Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Tranquility of Servitude

Yesterday's Globe and Mail contained an exceptional opinion piece about the "tyranny of good intentions"--yes, those same good intentions that pave the road to Hell.

Nearly 50 years ago, Kenneth Minogue, a professor of political science at the London School of Economics, published The Liberal Mind, his classic study of the dominant philosophy of the 20th century: radical niceness. Rooted in extreme liberal optimism and salvationist aspiration, this triumphant ideology (Prof. Minogue said) tenaciously advanced the notion that history requires the perfection of human society, that governments – in pursuit of this perfection – are obliged “to provide every man, woman, child and dog with the conditions of the good life.” Prof. Minogue ended with a warning: “A populace which hands its moral order over to governments, no matter how impeccable its reasons, will become dependent and slavish.”

Now professor emeritus at LSE, the 80-year-old has published a remarkable sequel – The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life. He picks up where he left off, documenting the ways in which democracy (which once expanded freedom) requires strict obedience to the state – and to the bureaucratic moral order that sustains it.

An elegant essayist of the old school, Prof. Minogue advances his argument by small steps that can end abruptly in crisp revelation.

“I am of two minds about democracy,” he writes, “and so is everyone else. We all agree that it is the sovereign remedy for corruption, war and poverty in the Third World. We would certainly tolerate no other system in our own country. Yet most people are disenchanted with the way it works. One reason is that our rulers now manage so much of our lives that they cannot help but do it badly. They have overreached. Blunder follows blunder.”

Far worse, traditional democratic theory has been flipped upside down: “Our rulers now make us accountable to them.”

Count the ways....

And there are plenty who not only approve of this governmental attempt at the perfection of society, they don't even view previous attempts as failures. These and others will claim that this excess of government involvement in our lives is "necessary" because of the "modern age in which we live" or some other silly argument, convinced that giving up some adult freedoms for the comforts or protections felt as children is not only good but inevitable. To them I proffer the words of American patriot Samuel Adams:

If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms.

I choose the animating contest for freedom, thank you.

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