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The People's Romance: Why People Love Government
The People’s Romance
Why People Love Government

(as Much as They Do)

—————— & ——————
In 1995, the annual meeting of the American Economic Association included a plenary session about domestic policy issues. One of the panelists was the Nobel laureate MIT economist Robert Solow. In the course of his remarks, Solow said that he did not find school choice appealing. During the question-and-answer period, I asked him why he did not find school vouchers appealing. He replied: “It isn’t for any economic reason; all the economic reasons favor school vouchers. It is because what made me an American is the United States Army and the public school system.”

Admirable in its candor and lucidity, Solow’s reply suggests a solution to a broader conundrum. If government intervention creates an official and common frame of reference, a set of cultural focal points, a sense of togetherness and common experience, then almost any form of government intervention can help to “make us Americans.” If people see government activism as a singular way of binding society together, then they may favor any particular government intervention virtually for its own sake—whether it be government intervention in schooling, urban transit, postal services, Social Security, or anything else—because they love the way in which it makes them American.

Of course, love of government as a binding and collectivizing force does not exist in anyone’s sensibilities as an absolute. Everyone seeks other goals as well and understands that some government interventions are more costly than voluntary solutions, and people make their judgments according to their understanding.

People may favor government for other reasons: they fancy themselves part of the governing set; they yearn for an official system of validation; they want to avoid the burden of justifying a dissenting view; they fear, revere, or worship power. All such factors work in conjunction with self-serving tendencies of less existential nature—privilege seeking, subsidy seeking, and so on—and with the rationalizations of these tendencies. Furthermore, people may be biased toward government because
cultural institutions indoctrinate and cow them.

All such tendencies may be part of a general account of “collectivism” in the sense of statism. In this article, I seek to expand our understanding of just one factor of collectivism that never operates in isolation from the others and is not necessarily the most significant: people’s tendency to see and love government as a binding communitarian force. I take notice of that tendency in realms that range from the texts of Hegel and Marx to recent political philosophy to mundane policy discourse. I am an errant economist with no claim to mastery of the materials dealt with here. I can only say that the constellation outlined in this article is one that I discern as clearly as I see the Big Dipper, but the points of light themselves wax and wane depending on how one gazes.

Beating Time Together

When we think of the action of the primitive band, the family, or the organization, we think of the whole acting as an integrated entity. We may fail to consider that the posited entity consists of constitutive elements or members. We may neglect to think about how each member experiences his membership in the entity and achieves with the other members the consonance in action that permits us to say that the entity acts in this or that way.

Georg Simmel comments on perhaps the most manifest exhibition of the human social organism:

Quote:It is interesting to observe how the prevalence of the socializing impulse in primitive peoples affects various institutions, such as the dance. It has been noted quite generally that the dances of primitive races exhibit a remarkable uniformity in arrangement and rhythm. The dancing group feels and acts like a uniform organism; the dance forces and accustoms a number of individuals, who are usually driven to and fro without rime or reason by vacillating conditions and needs of life, to be guided by a common impulse and a single common motive. ([1904] 1957, 546)

In the social organism, instances of mutual coordination, such as the dancers’ moving to the beat of drums, provide the atomic structure of the extensive coordination of the various parts that permits us to say that the entity exists and acts as a whole.

Unlike a spontaneous order, an organization such as a dance group proceeds, at least in its skeletal structure, under an authoritative leadership or direction. A structure of central leadership and direction implies an authoritative understanding of the organization’s nature, goals, situation, and potential. The authoritative understanding can be imparted, at least in rough and summary terms, to all members of the organization,
constituting a common understanding and enabling all members to share an experience of the organization’s movement and the realization of its goals. In at least broad, skeletal terms, the members of an organization share a common understanding of the extensive coordination achieved in the whole and of how their instances of mutual coordination contribute to—or cooperate in—that extensive coordination. 1

Consonance in the dance, march, chant, song, or ensemble performance is mutual coordination of bodily motions made sensate in sight, sound, and vibration. No wonder so many of the terms used to describe mutual coordination originate in music. We speak of people as acting or being in unison, in consonance, in concert, in concord, in accord, in harmony, in sync, in tune with each other.

