“Don’t tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo. I would use this ring from a desire to do good. But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine. ” – Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Briefly, during the first Republican presidential debate, we touched on a distinguishing characteristic of what I would call freedom-minded conservatives (which Frederic Hayek may well have called “classical liberals”) and modern Republicans. We noted that Ron Paul (and surely he’s not alone, but he does stand out) was the main candidate that wanted not a government that would do less, but a government that was less powerful. It’s a key distinction.
Republicans and Democrats, theocrats and progressives, all fall prey to the same trap. “If everybody would just do what I’m telling them to, they’d all be better off.” Nobody phrases it like that, of course, but ultimately these philosophies reduce just the same.
To reiterate a key theme here, it is not the propensity of people in general to ascribe to such philosophies, but the involvement of Christians that really perplexes me. People are fallen and fallible – broken. In the heart of our rebellion, we naturally believe ourselves superior to others. It gives us great comfort (as to why I have no idea) to hold that we are not among those masses of dunderheads out there who make bad decisions. No, our intellect is superior – as are our motives. (Yes, I said “dunderheads”)
In the Christian ethic, we, the fallen and fallible and broken people, come to grips with our frailties. We come to grips with the notion that we are indeed broken, we are indeed not to be trusted, we are indeed the source of the problem, not the solution. We are (hopefully) not silly enough to attempt to live the lives of others’ when we have been wholly unable to live our own lives well. (“Do as I say – and you will be blessed and happy and prosperous … but don’t do as I do.”)
And yet, in modern politics, there are quite a few Christians who take the other view. That America and Americans will be better off if they “fake it until they make it” – and live a moral, upright life even if they hate the truth. Rest assured, this issue will come to play in the 2012 election cycle, and the standard-bearers of religious conservatism will make themselves known.
Ultimately, the whole of it reduces to power and ownership. Whatever politicians represent us in Washington, or Annapolis (I live in MD), or on city and county councils, will ultimately be chosen from amongst us. They will be fallen and broken and fallible, just as we are. They cannot be trusted to be driven by the best interests of “the masses” – when their brokenness is fundamentally related to love of self and not love of God and “the other person”.
Most everybody has, or has heard from friends, obvious instances of this corruption. Perhaps it’s just a building inspector who wanted a $50 kickback to approve a plan, or some other bureaucrat who needed a nominal payoff to do what otherwise was his job.
What’s going on in Washington is just a macrocosm of this. They have achieved power over us, and they willingly peddle that power to the highest bidder, to enrich themselves at our expense. They let corporate lobbyists write favorable legislation, for the appropriate kickback. They take billions (trillions?) in taxpayer dollars to bailout wealthy bankers. They use taxpayer funds but buy American industries to keep their political allies afloat. No one is immune. They all fall for it because they are all fallen.
The answer is not, and never has been, to elect better people to do the job. The answer is quite simply to remove the power from those who have amassed it. If they cannot control our lives then they have nothing to peddle. If they cannot take from us and give to others they have nothing to exchange. If they cannot enslave us, then we will not be slaves.
Ron Paul (and surely a few others) recognizes this. The answer isn’t a government that does things smarter, or differently. The answer is a government that has less power.
Just as Gandalf notes above, at some level they always believe they will use this power from a desire to do good. They actually do believe that if given power over our lives they can make us happier and more prosperous. Yet it wields a power to terrible to be contained, and their base nature cannot be overcome.