Stop waiting for policy

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I mentioned recently in this space a book by John Pepall, Against Reform, just published, which gets to the core of national politics. And while it might seem on its surface to be merely a provocation, it is in fact deeply serious and informative. Its point being that, without exception, every proposal to change the way we do things, politically, by reforming the constitution, is intrinsically wrong and foolish.

Conversely, when constitutions must be changed, they are changed by necessity. There is never any need to plan.

To which I would add my own political prescription, which might be summarized under the title “Against Policy.” As readers so patient as to have followed my arguments for the last dozen weeks will already have discerned, I deny the need for bureaucracy in public affairs, and therefore decry every proposed solution to a public problem that demands a new policy.

And what I have already said in previous columns can easily enough be applied to all the other government departments; and I can make a conclusion of the series this week. The rule of thumb that I propose to replace policy is: eliminate any function of government that requires organized coercion, for any purpose other than law, order, national defence, and the occasional symbolic flourish.

Leave the people to manage their own affairs; leave them even to make their own arrangements for charity; trust human nature to provide what needs providing, for we do have an instinct to survive.

This may seem a radical prescription, and a critic might cruelly suggest that such a rule of thumb is in fact a policy. To be reasonable, I would have to admit that some operations, which resemble bureaucracy, would have to survive. There must be paymasters, and thus some accounting; and even much reduced taxes would have to be collected in some way. But my point is sustained if gentle reader will agree that such arrangements are necessary evils—that they shouldn’t be advocated as good in themselves.

Meanwhile I deny that this approach is radical. For I am merely proposing a return to the status quo ante the 20th century. To those who wish to invoke horrors in the world of the 19th century and before, my reply is that these fall into two categories: material problems of poverty and disease that no government ever solved; and other evils that will always be with us. Against definable evildoers we have always needed laws, courts, and prisons. We do not need government programs for the rest of us, however.

At the root of all the reforms and policies of that 20th century, according to me, was a massive loss of faith. Our ancestors began by questioning not so much the existence, but the efficacy, of God; a whole tendency of thought that might be traced through intellectual history, if not back to the Garden of Eden. It was expressed most candidly in the French Revolution, and it has been responsible there and since for the largest massacres of history. State atheism is the greatest killer our world has ever known, vastly more murderous than all of history’s religious wars. The idea that humans could tackle problems larger than the human through method of some kind—that we could find a means to save ourselves along a route to Utopia—is indeed older than the last century. But the idea that such method would require vast intrusive Kafkaesque bureaucracies dates back only to Bismarck; and the bureaucratization of the killing fields only to Lenin.

Yet if the 20th century proved anything, it was that insoluble problems cannot be solved. The grandest essays in state control each ended in collapse; and our patient efforts to create welfare states through the Fabian means of representative democracy have ended in bankruptcy. The project of bureaucratic socialism, in its many different forms, has a failure rate of 100 per cent, and the very aspiration needs to be abandoned.

But what to replace it with? Faith.

In the first instance, faith in God: that the universe is constructed to some good end, that our own redemption is not impossible, that guidance is available above the human plane.

In the second instance, faith in our neighbours: that given their freedom, they will often enough provide what is necessary to themselves and their families, and that when they fail, other humans will help.

Faith, in this sense, is in human nature, and ultimately indistinguishable from faith in God: that He has made men and women capable of performing the tasks set before them.

Therefore what we need is not available through political action. It is available instead through our own minds and hands; through our own direct intervention to fix what seems wrong; through our own cocreative efforts to advance the good, the true, and the beautiful.

It is in our nature, when we see a man fallen, to help him up. It is not in our nature to wait for the government to arrive. Therefore stop waiting, and live.

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