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 and money; parasites who deserve no better than a prison cell. That such persons would seek public office is not surprising, for we understand corruption. In fairness, however, not every politician is motivated by personal gain. And that is the bad news.

The Crooks

Graphic showing a businessman handing over a bribe under a table - Catholic Libertarian

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 satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

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

Graphic showing a museum exhibit that reads MInd your own business.- Catholic Libertarian

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 congresscrook into going home forever.


  1. This was well put together and i on a personal note find it the truth as to the state of our Nation’s dilema and affairs. They are going to have their way there is only 1 way at this late stage of game to turn it back to the way it should be because the way it is contradicts the Constitution and Bill of Rights . because of someones “inturpretation”of the way our founders thought back then , sorry but basic principles of truth don’t change meaning the founders knew that large governing body would become corrupt with in itself. I do hope blood shed won’t be needed for a 2nd revolutionary war. But it always seems to be needed for freedom of oppression. I’m not a good orator or statesman but i do know whats right but i am a good warrior for the cause

    • Daniel, I agree that if the U.S. government were to limit itself strictly to the powers enumerated in the constitution, it would become quite small and we would be far freer. I am skeptical of that ever happening. But if it did happen, there is nothing about the Constitution to prevent us ending up back where we are now. If we are willing to throw in with a coercive, violent government, it is going to grow no matter who runs it.

      The U.S. Constitution was an early draft attempt at limiting government. In 1870, Lysander Spooner noted that it had already failed in that purpose. He wrote that the Constitution, “has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”

      I find it hard to argue with that simple conclusion. ~ Randy England


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