many more “wars of choice” those presidents might have launched? Carter might have gone to war with Khomeni’s Iran. Reagan might have occupied Nicaragua or El Salvador, instead of just little Grenada. Bush I might have marched his troops all the way to Baghdad in the first Gulf War. Clinton could have occupied Yugoslavia, and sorted out the ethnic division of that country as his advisors saw fit. Bush II might have had the manpower to open even more bloody fronts in the neoconservatives’ “long war” against Islamic extremism, and attempt to impose American-style democracy in every corner of the globe (a goal he laid out in his infamous second inaugural address). And Barack Obama would have ordered our soldiers into Syria, where they would be dodging bullets right now.
Such are the military consequences of leaving unbounded, irrevocable power in the hands of the few in Washington, D.C. The civilian consequences are equally bad. The vast and tottering pyramid scheme of the U.S. entitlement system, which threatens national bankruptcy within the next fifty years, is the ugly outcome of neglecting subsidiarity in the policies we enacted, and employing a
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