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The good news about the presidential election season is that so many voters seem disgusted with career politicians. The bad news is that these voters are naively opting for “outsiders” who in reality are just politicians in another form. They are anti-politician politicians.
This, I submit, is not progress.
It is certainly a hopeful sign that perhaps more people than ever say they despise politics as usual. That partly explains the success of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Bernie Sanders, all of whom position themselves as outsiders. (Sanders may seem an odd entry on this list because he is a career politician. Yet we have grounds to include him in light of his self-identification as a “socialist” and his image among many people.)
But, alas, we must curb our enthusiasm at this development precisely because of whom these disgruntled citizens have embraced: anti-politician politicians.
An anti-politician politician is one who asserts that political power is suspect in the hands of career politicians — but not in his or her hands; it’s someone who holds that the only thing wrong with government is that professionals run it. The anti-politician politician never eschews power itself.
In other words, anti-politician politicians are not different in principle from career politicians. Ignore the shtick: they too want to rule.
To rule means, among other things, to take your money — without your consent — and spend it on what you’d never spend it on, like wars; military occupations; regime changes; support for dictators; stopping people from getting high or gambling; telling people how to run their own businesses; burdening people who would like start their own businesses; imposing occupational licensing; dictating how people may use their land or their bodies; and much, much more.
Of course, rulers don’t take your money without your consent merely to use it against other people. They will also use it against you. How’s that for adding injury to injury? Not only do they aspire to rule you, they make you pay for the honor. Even when they promise you free things, it costs you.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon nicely summed up the situation:
To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place[d] under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.
Of course, anti-politician politicians say it’s for your own good, and they differ among themselves on details. But why should we trust them? Think about it: by electing one of them to the presidency, you would place in his or her hands the most meddlesome, oppressive, and lethal apparatus ever devised. How could anyone be trusted with it? Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” F. A. Hayek and others expanded on that: power attracts the corrupt. (See Hayek’s chapter “Why the Worse Get on Top” in The Road to Serfdom.) What would you expect of people seeking power that none of us may properly exercise privately?
But, some will respond, we have checks and balances. How’s that worked out? More often than not, rather than checking each other, the branches of government collude against us. As a result, rulers amass more power, and the well-connected prosper. For a long time excluded individuals shrugged and said, “That’s politics.”
But now it’s different, and people are looking for apparent alternatives. But in their very quest for power, the anti-politician politicians reveal themselves as frauds. If one should prevail, where will the people turn after their inevitable disappointment? Perhaps they’ll turn against the state itself.