Smithian Sympathy as Sentiment Coordination

When a marching band performs on a field, spectators view the extensive coordination of the spectacle in common. Watching from the stands, they also enjoy a mutual coordination—not of their bodily motions or actions but rather of their sensations, perceptions, understandings, and sentiments. Even if they watch from their homes on television, they may imagine that all viewers dance together in spirit. In The Theory of
Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith notes that “nothing pleases us more than to observe in other men a fellow-feeling with all the emotions of our own breast” ([1759] 1976, 13). Man yearns for coordinated sentiment as he yearns for food in his belly.

Smith makes use of a certain metaphor repeatedly to describe an individual’s elemental joy at being in sentimental consonance with his fellows:

Quote:The man whose sympathy keeps time to my grief, cannot but admit the reasonableness of my sorrow. (16)
[A person suffering misfortune] longs for . . . the entire concord of the affections
of the spectators with his own. To see the emotions of their hearts, in every respect, beat time to his own . . . constitutes his sole consolation. (22)
The great pleasure of conversation and society . . . arises from a certain correspondence of sentiments and opinions, from a certain harmony of minds, which like so many musical instruments coincide and keep time with one another.

Eight times Smith uses the metaphor of people’s beating (or keeping) time together. A metaphor he uses even more frequently, about thirty times, is that of “entering into” the sentiments of another, which again connotes a common experience and togetherness, as when one joins the spirit of the household when one enters into a home.

Thomas Schelling helps us understand the nature of mutual coordination by setting out a problem of togetherness disrupted:

Quote:When a man loses his wife in a department store without any prior understanding on where to meet if they get separated, the chances are good that they will find each other. It is likely that each will think of some obvious place to meet, so obvious that each will be sure that the other is sure it is “obvious” to both of them. One does not simply predict where the other will go, since the other will go where he predicts the first to go, which is wherever the first predicts the second to predict the first to go, and so ad infinitum. Not “What would I do if I were she?” but “What would I do if I were she wondering what she would do if she were I wondering what I would do if I were she . . . ?” What is necessary is to coordinate predictions, to read the same message in the common situation, to identify the one course of action that their expectations of each other can converge on. They must “mutually recognize” some unique signal that coordinates their expectations of each other. (1960, 54, ellipses in original)

Schelling’s parable captures the sense of mutuality: Each person thinks about how the other understands the situation, and both understand that their understandings interrelate. This mutuality resides in organizational life in general, in cooperation, even in the organization’s larger, long-in-coming achievements.

This sense of mutuality, or shared understanding, is precisely what is not present in the extensivity of a spontaneous order: if we eat out, we know nothing about the people and efforts that contributed to the provision of our lunch, except for those who helped to serve it. We can hardly guess what the rest of the chain of provision is like, and we have no particular reason to do so. No mutuality-in-the-whole exists in a spontaneous extensive coordination.

In Schelling’s exposition of mutual coordination, he explains that when people face a coordination problem, they seek a solution by identifying a focal point:

Quote:Most situations . . . provide some clue for coordinating behavior, some focal point for each person’s expectation of what the other expects him to expect to be expected to do. Finding the key, or rather finding a key—any key that is mutually recognized as the key becomes the key—may depend on imagination more than logic; it may depend on analogy, precedent, accidental arrangement, symmetry, aesthetic or geometric configuration, casuistic reasoning, and who the parties are and what they know about each other. (1960, 57)

Precedence, symmetry, and so on make focal points focal. A prime characteristic of focal points, says Schelling, “is some kind of prominence or conspicuousness” (57). This conspicuousness in turn often depends on perceptible uniqueness (57–8). The man and woman separated in the store might go to the cash register nearest to where they were together last —a double uniqueness. Factors such as precedence, symmetry, simplicity, accession, and so on often provide the context for people’s decisions about what to seek uniqueness in. The dancers’ movements are coordinated because of the prominence of a specific drum beat. If two distinct drum beats play simultaneously, perhaps neither will be focal, and resolution will be sought in a higher-level sign or metasign, such as the gestures of a group leader. As Schelling notes, “[t]he coordination game probably lies behind the stability of institutions and traditions and perhaps the phenomenon of leadership itself” (91).

Schelling’s analysis, especially as developed by David Lewis (1969) and in other works, leads us to see Smithian sympathy as the coordination of sentiments. Love might be interpreted as a sort of coordination equilibrium in which sentiment is reflected and re-reflected in the lovers’ eyes, such that the sentiment is neither his nor hers, but theirs. People naturally form relationships and communities built on the focal points of norms, morals, virtues, traditions, and shared conceptions of theirhistory.

