By Michael L. Grable / September 6, 2014 / American Thinker
The American Republic’s ill. The disease is entitlementalism. Its only cure may be limiting suffrage.
Apostasy? Hardly. Suffrage wasn’t unlimited in Jefferson’s and Madison’s America. The notion would have been risible. Neither the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights mentioned suffrage, and even most white males couldn’t vote unless they owned property or paid taxes. Those without a tangible stake in society didn’t vote. Unlimited suffrage emerged from five later amendments. Apart from the 14th, they were the 15th in 1870 (enfranchised black males), the 19th in 1920 (enfranchised women), the 23rd in 1961 (enfranchised D.C. residents), the 24th in 1964 (prohibited poll taxes and literacy tests), and the 26th in 1971 (enfranchised 18-year olds). Incarcerated felons and the mentally incompetent still can’t vote. So why should the vocationally incompetent, for whose subsistence government steals the value of others’ labor?
America’s 226-year experience with suffrage and governance is essentially this: governance limited while suffrage was became unlimited as suffrage did (the socialist prescript). Constitutions aside, the adult question is whether equal and universal suffrage today threatens America’s tomorrow. If so, the only remaining adult question is who amends what to limit the suffrage of whom with the least civil disability.
John Stuart Mill, England’s foremost liberal philosopher, condemned universal suffrage in one fundamental respect. His Considerations on Representative Government – written during America’s Civil War – said this about England’s Poor Law and its compulsory parish relief:
I regard it as required by first principles, that the receipt of parish relief should be a preemptory disqualification for the franchise. He who cannot by his labor suffice for his own support, has no claim to the privilege of helping himself to the money of others. By becoming dependent on the remaining members of the community for actual subsistence, he abdicates his claim for equal rights with them in other respects. Those to whom he is indebted for the continuation of his very existence may justly claim the exclusive management of those common concerns, to which he now brings nothing, or less than he takes away.
Would you allow an indigent who – upon your charity – lives in your house and eats at your table a vote equal to your own about your house’s management, your table’s bounty, and your resources’ husbandry? If not, why would you and your fellow citizens allow a multitude of indigents who – upon your charity – live in the nation’s house and eat at the nation’s table a vote equal to your own about the nation’s management, its table’s bounty, and its resources’ husbandry?
A statement attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville makes things clear: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” The statement’s otherwise consistent with de Tocqueville’s classic view of the American Republic:
A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.
Americans are so enamored of equality; they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.
The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.
Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.
When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education and their experience of free institutions, the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint. … It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold. … [T]hey neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.
Mill’s and de Tocqueville’s philosophies half a century after the American Republic’s founding were consistent with the founders’ philosophy half a century before. A century and a half later, neither is consistent with an American entitlement mentality, which, in less than another half-century, will make government more our master than our servant. Taxpayers are already in servitude for the one third of each year they must work to pay their taxes. Even that won’t be enough. The master will require more, the servants receive less. Without limiting the suffrage of those “helping … [themselves] to the money of others,” de Tocqueville’s distinction between democracy and socialism may be meaningless.
Annually transferring $2 trillion from those who earned it to many who didn’t is bad enough (as evidenced by the nation’s debt, now greater than its GDP, and its unfunded liability, now ten times greater than its GDP). The real crux, however, is our transition from governance that serves us to governance we serve. Americans are, as de Tocqueville warned, neglecting “their chief business which is to remain their own masters.”
A century of Soviet history says all we need know about the communitarian ethos in the sovereign state. Millions died, and tens of millions more were oppressed and impoverished – all to indulge a psychopathic state whose sole ethos became the security of its own ruling-class clique. Even in today’s reformed Russia, with its immense natural resources and the largest territory on earth, the per-capita GDP is only half the size of Italy’s, and a corrupt clique of siloviki has stolen most of its wealth. The state has no ethos but the state.
The American State crossed the Mill/de Tocqueville Rubicon fifty years ago, as well as with Lyndon’s Johnson’s “Great Society,” and is well on its way to its own version of political Caesarism. States can be stolen by bullets, as with the Bolshevists, but they can also be stolen by ballots, as the democratic entitlement mentality now shows in America. Combine “democratic government … in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it” with a Caesarist Congress (where re-election rates are close to 100%), and the Congress can steal the state by “bribing the public with the public’s money.”
Fifty percent of Americans pay 97.6% of federal income taxes (25% pay 85.6%). The other 50% pay only 2.4%. The bottom 20% receives $8.13 for every $1 tax it pays. At least $1.5 trillion is annually redistributed from the top 40% to the bottom 60%. At a cost of $600 billion annually, Americans receiving means-tested welfare now outnumber those working full-time. Can the Republic be said any longer to exist when unlimited suffrage permits the majority of voters to live in the minority’s house and eat at the minority’s table while it “brings nothing, or less than it takes away” to either the house or the table?
This can’t continue without bringing America to its knees. That’s just property’s grim reality in the collectivist state. Yet it will as long as universal suffrage does. “Equality in restraint and servitude” will replace “equality in liberty.” And all but America’s own version of a Supreme Soviet and its security apparatus will be, in de Tocqueville’s words, “a flock of timid … animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” Ironically, the majority that today votes for entitlementalism will tomorrow be its foremost victims after those for whom it voted finish stealing the state, to which they alone will then be entitled. No suffrage of any sort will mean anything in a one-party state.
Can we still reassert Mill’s “first principles,” seek de Tocqueville’s “equality in liberty,” avoid his “equality in restraint and servitude,” and reverse the stealing of the American State? The good news is that we can – and justly limit the resulting civil disability too (another topic for another time). The bad news is that we don’t want to.