Friday, March 27, 2009

Totalitarians and Rumors of Totalitarians

Like many conservatives, Charles Murray is quite sure that people who don't happen to be him are ennobled by privation, strife, and misery; more to the point, that the very last thing these numberless wretches not named Charles Murray need is a helping hand, least of all one that removes even a mill from his bank account. Local control! Country first! Arbeit macht frei! Ahem.

To which John Holbo responds brilliantly:

Conservatives will object that advocacy of limited government can’t be any sort of totalitarian temptation. Small is the opposite of big. But this misses the point. At the philosophical level, the concern is not big or small. Coercion is as coercion does. The philosophical concern is about willingness to force others to accept your values for their own good. Bringing about small government, on the grounds that this will eventually induce others to accept your superior value system, is just as ‘coercive’, in the relevant sense, as bringing about big government to do that. (Forcing people not to have something they think they want is no less coercive than forcing them to have something they don’t think they want.)
In an extremely crowded and competitive field, the simple-minded equation of government with tyranny might be the single stupidest idea going, even if exhaled in the clench-jawed faux-English accent of Charles Murray. To pick just one obvious example, the women of the Swat region of Afghanistan could benefit from considerably less 'local control' about right now.

1 comment:

twoblueday said...

Conservatives do like to talk about small government, but don't get sucked in to thinking they actually mean it! By any measure at all, government has not gotten smaller under recent "conservative" stewardship.

Just another conservative buzz phrase, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

Arbeit macht frei indeed.