Club Romance

In cooperating with the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, we talk to them of their advantages. “Give me that which I want and you shall have this which you want” (Smith [1776] 1981, 27). In The Wealth of Nations, Smith shows that a touch of sentiment coordination attaches to every market exchange.

In the rich morality plays of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the contexts Smith discusses are generally those of the individual in his local or private affairs face to face with his associates and relations. Smith is concerned above all with the individual’s moral life and conduct. Almost never does he speak of conduct or sentiments in the context of the broad political culture. An optimist, especially at the time he first compose The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he apparently saw no conflict between the great yearning for coordinated sentiment and the prospects for a libertarian polity.

Smith’s writings furnish a groundwork for libertarian theories of voluntary communities and norms (see, for example, Paine [1792] 1961, 398–403; Tocqueville [1840] 1969; Karlson [1993] 2002; Foldvary 1994; Beito, Gordon, and Tabarrok 2002; Kukathas 2003). In economic theory, goods such as fitness clubs, churches, movie theaters, and schools are sometimes called “club goods” because they are experienced or enjoyed jointly by “members” of the club (Buchanan 1965). By anal ogy, it is useful to refer to coordinated sentiment among a voluntary grouping as club romance. Again, even “impersonal” market exchanges contain a touch of human communication. Libertarians such as Chandran Kukathas (2003) maintain that true liberals let clubs compete freely and without privilege and tolerate internal club practices that we might find alarming. Adam Smith advised likewise about religious competition,
confident that voluntarism would teach “candour and moderation” ([1776]
1981, 793).

Encompassing Coordination of Sentiment:The People’s Romance

When a certain further element is added to the desire for sentiment coordination, however, the result is ominous. Although Smith posited a desire for sentiment coordination, he did not speak of the desire for a sentiment coordination that encompasses the whole group. In Smith, we desire to commune with someone. In encompassing sentiment coordination, we fancy the notion of communing with the whole. In Smith, we desire club romance, whereas in encompassing sentiment coordination we desire an official club romance where the club is the whole of the people.

Who is included in “the whole” and who is not depends on social configurations and people’s awareness of the group. When people think of society at large as the group to which they belong—when they think of having “citizenship,” whether it be in a town, a county, or a country—the logic of coordination leads directly to government as the focal point. Unparalleled in power, permanence, and pervasiveness, the government is prominent, conspicuous, unique, focal. Moreover, as people look to
government as the focal point, it increasingly draws them into thinking of its dominion as setting the boundaries that define the group. The government provides and validates the focal points in the sentiment game, and, in the first instance, it arranges and validates the games that citizens can play.

Government creates common, effectively permanent institutions, such as the streets and roads, utility grids, the postal service, and the school system. In doing so, it determines and enforces the setting for an encompassing shared experience—or at least the myth of such experience. The business of politics creates an unfolding series of battles and dramas whose outcomes few can dismiss as unimportant. National and international news media invite citizens to envision themselves as part of an encompassing coordination of sentiments—whether the focal point is election-day results, the latest effort in the war on drugs, or emergency relief to hurricane victims—and encourage a corresponding regard for the state as a romantic force. I call the yearning for encompassing coordination of sentiment The People’s Romanc (henceforth TPR) (see table 1).

The cycle of government-defined-group and group-finds-focal-points-in-government may help to explain why collectivist notions ascended into the mainstream in Great Britain, the United States, and elsewhere so suddenly (around 1890) and aggressively and why government’s size and intervention surged during the ensuing century. The cycle is implicated in the multifaceted problem of surging statism, notably the sanctification of the democratic creed of popular sovereignty, and the genre and technology of The-World-Is-Watching photographic journalism (Weaver 1994, chap. 2). Robert Higgs’s account of government growth in the United States incorporates ideology as a key variable (1987, chap. 3). The concept of TPR may help us to interpret the changes in American ideology that occurred during the Progressive Era, World War I, the New Deal, and World War II.

