Column on Against USA, Inc.

Against USA, Inc.
Tibor R. Machan
Just as in much of human political history the grossest error was to see
society as the household of some leader–pharaoh, monarch, tsar, or
dictator–in our era the mistake is to see society as a company or
corporation that needs a CEO. Although in much of the West the political
idea of monarchy, a country lead by one individual with various measures
of powers–absolute to limited–has been traded in for democracy–one lead
by and for all of the people–this has not proven to be a sufficient
improvement.
The very idea of society as a purposeful organization, like a
corporation, is the big mistake of contemporary politics. It shows up well
during the current transition from the Bush to the Obama administration,
what with the parade of appointments of officers who are supposed to run
various aspects of USA, Inc. The spectacle reminds one of that famous
Monty Python episode, “The Ministry of Silly Walks.” Intentionally or not,
the renown British comedy troupe showed how absurd it is to view
government as the management team of the great variety of elements of a
society.
The basic lesson implicit in the sketch and in much of human political
history is that society is not an organization set up to pursue some goal
such as scientific progress, prosperity, artistic development, physical
fitness, worship of God, etc. Societies are, instead, settings for the
members to pursue their great variety of purposes in ways that are
mutually harmonious, that make it possible for everyone to pursue peaceful
goals that are, however, extremely different from one another.
This is one reason some of us cringe whenever there is talk of how a
country requires a leader! It does not, since a country isn’t headed
anywhere and no expertise of getting it there, the role of a leader, is
relevant to its government. Instead, a country, properly understood, is a
realm within which innumerably varied goals may be pursued by millions of
different people in different peaceful arrangements–as individuals,
families, clubs, corporations, teams, etc., etc. Once it is understood
that adult human beings have a right to their lives, to their liberty, and
to their acquisition of property (valued stuff), it becomes more and more
evident that thinking of society as some purposeful organization is a
gross mistake.
Just consider all these secretaries of this and secretaries of that, and
their innumerable deputies and such, that president-elect Obama is
appointing–what are they all for? To help him take the country down some
road to a destination that he imagines was chosen by the people who voted
him into office. With a private firm, profit or non-profit, this is an
acceptable way to understand the role of the president or CEO and his or
her management team. Those who set up such a firm have come together
aiming for some goal–helping the poor or sick or making cars for profit
and similar familiar pursuits. So the president or CEO has a well enough
defined job to carry out.
But a society isn’t anything like that. The people didn’t come together
to aim for any common goal. (This is what is so misconceived about the
idea of the public interest or the common good other than in some minimal
way, comparable to how referees at a game may be said to pursue the common
good of upholding the rules but without by any means being players.) The
political mission in a society is precisely to provide a framework within
which all the disparate factions–those individuals, clubs, companies,
etc. mentioned earlier–are free to work for what they want to accomplish.
Sadly, most of those doing this will regard their chosen goal to be
politically very important, maybe even superior to all the others being
pursued. But this is a mistake. Here is where equality is an important
aspect of a truly free society–everyone’s peaceful objective is equally
politically worthy of pursuit and the job of government is to secure the
equal right of all to do what they want.
But if so, then politics doesn’t really call for all these secretaries of
this and secretaries of that, as it may be proper in a business
corporation or some other purposeful organization. It calls for a
competent team of peacekeepers, nothing else. And the only element of
democracy in such an organization is that the keeping of the peace, the
securing of rights, is for all members of the community.
Government, even if democratic–meaning one that serves everyone in
society–is to be limited in its scope. That scope is to secure our
rights, just as the American Founders envisioned it.

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