Rational Liberalism: Defining Statism

“When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.”
-Thomas Paine

It’s tempting to disregard the “statist” pejorative or, worse, to misunderstand it, but it is simultaneously one of the most serious criticisms leveled at political philosophies that commonly transgress on individual liberties as well as one of the most frivolous. For those that don’t regularly deal in libertarian circles, the term “statism” is probably unfamiliar and has exactly the sort of eye glazing, niche, political philosophy wonk ring that keeps libertarians perpetually at the fringes of the political culture, and, to be very honest, they wouldn’t be wrong.

However, even while it is very much a niche term, coming from very fringe political circles, it does have a hefty utility in political discussions, especially considering how saturated our culture has become with progressive political philosophy. Excepting for the moment how the frothing at the mouth AnCaps (anarchist capitalists) vigorously fling the word at practically anyone and everyone that even vaguely dismisses their objectively utopian political beliefs, it hits exactly the right philosophical chords in terms of modern cultural and political discourse.

Now even if the definition of statist can admittedly seem more than a little hyperbolic, but the leveling of tyranny by the Founders at the King George II also seemed hyperbolic to most Englishmen in the 18th Century. We must remember that the British, by and large, were in favor of the military crackdowns on the upstart American colonies leading into the Revolutionary War. There was very little sympathy for the American cause across the pond, or anywhere else in the British Empire. Even the colonists living in the British colonies in Canada turned their backs on the American revolutionary cause.

If you still feel that “statist” is cringe-worthy, then in the very same breath you reject the Founders as ludicrous, because they used practically the same rhetoric.

“America was conquered, and her settlements made and firmly established, at the expence of individuals, and not of the British public. their own blood was spilt in acquiring lands for their settlement, their own fortunes expended in making that settlement effectual. for themselves they fought, for themselves they conquered, and for themselves alone they have right to hold.”
-Thomas Jefferson

So, why is the accusation of “statism“, even as hyperbolic as it is, still even remotely legitimate in political discourse (at least outside anarchism)? It’s because the balance of political power, between the statist ethic and the liberty ethic, has been fantastically one sided for the vast majority of human history. With few exceptions, the power of the few, enforced by brutality and force of arms, has been the go to political ethic of human civilization, and so ingrained in the human psyche is this political arrangement that, even now, the monarchist and dictatorial themes still drip vulgarly from even the American culture.

Americans are still enthralled with the idea of knights and lords, transacting in the symbols and formalities of those ancient forms. While some of these cultural affectations are harmless, such as the heroes in Star Wars being white knights, serving queens and princesses, battling against black knights, serving a villainous emperor or the Game of Thrones attracting millions of viewers enthralled by tales of kings and queens engaging in uncomfortably historic schemes, others are far more real and by far more insidious. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, for example, with their allusion to feudal knighthoods and last year’s racist Charlottesville protesters with shields emblazoned with white nationalist symbols do not do these things by coincidence.

Take even a moment to argue with these miscreants, and they will openly admit to believing in monarchism or some other dictatorial state system. For them, the allure of aristocratic political hegemony remains especially strong, since these individuals believe themselves to be true heirs to the proverbial thrones. With so many individuals who would happily support someone, the line of claimants to the seats of power grows every year. However, this unhealthy urge to cling to these ancient tyrannical systems betrays our American heritage. Political power is the blood in the water, attracting statist sharks, who circle hungrily.

And, make no mistake, there are many brands of statism, each as sinister as next.

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
-Thomas Paine

The definition of statism is a political philosophy “concentrating extensive economic, political, and related controls in the state at the cost of individual liberty“. Looking through the lens used by the Framers, it becomes obvious that what qualifies as statism depends largely on what qualifies as “extensive“. When we look at the post-Obama government, even considering the reactionary walking back that’s occurred under Trump, there is still very little “economic, political, and related” activity that doesn’t find itself imposed upon by the state “at the cost of individual liberty“.

In this lens, even the wild eyed anarchist isn’t far from the mark when he or she levels the accusation of statism at our culture. The fact is, our culture has grown precariously statist, and a very large majority of Americans unconsciously hold statist beliefs. that would be unconscionable to our Framers, and this is where conservatives must seriously weigh their philosophical beliefs in the balance of history. There are two broad options when we take into consideration the political camps during and shortly after the ratification of the Constitution, and, in large part, we can see the same political schism in American politics today.

On the one hand were the Federalists, who believed that the federal government needed to be centralized, fairly powerful, and have broad, albeit limited, powers over the affairs of the states and, by extension, the people. On the other were the Anti-Federalists, who believed that the federal government needed to be dispersed, weak, and have few and limited powers over the affairs of the states and the people. It is extremely difficult to draw direct political paths from these political ideologies, but, suffice to say, even the most exuberant Federalist would find the size and scope of our modern system of government an utterly unrecognizable monstrosity.

For those of us that are true conservatives, who hold the highest ideals of the Framers as our philosophical guidelines, this is where we should be as well. Could we have grown up in their era, fallen fast asleep for a couple centuries, and awoken in our present day, we would and should be appalled at what we see around us. The only question is should be what is the alternative?


Liberty is For The Win!

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