Encompassing in Aspiration or Imagination

“Encompassing,” of course, need not include everyone in the group. Some individuals may be absent, home with the flu, or persisting in reclusiveness. Moreover, the group does not necessarily include everyone in the jurisdiction. The group commonly distinguishes itself and its sentiments by referring antipathetically to some other kind of people. The group often plays up an opposition group—a scapegoat group, or other. Thus, the group defines itself in part in relation to the “wetbacks,” “kikes,” “queers,” “hippies,” “drug pushers,” “commies,” “left-wingers,” “right-wingers,” “capitalist pigs,” “fundamentalists,” “racists,” “rednecks,” and so forth.

TPR signifies a yearning for a dominant and expanding sentiment coordination, a yearning especially upset by the perception that certain individuals have sentiments at odds with this feeling. This yearning seeks conformity and inclusion, and it dislikes deviance, discord, and dissension. The “other,” or scapegoat group, represents the sentiments to be diminished, controlled, and eliminated. TPR is not content to achieve sentiment coordination among those who would be coordinated; it wishes to stamp out sentiment discoordination. It tends to be overweening, and, if enthusiasm proves insufficient, it becomes assertive and belligerent.

The term encompassing in our definition (“the yearning for encompassing coordination of sentiment”), then, is not to be taken literally. Encompassing may be understood to mean any of the following: “imagined to be encompassing,” “symbolically encompassing” “aspirationally encompassing,” or merely “dominant and official.”[/size]

TPR versus Self-Ownership

TPR helps us to understand how authoritarians and totalitarians think. If TPR is a principal value, with each person’s well-being thought to depend on everyone else’s proper participation, then it authorizes a kind of joint, though not necessarily absolute, ownership of everyone by everyone, which means, of course, by the government. One person’s conspicuous opting out of the romance really does damage the others’ interests.

The essence of property rights lies in others’ duties not to interfere with one’s property. When those duties weigh on us as genuine moral obligations, they are authorized by interest—that is, by the property owner’s interest. If the collectivity’s interest really does depend vitally on one’s (uncritical) participation, then the collectivity may well erect an apparatus of control and promulgate norms of duty that enjoy social recognition and acceptance—in other words, that make one its property . The statist romantic manifesto is clearly set down by Hegel: “It is false to maintain that the foundation of the state is something at the option of its members. It is nearer the truth to say that it is absolutely necessary for every individual to be a citizen. The great advance of the state in modern times is that nowadays all the citizens have one and the same end, an absolute and permanent end” (1952, 242).

Whereas Hegel saw some mystical, organic foundation for political obligation, modern-day social democrats see political consent or “social contract,” but the upshot is the same. In their social-democratic tract The Cost of Rights, Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein hold that all things are owned, fundamentally and ultimately, by the government. “Private property [is] a creation of state action,” “laws [enable property holders]
to acquire and hold what is ‘theirs’” (1999, 66, 230). The quotation marks around theirs tell us: the car that you park in your garage is really the property of the state; the state just lets you think it is yours. Holmes and Sunstein presumably would say that your own person is “yours” only in a diminished sense that calls for quotation marks. Any decentralized exercise of property rights or contract is undertaken by the government’s authorized delegation. Taxes are the fees you pay for having those things—your car, your house, your own person—placed at your disposal. Throughout their book, we find indications that their doctrines exist to serve TPR: “To focus on the cost of rights is to urge that the collectivity define rights, and spend resources on rights, in a way that is broadly
defensible to a diverse public engaged in a common enterprise” (216).

TPR lives off coercion—which not only serves as a means of clamping down on discoordination, but also gives context for the sentiment coordination to be achieved. The government inculcates the notion of “The People” chiefly by coercion.

Not All Bad, Just Not Worth It

TPR is one human value that libertarian policy does not advance. In insisting on libertarian policy and hence in turning away from TPR, however, one need not regard TPR in itself as something false or perverse or irrational. The tens of thousands who watched and chanted and lifted their arms in unison at the massive National Socialist rallies, in which well-ordered columns marched in lockstep to make a gigantic rotating swastika, no doubt experienced an awesome elemental human joy, a romance far more powerful than that experienced by exultant soccer fans watching their country’s team win the World Cup.

TPR recommends government activism, and government activism means the contravention of the liberty maxim. I oppose TPR simply because of the damage and degradation it entails, not only to material comfort and other values, but also to other processes of human meaning, dignity, and decency on which joy also depends. TPR just ain’t worth it.

