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Thomas Sowell
30 Sep 2014
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Degeneration of Democracy

Comment

When Adolf Hitler was building up the Nazi movement in the 1920s, leading up to his taking power in the 1930s, he deliberately sought to activate people who did not normally pay much attention to politics. Such people were a valuable addition to his political base, since they were particularly susceptible to Hitler's rhetoric and had far less basis for questioning his assumptions or his conclusions.

"Useful idiots" was the term supposedly coined by V.I. Lenin to describe similarly unthinking supporters of his dictatorship in the Soviet Union.

Put differently, a democracy needs informed citizens if it is to thrive, or ultimately even survive. In our times, American democracy is being dismantled, piece by piece, before our very eyes by the current administration in Washington, and few people seem to be concerned about it.

The president's poll numbers are going down because increasing numbers of people disagree with particular policies of his, but the damage being done to the fundamental structure of this nation goes far beyond particular counterproductive policies.

Just where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that a president has the authority to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation? Nowhere.

And yet that is precisely what is happening with a $20 billion fund to be provided by BP to compensate people harmed by their oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Many among the public and in the media may think that the issue is simply whether BP's oil spill has damaged many people, who ought to be compensated. But our government is supposed to be "a government of laws and not of men." If our laws and our institutions determine that BP ought to pay $20 billion— or $50 billion or $100 billion— then so be it.

But the Constitution says that private property is not to be confiscated by the government without "due process of law." Technically, it has not been confiscated by Barack Obama, but that is a distinction without a difference.

With vastly expanded powers of government available at the discretion of politicians and bureaucrats, private individuals and organizations can be forced into accepting the imposition of powers that were never granted to the government by the Constitution.

If you believe that the end justifies the means, then you don't believe in Constitutional government. And, without Constitutional government, freedom cannot endure. There will always be a "crisis"— which, as the president's chief of staff has said, cannot be allowed to "go to waste" as an opportunity to expand the government's power.

That power will of course not be confined to BP or to the particular period of crisis that gave rise to the use of that power, much less to the particular issues.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt arbitrarily took the United States off the gold standard, he cited a law passed during the First World War to prevent trading with the country's wartime enemies. But there was no war when FDR ended the gold standard's restrictions on the printing of money.

At about the same time, during the worldwide Great Depression, the German Reichstag passed a law "for the relief of the German people." That law gave Hitler dictatorial powers that were used for things going far beyond the relief of the German people— indeed, powers that ultimately brought a rain of destruction down on the German people and on others.

If the agreement with BP was an isolated event, perhaps we might hope that it would not be a precedent. But there is nothing isolated about it.

The man appointed by President Obama to dispense BP's money as the administration sees fit, to whomever it sees fit, is only the latest in a long line of presidentially appointed "czars" controlling different parts of the economy, without even having to be confirmed by the Senate, as Cabinet members are.

Those who cannot see beyond the immediate events to the issues of arbitrary power— versus the rule of law and the preservation of freedom— are the "useful idiots" of our time. But useful to whom?

To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com. Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His Web site is www.tsowell.com.

COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM



Comments

17 Comments | Post Comment
Professor Sowell, I am outraged.

You are a brilliant man who has persuasively argued against democracy itself, which you have characterized as a system of using short-term promises and preferences of people at the expense of long-term functioning, by having people choose between bundles of disparate policies preferred by by one candidate or another, just to show results till the next election.

So after all those chapters in your books where you have given a strong case against democracy, why would you complain about democracy degenerating itself?

You know that no matter how educated or how informed people are, these problems of democracy will always persist. And you know that for these very reasons are such arbitrary actions of government conducted. Why else is it that similar arbitrary actions by government have happened in Western European nations, Japan, South Korea, and other high IQ, high education nations?

