March 18, 2017

Governmental Creep, Minarchy, and the Permission Society:

Part One of A Two-Part Series on Limited Government

By Peter Amos Cohen

My last post (found here) was an explanation of the totalitarianism of the Left. The Left’s extremist behaviours directly express its totalitarian philosophy, which centers on a rejection of the family in order to liberate sexuality from it; since the family is the warp and woof of civil society, the Left’s rejection of the family entails a further rejection of civil society as a whole; finally, it is the Left’s rejection of civil society that explains its extremism, ie. it’s need to politicize activities like the Super Bowl, since they are effects or expressions of civil society.


The point that needs further elaboration is the combination of the doctrines of the instrumentalist view of the state and of subsidiarity to form a minarchist position towards government. MINARCHY sometimes refers a libertarian theory about the limits of government. In ts its most fundamental and literal sense, the word minarchy is a neologism meaning minimal rule. It is a good term, which has broader meaning than its theoretical, libertarian usage. In its most fundamental meaning, minarchy is a savvy attitudinal response to “GOVERNMENTAL CREEP,” another neologism. What is governmental creep?


“Soil creep” (a geological term) refers to the constant downward progression of rock and soil on a downward slope, busting through things like retaining walls and submerging everything in its way; analogously, governmental creep describes the constant impetus for the state to abandon its instrumentality to civil society and, by continual bureaucratic expansion, to become its own substance, acquiring “depth” (DEEP STATE). The aim to convert the state into substance is essential both to progressivism and to leftism. Both embrace statism, driven by a fear of civil society and of human liberty. Both include an effort to move the state away from being an instrument of civil society (INSTRUMENTALIST VIEW OF THE STATE) towards the possession of a substance of its own (SUBSTANTIALIST VIEW). When functioning as an instrument, the state has no good of its own, no substance; it is auxiliary to the pre-political, civil society, which is substantial. If the state becomes substantial, i.e. one society among others, then it dominates the other societies because of its monopoly on force. All other societies, in this case, become instruments of the state (a la Hegel). Charles Peters describes well the causes of governmental creep in chapter three of his book, How Washington Really Works (here). From his description, it is clear that governmental creep is not caused either by Progressivism or by Leftism; it is a movement inherent to the nature of governmental bureaucracies. Progressives and Leftists, however, given their fear of civil society and human liberty, embrace and accelerate the creep, whereas advocates of human liberty, civil society, the family, etc, counter governmental creep by a minarchy. Minarchy is a savvy attitude because it acknowledges the general and regular need to keep the government in check, to deconstruct the administrative state by pruning it down. Bachner and Ginsburg offer a list of helpful suggestions for pruning in ch 5 of their book, What Washington Gets Wrong, (here).     


Without a minarchical attitude, America will not survive because the government, as it grows, converts the civil rights and civil liberties of the people into privileges dispensed by bureaucrats in an un-American, “permission based society.” In his essay, “Charters,” James Madison teaches the distinctive nature of the American charter: “In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example…. of charters of power granted by liberty” (here). Commenting on Madison’s phrase, Timothy Sandefur (here) writes: What Madison meant was that, unlike the old documents of the English Civil War, or the Glorious Revolution, which purported to give freedoms to the people, the American Revolution was founded on the OPPOSITE PRINCIPLE — that people are basically free, and create the government through their own agreements” (emphasis mine). (For Sandefur’s full argument go here, and for his video lecture on the same topic go here.) Insofar as the administrative state, growing by governmental creep, lives by converting liberties into privileges, its growth is, by its very nature, un-American. In terms of freedom and power, it is based on the opposite principle.     


Given the constant need to pare the government back, what should be the goal of the paring? This will be the subject of the next post, part two of this series.  


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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