Unfortunately, for reasons that cannot be discussed here, the damage and degradation are difficult to see, especially when society’s cultural institutions are highly statist. 2 The problem, as I see it, is not so much that those swayed by TPR are morally defective, but that they have become locked into a set of unenlightened mental habits. In conjunction with a postulate that the relative worthiness of libertarian policy is subtle, TPR constitutes a bias.

TPR in Karl Marx

TPR lies at the heart of communism. In Capital, Marx claims that capitalism creates cooperation: “As a general rule, labourers cannot co-operate without being brought together: their assemblage in one place is a necessary condition of their co-operation. Hence wage labourers cannot co-operate, unless they are employed simultaneously by the same capital, the same capitalist, and unless therefore their labour powers are bought simultaneously by him” (1936, 361). Marx salutes the capitalist entrepreneur for organizing laborers in his factory according to “a preconceived plan” and for coordinating their “union into one single productive body” (364). In his view, however, the competition between capitalists, each engaged in “commodity production” to garner “surplus value,” renders despotic and exploitive the extensive coordination of labor achieved within a single factory.

Marx spins out a system of economic nonsense, but over and above the blather is an appeal that returns to his idealization of cooperation and the encompassing coordination of sentiment—encompassing both within human society and correspondingly within each person’s selfhood. As Robert Tucker explains, Marx presupposed that the division of labor in society corresponds to a division of spirit in the self, or alienation (1961, 188–223).

Of capitalism (or spontaneous order), Marx writes, “the cohesion of the aggregate production imposes itself as a blind law upon the agents of production, and not as a law which, being understood and hence controlled by their common mind, brings the production process under their joint control” (1998, 256). The achievement of conscious control is essential to the wholesomeness of work: “Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature” (1998, 807). Marx glorifies the deliberate extensive coordination of labor, but he despised any boss. When communism integrates community existence and economic activity, the economy will be like one big factory, and, with all parties working in cooperation, the laborer will avoid the indignity of subordination because there will be no boss other than the entire community to which he belongs (1936, 391). “[O]nly when [man] has recognized and organized his own powers as social powers so that social power is no longer separated from him as political power, only then is human emancipation complete” (Marx 1983, 234).

Marx maintains that “all labour in which many individuals cooperate necessarily requires a commanding will to coordinate and unify the process . . . much as that of an orchestra conductor” (1998, 382). In the great book Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx (1961), Robert Tucker explains Marx’s utopian vision: “The old authoritarianism of the factory regime, based on servitude under the division of labour, would be supplanted by a free conscious discipline such as that which prevails in a symphony orchestra. . . . . [T]he abolition of the social division of labour . . . signifies the advent of harmony and unison within humanity at large, the emergence of a unified society consisting of a vast association of ‘complete individuals’” (199–200). Marx insists that in a wholesome economy, all its participants understand the extensive coordination of
economic activity as mutual coordination.

One might say that Marx’s animus is against any sense of social stratification and domination, but then one must explain why he is so blind to the social stratification and domination inherent in his political schemes. I submit that in his mind the basic difference between working for a capitalist boss and working for a communist boss is that the communist plan permits one to conceive of work as participation in a great romance—or TPR. In other words, TPR blinds leftists to the realities of coercion and domination intrinsic in their political ideals.

I am not claiming that TPR was Marx’s principal motivation. That motivation might have been much darker, and his doctrines might have been intellectual “superstructure” serving his basic drives. The point applies to any theorist, sage, or leader (as noted by Smith [1759] 1976, 233). We cannot peer into a person’s soul; only rarely and only in part can we separate his stated reasons from his personal drives and motivations. However, even if Marx’s subterranean motivations sprang from other sources, TPR is a central component of his doctrines and of the movements and intellectual traditions they inspired.

TPR in The ABC of Communism

Marx wrote a great deal about how capitalism works, but very little about how communism would work. When his followers got around to dealing with communism, the central role of TPR became clear. The ABC of Communism, by N. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky, written in 1919 and published in 1922, presents an agenda of theft and brutality on a stupendous scale, rationalized in terms of TPR:

Quote:Society will be transformed into a huge working organization for cooperative production. There will then be neither disintegration of production nor anarchy of production. In such a social order, production will be organized. No longer will one enterprise compete with another; the factories, workshops, mines, and other productive institutions will all be subdivisions, as it were, of one vast people’s workshop, which will embrace the entire national economy
of production. . . . . The essence of the matter lies in this, that the organization shall be cooperative organization of all the members of society. The communist system, in addition to affecting organization, is further distinguished by the fact that it puts an end to exploitation, that it abolishes the divisions of society into classes. ([1922] 1969, 114–15, emphasis in original)

Here is the logic in all its simplicity: “The home worker who is dependent upon the dealer or the factory owner, works for the dealer or the factory owner. He becomes their beast of burden. The home worker who is dependent upon the proletarian State is a social worker” (328–29).