To say that the arbitrary solutions being considered by the government for the BP oil spill owe to an uneducated populace, as opposed to the system itself, makes us forget the root causes. Democracy is not a government of laws. Democracy does not respect private property or freedom. Democracy does not respect even basic civil liberties - else we wouldn't see so much police brutality and torture in democracies like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, or even US ("war on drugs").
Comment: #1
Posted by: Prateek Sanjay
Mon Jun 21, 2010 11:11 PM
Re: Prateek Sanjay

Mr. Sowell argues in favor of limited constitutional government. He does not "complain about democracy degenerating itself." He is simply pointing out one of democracy's most fatal flaws, which ultimately becomes it's undoing. He also points out that, in the US as well as other nations, limited constitutional government was bastardized into 'democracy' long ago.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Scrodee
Tue Jun 22, 2010 1:05 AM
Vote Republican! Vote Big Oil! Let the U.S. taxpayer pay for the BP's disaster! Drill, Baby, Drill!
Comment: #3
Posted by: Geoffrey James
Tue Jun 22, 2010 3:36 AM
Mr. Geoffrey James betrays the shallow political language of the mainstream American public in his post.

He is dreaming if he thinks Professor Sowell is "Republican".

He is dreaming if he thinks Professor Sowell is a lover of big lobbying corporations.

And this website makes such a folly to put Professor Sowell on the "Conservative" section.

(Which is perhaps what makes men like Mr. James so confused.)

Is the gentleman aware that Professor Sowell is an ex-Marxist? Let me repeat that for you - Thomas Sowell is a former member of the Marxist intelligentsia. A SIGNIFICANT member, I may add. He was an actual socialist - not even the kind that TV talking heads carelessly bill as "socialist". The kind who use historical dialectics in their approach.

Since then, Thomas Sowell has changed his position by educating himself much further on various matters and learning more about them than most people have. He is a self-converted former Marxist, and he is not part of any partisan game. There is no right or left in what he writes. He has never given support for any major political party, and simply tells it as it is.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Prateek Sanjay
Tue Jun 22, 2010 6:55 AM
Mr. Geoffrey James betrays the shallow political language of the mainstream American public in his post.

He is dreaming if he thinks Professor Sowell is "Republican".

He is dreaming if he thinks Professor Sowell is a lover of big lobbying corporations.

And this website makes such a folly to put Professor Sowell on the "Conservative" section.

(Which is perhaps what makes men like Mr. James so confused.)

Is the gentleman aware that Professor Sowell is an ex-Marxist? Let me repeat that for you - Thomas Sowell is a former member of the Marxist intelligentsia. A SIGNIFICANT member, I may add. He was an actual socialist - not even the kind that TV talking heads carelessly bill as "socialist". The kind who use historical dialectics in their approach.

Since then, Thomas Sowell has changed his position by educating himself much further on various matters and learning more about them than most people have. He is a self-converted former Marxist, and he is not part of any partisan game. There is no right or left in what he writes. He has never given support for any major political party, and simply tells it as it is.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Prateek Sanjay
Tue Jun 22, 2010 6:55 AM
What do you mean? I'm all in favor of big oil! Hooray! Vote Republican! Drill, baby, drill! Taxpayers pay up! It's your fault! Drill! Drill! Drill! Hooray for Rush! Hooray for Sowell!
Comment: #6
Posted by: Geoffrey James
Tue Jun 22, 2010 9:03 AM
Professor Thomas Sowell, you aptly make the significant connections here.. of how the Natzi sympathies gradually grew between 1920s and 1930s in Germany among the politically less sensitive middle class , for whom it proved to be much late before they could open their eyes to see what was really happening.
Comment: #7
Posted by: K M Venugopalan
Tue Jun 22, 2010 9:16 AM
Thomas Sowell, good article..I just received the following and thought your readers would like to read it,
The Kennedys & others like him did a 'Hi-Ho Hitler" job when they chose to
go along with Mattoon and the socialist party! Obama is just the scape goat
for the ones before him to make sure 'destruction' to America is his No. 1
Priorty.
==========================================================================

He has got 2 years to destroy us!

