We have all heard (or made) the complaint about political leaders: “They are all crooks.” Sure, many are motivated by self-interest, using their offices to enjoy power, fame
It seems that political leaders are of two sorts (or a mixture of these two). First, there are the aforementioned crooks, who would manipulate the laws to favor themselves and a few close friends. These are mere thieves and knaves, motivated by greed, applause and personal power. The trouble is, the greedy politician is less a menace than the high-minded one. He is only a thief, loving his own pleasure, but caring little about how I manage my life, as long as I serve and feed the state.
The Public Servant:
As bad as the crooked politician may be, there is a strong case that in the modern state it is the honest ruler—the political do-gooder—who is the greater menace. As C.S. Lewis wrote:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be
C.C. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” from God in the Dock
Henry David Thoreau encapsulated the same idea in this snippet from Walden:
“If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.“
Nineteenth-century abolitionist Lysander Spooner gave us this classic example contrasting a highway robber with the political rulers. In the end, it turns out that the robber is the lesser pest:
“Furthermore, having taken your money, [the robber] leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands.
“He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.”
Lysander Spooner, No Treason
If I could choose between a government of crooks or moral busybodies, I’d take the crooks any day.
Who knows, perhaps the Federal Reserve could then print up 535 billion dollars and use it to bribe every