Should you ever wonder what fuels the President’s incessant drive to grow government, look no further than his recent commencement speech at The Ohio State University. One could be forgiven for concluding that he hates the Founders’ vision of America as a country of free individuals.
As intellectual descendants of the Renaissance, the Founders inherited a healthy skepticism of political and religious authority. They also inherited a healthy respect for the individual. These two ideas are complementary–rejecting the authority of monarchs and priests is an empty gesture without recognizing one’s own authority on what to believe and how to act. Individual liberty in body and soul was recognized as the end for which government was the means.
The Founders recognized that while government is necessary to secure individual liberty, it is also a threat to that liberty. Their solution, never explicitly applied before in human history, was to formally recognize freedom as the point of government.
Were freedom possible without government, the solution would have been easy–eliminate it altogether. Unfortunately, we resemble dieters more than alcoholics–an alcoholic can live without drinking, but a dieter still has to eat. Government is both necessary and dangerous–a dilemma for which no better solution exists than the US Constitution.
The fact that individual liberty is the central point of our political system does not mean people must act always and only alone. No one, libertarians included, believes that collective action is bad per se. Working together is uniquely human and marvelously effective in getting individuals what they want. Other than making sure no one initiates violence against another, though, no central authority is needed to dictate how, when, and for how long groups of people work together. Projects and the groups of people who execute them form, function, and then disband as dictated by the needs of the individuals who comprise them.
All of this is completely lost on the President, whose only notion of collective action is the government-enforced variety. To his way of thinking, there is nothing a group of people can do that can’t be done better when directed by government. No good is ever created that cannot be amplified by authority–especially authority over business.
The very businesses Obama seems to loathe are wonderful examples of what human beings can achieve working together voluntarily. Yet individual ambition is denigrated by the President as if it were 1) a bad thing, 2) not in fact part and parcel of any collective achievement. Individual ambition drives both individual action and cooperation with others who value similar things. A baseball player works to improve his individual stats, but also tempers his individual ambition for the good of the team. These two drives are complementary, not antithetical. The player who thinks only of himself will soon find himself a pariah among his teammates. The one who lacks individual ambition will never even make the team.
These trade-offs are worked out quite well without the all-knowing eye of Obama’s preferred kind of government watching o’er. My beef is simple–no one should be forced to engage in collective action absent a deeply compelling reason, say, fending off a Canadian invasion. First, it violates individual rights, which means any alleged improvement to the collective is immaterial. Second, evidence of the government’s efficacy in improving upon the voluntary cooperation of individually ambitious citizens is scant.
The President’s contempt for the individual extends well beyond economic rights. His apoplectic accusations of Congress “gumming up the works” on issues like gun control reveal a deep-seated conviction that he knows better than each of us how the world should look and who should get to do what when. He at times appears to lament the fact that he has to bother checking with anyone at all. Someone should have told him in which country he was seeking office.
Last, Barack Obama detests that anyone is even allowed to object to his vision of a collectivist nation. His admonition to graduates not to look for “tyranny lurking around the corner,” as apparently some of us do*, speaks volumes about what he really wants deep down–to impose without restraint what he thinks is best–for you, for me, and for whoever is to be. I don’t think we need to look around the corner anymore.
*Guilty as charged.