The End of American Civil Society?

A piece that I wrote in early January 2009 seems especially relevant now that we have experienced more than three years of the Obama Administration and continued economic decline.

The other night I was watching a heart rending story about unnecessary growing poverty and famine in Ethiopia.

As I picked out the unexamined details from the report, I recognized how easy it would be to profitably solve these problems, with a consequence that Ethiopia would be prosperous and well feed; however, I realized that I assumed a system of laissez-faire capitalism that would be both necessary for success and totally unacceptable to the people victimized by lack of it.  They would rather watch their children die painfully than accept the justice of respecting the right of another man to live free from the initiation of force and fraud.

As I IM’d back and forth with a friend while watching the video, I painfully observed that Ethiopia sounded like some backwards country…like the Bush-Obama America.

How can I explain this to those that may have just been offended by that statement, when they should be more offended by the truth of my statement?

In our foreign policy, the US correctly identifies the want of a vital civil society in other countries suffering under authoritarian governments.  A civil society being the aggregate of those institutions of free association acting independently of the government.  The co-optation by government of independent associations generally leads to the growth of extremist religious organizations as the principle channel for expressing political dissent.

If we recognize that an authoritarian state contradicts the requirements of man to live as man, how does that condition develop?  There is recent historical precedent of liberal democracies transforming into authoritarian regimes, who strangled civil society with governmental controls.  I refer here to European fascism.

As Alfredo Rocco explained at that time, fascism stresses the necessity of sacrifice even up to the total immolation of the individual on behalf of society: “society is the end, individuals the means, and its whole life consists in using individuals as instruments for its social ends.” 1

There were echoes of these words from 1925 from both sides of the recent American election.

The Bush Administration is best described as an Orgy of Sacrifice, as the President wantonly solicited the destruction of greater values to achieve lesser values for the benefit of the collective good.  This administration undermined private institutions through public-private partnerships and initiatives; private means under public control directed toward the attainment of social ends.  Predictably, this led to a private collapse.

Now, we are promised more public help to the private sector, with more public control.  A public contribution to leverage the looting of remaining private values, which are to be sacrificed upon the altar of the social good.  As this private collapse–caused by the exhaustion of toting socially mandated burdens–continues, the line of bailout beggars grows and they eagerly seek to be yoked by the Congress to the task of achieving social ends.

The erosion of American civil society accelerates.  William Ferris (you may call him Dr. Ferris if you prefer) has attempted to persuade us that there is a need for a federal Department of Culture to revitalize our national spirit by strengthening our cultural programs at every level.2  Joseph Goebbels would be proud that his legacy for government directed public enlightenment has been embraced.

America has tasted the poison of authoritarianism, and it has sickened us.  Now is yet another moment of choice, shall we follow the bailout whims of Congress and drink more poison, or free ourselves from its ill effects by rejecting altruistic paternalism and embracing life affirming values and virtues:  reason, justice, freedom, production, and achievement?

1 L. Peikoff, Ominous Parallels, p. 17; quoting “The Political Doctrine of Fascism,” an address delivered at Perugia, 8/30/1925.
2 W. Ferris, “Put Culture in the Cabinet,” New York Times, 12/26/2008.

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One Response to The End of American Civil Society?

  1. Pingback: Not Random Violence, but the Consequence of Ideas | Selfish Citizenship

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