In capitalist society, class divisions obstruct TPR. The proletariat must seize and expropriate all capitalist operations and resources. “Manifestly,” say Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, the various operations must be linked together. But “[t]he question arises, with which organization must the others be linked up. The answer is simple. We must select the greatest and most powerful of all. Such an organism is constituted by the State organization of the working class, by the Soviet Power” (332). Here we see clearly the pursuit of encompassing sentiment coordination and the invocation of the focal means of achieving it.

According to Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, to bring everyone into the common, classless plan under “a genuine, popular control” (337), the various economic bodies and operations must “BE TRANSFORMED INTO ECONOMIC DEPARTMENTS AND INSTRUMENTS OF THE STATE AUTHORITY; THEY MUST BE ‘STATIFIED’” (333, capital letters in original). Would-be independent agents must take orders and payments from the state. “Thus the home workers will by degrees be drawn within the general system of production now being organized upon socialist foundations. They will be drawn within that system, not only by being supplied with certain products of social production, but also because they themselves will be directly working for the proletarian State in accordance with a plan prescribed for them by the instruments of the proletarian State” (329).

All this for TPR: “Labour discipline must be based upon the feeling an the consciousness that every worker is responsible to his class, upon the consciousness that slackness and carelessness are treasons to the common cause of the workers” (339, emphasis in original).

TPR in Social-Democratic and Communitarian Beliefs

Many authors make clear that social democracy is chiefly about TPR. In his socialdemocratic classic, Bernard Bosanquet writes: “It follows that the State, in this sense, is, above all things, not a number of persons, but a working conception of life. It is, as Plato has taught us, the conception by the guidance of which every living member of the commonwealth is enabled to perform his function” (1923, 140–41). Columbia University professor and Progressive Era economist Edwin Seligman, who studied in Germany and helped to professionalize the study and teaching of economics in the United States, writes of taxation: “We pay taxes not because we get benefits from the state, but because it is as much our duty to support the state as to support ourselves and our family; because, in short, the state is an integral part of us” (1925, 73).

Today we often hear statist intellectuals and commentators call for “a common experience,” “a common understanding,” “a common enterprise,” “a common cause.” The term common has multiple meanings. It can mean “known,” “ordinary,” or “oftfound,” as in: “Don’t be embarrassed; on this highway, running out of gas is a common occurrence.” Another meaning of common is “shared” or “encompassing”: “Americans enjoyed a common experience in seeing their country put a man on the moon.” Intellectuals and commentators have in mind this second meaning. Thus, in the calls for “a common experience,” “a common understanding,” and so forth, we ought to recognize the call for encompassing coordination of sentiments—TPR.

Many statists express the same penchant for shared or common experience:

Quote:• The title of Richard Rorty’s social-democratic tract speaks of TPR— Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America (1998; for example, see 50).
• Harvard professor Derek Bok writes, “government is the one administrative agency that can define, enunciate, and validate a set of common moral standards and obligations for all the people” (2001, 12). Reminiscent of William James, Bok finds the idea of national service “all the more compelling now that the disappearance of the draft has removed one of the few opportunities to gather Americans from all walks of life in a common civic undertaking” (409).
• In After Virtue (1984), Alasdair MacIntyre claims that justice and desert make sense only in “a community whose primary bond is a shared understanding both of the good for man and the good of that community” (250) and then makes the “disquieting suggestion” that our society has lost any such shared understanding and that justice and virtue have fallen into a shambles.
• Benjamin Barber advocates “strong democracy,” which “rests on the idea of a self-governing community of citizens who are united less by homogeneous interests than by civic education and who are made capable of common purpose and mutual action” (1984, 117). Strong democracy “requires institutions that will involve individuals at both the neighborhood and the national level in common talk, common decision making and political judgment, and common action” (261). This ideal seeks coordination on “one common vision of the political and economic world” (263). “Voucher schemes undertaken in a climate of antigovernment privatism will only hasten the death of all public seeing and political judgment, enhancing the private power of individuals at the expense of a public vision of our common world” (264).

