Anti-government, anti-democracy

Anti-government, anti-democracy July 25, 2011

South Carolina GOP County Co-Chair ‘Likes’ Cop-Killing on Facebook,” reports Wonkette’s Kirsten Boyd Johnson.

The article, titled “When Should You Shoot a Cop” appeared on the Facebook page of the Kershaw County Patriots, a tea party group, and it’s filled with what Johnson accurately calls “maniacal anti-government paranoia” such as:

“If politicians think that they have the right to impose any ‘law’ they want, and cops have the attitude that, as long as it’s called ‘law,’ they will enforce it, what is there to prevent complete tyranny?”

To which Johnson replies: “Answer: democracy. Solved. Go home, nutters.”

And that is, of course, the correct answer. But just try to give such an answer to people like the tea partiers of Kershaw County and see where it gets you.

“Democracy” is not an answer that satisfies them. Nor does that answer satisfy many of the vehemently anti-government Randian libertarian types so vocal here on the Web. Their scorn turns out not just to be directed at “the government” or “this government,” but at the entire democratic system of government.

I’m having a hard time making sense of their view. They profess a deep pessimism about the human capacity for self-government, but it comes packaged with an incompatible naive utopianism that believes in unchecked power so long as that power is wielded by anyone not elected by the public.

The contradictions of these Hobbesian hippies are seen most clearly when they are asked to explain what it is that they are for — what it is that they would like to see replace the “government of the people, by the people and for the people” at which they sneer with such vicious contempt.

It’s not easy to get an answer. The sneering seems, for many of them, to be the whole point. That great phrase from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address usually produces from them such an eruption of snorting, contemptuous dismissal that any hope for further conversation evaporates.

Oh puh-leeze, they say, rolling their eyes at the sentiment, astonished that you could be such a sucker, such a patsy and fool, as to take such a phrase seriously.

For a long while I misunderstood this hostility and contemptuousness. I mistook it for frustration with our failure to live up to that grand aspiration as fully as we ought. I wrongly believed that their anger was like my own — an anger arising from the dismaying discrepancy between our noblest ideals and our capacity, will and willingness to approximate them more closely.

But that is not the source of their anger. Their scorn is not directed at our failure to more fully realize the noble ideal of “government of, by and for the people.” Their scorn is directed at the belief that this is a noble ideal or that it is worthy of realization. Quote that glorious phrase from Lincoln and they will roll their eyes and sputter because they think you’re a fool to believe that such a thing could ever be even partially true.

They do not believe in it. They do not believe in government of the people, by the people and for the people. They cannot believe in it because they do not believe in government. That word, to them, means one and only one thing: tyranny. And so they respond to Lincoln’s phrase accordingly — as though he were advocating tyranny of the people, tyranny by the people and tyranny for the people.

And so again I ask, if not democracy, then what? If we are not to govern ourselves, then how are we to be governed?

That’s just it, comes the reply, we shouldn’t be governed at all.

Hence my use of the word “hippies” above, because here we arrive at a bit of naive anarcho-utopian fantasy right out of Woodstock.

And Woodstock, or something like it, is the likeliest short-term outcome of the World With No Government they seek. The freeway will shut down and the basic infrastructure of food, water and sanitation be undersupplied and overwhelmed amid the chaos. The original Woodstock festival was billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music,” and three days of peace is probably as much as one could hope for in such an anti-government Anarchotopia.

Anarchy is unstable and unsustainable. It is always a very brief, transitional phase — the interim during which all that might prevent the strong from preying on and subjugating the weak is swept away. And once it is swept away, the strong are free to impose their will unimpeded. Power abhors a vacuum.

After that Woodstock interim, the final result of this anti-democracy fantasy would likely end up resembling not the first Woodstock, but its later imitations — the corporatized and commodified Woodstock-brand festivals at which everyone is free to buy what they are told to buy. The Galtian overlords running this corporate Aquarian Age will, for a monopolistic price, provide access to food, water, sanitation and security for all who can afford it, for as long as they can afford it and no longer.

It’s possible that I’m not being completely accurate in my characterization of the post-democratic, post-government utopia they imagine. My ability to describe it accurately is constrained by their inability to do so and by their failure to think past their sneering and eye-rolling to provide a viable answer to the question of what it is that they would prefer instead of the system they’re sneering at so aggressively.

So I don’t really know what they want. All I know is what they’ve made very clear: They do not want “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

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