The Fiction of the Legislature

November 30, 2011

Some say the decline of Indiana politics began with air-conditioned meeting rooms and multi-issue legislation. You should doubt that; history is rarely so subtle.

Rulers, especially, find it comforting to think that way. It implies there is time for a gentle correction of course. They tell us we need only be patient for one or two more election cycles until certain small, reasonable and effortless turns can be executed — a gradual, perpetual fine-tuning of democracy toward a heavenly ideal.

In reality, liberty is lost all of a sudden — an event, a brick through the window, a financial crisis, a declaration of independence, the outbreak of a war somewhere you’re not sure where.
It follows, then, that our freedom is saved not in increments but by profound insight — that and dramatic, even heroic, action.

And it is saved by us and not by a distant them, and by each of us and not by a chosen group of us. Your county chairman or district representative will have precious little to say. The governor, your senator and congressman already will have packed their bags.

So with the disturbing “occupy” demonstrations, images and thoughts challenging our very definition of ourselves, coming up with a topic for the next issue of The Indiana Policy Review was easy. It’s civic education, the study of those ideas that have carried us to this point. We sought to reaffirm some wisdom in danger of getting lost in a discussion sure to become heated.

It is contained in this question: “What did the Founders mean by self-government?” A hint: They didn’t mean what we see happening at almost every statehouse or city hall — that is, the institutionalization of the privilege of being taxed to ruin by a despotic democracy overrun by public-sector unions.

The question was raised several months ago as the foundation prepared a reading list on American civic virtue, one we have dubbed “A Legislator’s Reading List.” We were reminded that self-government meant governing one’s self.

Governing one’s self. Think about that — how much more difficult than mere legislating, the passage of politically timed laws in dribs and drabs as assorted crises demand.

There is a cinematic explication of all this, a scene from the 1989 mini-series, “Lonesome Dove.” Gus McCrae (Robert Duvall) is about to hang Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), his friend and fellow Texas Ranger. Spoon had fallen in with a frontier psychopath, Dan Suggs. The Suggs gang had massacred a group of “sod busters” (the temptation here is to refer to them as property owners):

Gus: “You know how it goes, Jake, you ride with an outlaw, you die with an outlaw. Sorry you crossed the line.”
Jake: “I never seen no line, Gus; I was just trying to get through the territory without gettin’ scalped.”
Gus: “I don’t doubt that’s true, Jake.”

Consider that scene when the politician and his friends the crony capitalist and the union teacher try to deconstruct a core issue like private property or rule of law (rather than of men).

You shouldn’t doubt that they, like Jake, see no line. And you can understand if not appreciate that they are just reaching for sinecure, trying to get reelected, refinanced or rehired without being scalped in some figurative way.

But a line is crossed nonetheless, and the offender, despite the best of intentions, whether a beloved politician, teacher, firefighter or policeman, does not deserve your support.

For the line is not difficult to see for those in the habit of looking for it. Both the Indiana and U.S. Constitution illuminate it in the plainest of language. And if you are in a real jam, there’s the Golden Rule; the line is quite bright there. In sum, no one can claim not to know how we are to govern, how we are to govern ourselves.

The old way, ante United States of America, the one that self-described progressives are intent on following, puts our lives and fortunes, and our children’s’ lives and fortunes, in the hands of a king, i.e., the state, however the means of succession, democratic or hereditary.

That returns us to dependency on a fiction, as Bastiat famously described the state, a fiction where “everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”

And so it goes at the Statehouse these days — gentle, forgiving, reasonable and disastrous progress, pushed along by Republicans even.

Reality, though, will be a brick through this General Assembly’s window. Watch for it. You’ll have to clean it up.



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