These examples of statist invocations of “common purpose” and the like might easily be multiplied twentyfold. 5

Superstitions That Sustain TPR

As noted, the communists veiled the coercion and domination intrinsic to their scheme with the notion that the new society would be “classless” and the centralized power would be under “a genuine, popular control.” In modern times, social democracy’s coercion and domination are veiled by a set of superstitions and taboos at best only somewhat less fatuous.

Social democrats tend to see society as an organization administered by government. This creed aids TPR, but many ordinary persons will find the notion oppressive if they think of the administration as strictly top down. Although they want to see a social organization, they do not want it to be a strict hierarchy. The magical element that holds it all together is the idea that the government receives its mandate and warrant from ordinary persons. The democratic notion of popular sovereignty tells the ordinary person that he gives license to the government, as he does to a voluntary association or club. This superstition makes the whole undertaking tolerable. As de Tocqueville put it, “Our contemporaries are ever a prey to two conflicting passions: they feel the need of guidance, and they long to stay free. Unable to wipe out these two contradictory instincts, they try to satisfy them both together. Their imagination conceives a government which is unitary, protective, and all-powerful, but elected by the people. Centralization is combined with the sovereignty of the people. That gives them a chance to relax. They console themselves for being under schoolmasters by thinking that they have chosen them themselves” ([1840] 1969, 693). Thus, citizens “are turned alternatively into the playthings of the sovereign and into his masters, being greater than kings and less than men” (694).

5. Fine Hayekian critiques of participatory and deliberative democracy are found in the works of David
Prychitko (2002), Mark Pennington (2003), and Michael Wohlgemuth (in this issue of The Independent
Review ).
Joseph Schumpeter, in his assessment of the social democratic “club” view of
society, indicates its pervasiveness: “ever since the princes’ feudal incomes ceased to be
of major importance, the state has been living on a revenue which was being produced
in the private sphere for private purposes and had to be deflected from these purposes
by political force. . . . The theory which construes taxes on the analogy of club dues or
of the purchase of the services of, say, a doctor only proves how far removed this part
of the social sciences is from scientific habits of mind” (1950, 198).
I agree with Schumpeter, but this is not the place to debate the social-democratic
view. The point here is that nested within the conventional view that government is
not a mammoth apparatus of coercion is the tenet that society is an organization to
which we belong. Either on the view that we constitute and control the government
(“we are the government”) or on the view that by deciding to live in the polity we
choose voluntarily to abide by the government’s rules (“no one is forcing you to stay
here”), the social democrat holds that taxation and interventions such as a minimumwage
law are not coercive. The government-rule structure, as they see it, is a matter
of “social contract” persisting through time and binding on the complete collection
of citizens. The implication is that the whole of society is a club, a collectively owned
property, administered by the government.
In “Socialism and Superior Brains” ([1894] 1932), George Bernard Shaw puts
it plainly: “That great joint-stock company of the future, the Social Democratic State,
will have its chairman and directors as surely as its ships will have captains” (279).
Again, the superstitions involving a supposed consent to the organization that is the
society and the taboos that surround these superstitions enable many to enjoy the
purported common endeavor—the romance—of the “company,” the “club,” The
TPR in Mundane Political Discourse
Examples drawn from ordinary political discourse illustrate how TPR lurks in mundane
policy issues:
• In 1990, U.S. postmaster general Anthony Frank explained why he opposed
freedom in postal services: “I am against it, because I believe the U.S. Postal
Service is a legitimate and necessary public institution that serves an important
social function as a binding, unifying force in our national life. . . . . As a public
institution, it serves all the American people, not merely those groups, areas, or
segments that are clearly profitable” (47, 49, emphasis in original). In a similar
vein, the Hollywood director and actor Kevin Costner’s film The Postman
(1997) shows its hero resuscitating civilization in postapocalyptic America by
restarting the U.S. Postal Service.
• In promoting the U.S. census of 2000 in a press briefing, the census director
Kenneth Prewitt said: “every household that returns the form does strengthen
the ties that bind us together as a civilized society” (2000).
• A spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a left-wing pressure
group, measured the success of recycling in the following terms: “Recycling is
probably the single most successful environmental policy out there. Most people
in the world today know about reduce, reuse, recycle. It is very widely practiced.
More people participate voluntarily in recycling than voted in the last four presidential
elections” (qtd. in Rembert 1997). Thus, recycling—typically promulgated
by government and subsidized with tax dollars—is successful because it
has become a common ritual and experience.
TPR’s Explanatory Power
Besides taking TPR from the horse’s mouth, we may infer it from the horse’s behavior.
Taking TPR into account helps to explain much that otherwise remains only
poorly explained.
Many people, especially the Americans who tend to vote Democrat or Green,
are inclined to support economic restrictions such as union privileges, occupational
licensing, the minimum wage, housing-market controls, the postal monopoly, and
import restrictions. Yet knowledgeable economists agree that these restrictions are
bad for humankind. Perhaps their support arises because TPR requires, as Bukharin
and Preobrazhensky put it, that activities be statified. What seems primary is often
not how well the program or policy achieves its stated goals of improving education,
mobility, opportunity, and so on, but instead the collective endeavor itself.
Why do people who claim to be concerned about the poor so often support or go
along with policies that are obviously and predictably bad for society, especially for the
poor? Why do they support government schooling, antidevelopment land-use policies,
rail-transit projects, and policies to discourage the use of the private automobile? TPR
provides an explanation: these policies bind people together (like a bundle of sticks).
Many populists, right and left, oppose free trade, alleging that it will hurt lowskilled
workers. Even if that claim were true, however, why do they leave out of
their considerations the low-skilled Chinese or Brazilians? Answer: TPR is about we
Americans. “The People” excludes “the other people.” TPR helps to explain why
“distributive justice” reaches only to the border. If you scratch an egalitarian, you’ll
often find TPR.
I suspect that a large part of the impetus behind the welfare state is the yearning
for a collective enterprise: “We” taking care of “Ourselves.” In this theater, some have
to be cast as the needy, helpless, disadvantaged, inferior, and so on. I suspect that one
reason coercive egalitarians feel that “the disadvantaged” deserve government support
is that the scheme demeans and exploits them, so that the assistance is a sort of
Why are people uneasy about globalization? The communitarian Alasdair
MacIntyre rightly says: “Patriotism cannot be what it was because we lack in the fullest
sense a patria . . . . . In any society where government does not express or represent
the moral community of the citizens . . . the nature of political obligation becomes
systematically unclear” (1984, 254). Globalization blurs the “we,” dissolves political
obligation, and deflates TPR.
Why are government officials and enthusiasts often hostile to leading corporations
such as Microsoft, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, and Martha Stewart? Why are they
often hostile to other bases for independent private cultural power such as private
builders, private schools, and talk radio? Part of the answer may be that they are jealous
in guarding their role as medium and focal point in TPR. Why are they hostile to
placeless “suburban sprawl,” private communities, private shopping malls, the private
automobile (especially big ones), gun ownership and toting, and home schooling?
Because these practices are means of withdrawing from TPR and creating an autonomous
circle of authority, power, and experience.
Randolph Bourne famously said, “War is the health of the State.” In war, TPR swells
and rends libertarian constraints:
War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout
society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation
with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and
individuals which lack the larger herd instinct. [War] seems to achieve for
a nation almost all that the most inflamed political idealist could desire.
Citizens are no longer indifferent to their Government, but each cell of the
body politic is brimming with life and activity. We are at last on the way to
the full realization of that collective community in which each individual
somehow contains the virtue of the whole. In a nation at war, every citizen
identifies himself with the whole, and feels immensely strengthened in that
identification. ([1919] 1964, 71)
TPR helps to explain why Americans who lived through World War II generally
remember it as a good time, even a time of improving material conditions, even though,
as Robert Higgs (1992) shows, it was a time of significant material privation.
TPR captures what William James sought in the “moral equivalent of war”—
namely, “a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number
of years a part of the army enlisted” to dig coal, make tunnels, wash clothes, and
catch fish. “[We should be] conscious of our work as an obligatory service to the state.
We should be owned, as soldiers are by the army, and our pride would rise accordingly”
([1910] 1963, 299, 300, emphasis in original). In Great Britain at the Labour
Party Conference of 1945, Sir Stafford Cripps said, “We have got to engender in the
people the same spirit of determination to see this programme through that they have
displayed in winning victory in the war” (qtd. in Jewkes 1948, 227). 6



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