Subject: FW: Overwhelming the System...Read it and Weep



Barack Obama is no fool. He is not incompetent. To the contrary, he is

brilliant. He knows exactly what he's doing. He is purposely

overwhelming the U.S. economy to create systemic failure, economic

crisis and social chaos -- thereby destroying capitalism and our

country from within.



Barack Obama is my college classmate (Columbia University, class of

'83). As Glenn Beck correctly predicted from day one, Obama is

following the plan of Cloward & Piven, two professors at Columbia

University. They outlined a plan to socialize America by overwhelming

the system with government spending and entitlement demands. Add up the

clues below.

Taken individually they're alarming. Taken as a whole, it is a

brilliant, Machiavellian game plan to turn the United States into a

socialist/Marxist state with a permanent majority that desperately

needs government for survival ... and can be counted on to always vote

for bigger government.





Why not? They have no responsibility to pay for it.



Universal health care. The health care bill had very little to do

with health care. It had everything to do with unionizing millions of

hospital and health care workers, as well as adding 15,000 to 20,000

new IRS agents (who will join government employee unions). Obama

doesn't care that giving free health care to 30 million Americans will

add trillions to the national debt. What he does care about is that it

cements the dependence of those 30 million voters to Democrats and big

government. Who but a socialist revolutionary would pass this reckless

spending bill in the middle of a depression?





Cap and trade. Like health care legislation having nothing to do

with health care, cap and trade has nothing to do with global warming.

It has everything to do with redistribution of income, government

control of the economy and a criminal payoff to Obama's biggest

contributors. Those powerful and wealthy unions and contributors (like

GE, which owns NBC, MSNBC and CNBC) can then be counted on to support

everything Obama wants. They will kick-back hundreds of millions of

dollars in contributions to Obama and the Democratic Party to keep them

in power.

The bonus is that all the new taxes on Americans with bigger cars,

bigger homes and businesses helps Obama "spread the wealth around."



Make Puerto Rico a state. Why? Who's asking for a 51st state? Who's

asking for millions of new welfare recipients and government

entitlement addicts in the middle of a depression? Certainly not American

taxpayers.

But this has been Obama's plan all along. His goal is to add two new

Democrat senators, five Democrat congressman and a million loyal

Democratic voters who are dependent on big government.




Legalize 12 million illegal immigrants. Just giving these 12

million potential new citizens free health care alone could overwhelm

the system and bankrupt America. But it adds 12 million reliable new

Democrat voters who can be counted on to support big government. Add

another few trillion dollars in welfare, aid to dependent children,

food stamps, free medical, education, tax credits for the poor, and

eventually Social Security.






Stimulus and bailouts. Where did all that money go? It went to

Democrat contributors, organizations (ACORN), and unions -- including

billions of dollars to save or create jobs of government employees

across the country. It went to save GM and Chrysler so that their

employees could keep paying union dues. It went to AIG so that Goldman

Sachs could be bailed out (after giving Obama almost $1 million in

(contributions). A staggering $125 billion went to teachers (thereby

protecting their union dues). All those public employees will vote

loyally Democrat to protect their bloated salaries and pensions that

are bankrupting America. The country goes broke, future generations

face a bleak future, but Obama, the Democrat Party, government, and

the unions grow more powerful. The ends justify the means.




Raise taxes on small business owners, high-income earners, and job

creators. Put the entire burden on only the top 20 percent of

taxpayers, redistribute the income, punish success, and reward those

who did nothing to deserve it (except vote for Obama). Reagan wanted

to dramatically cut taxes in order to starve the government. Obama

wants to dramatically raise taxes to starve his political opposition.


With the acts outlined above, Obama and his regime have created a vast

and rapidly expanding constituency of voters dependent on big

government; a vast privileged class of public employees who work for

big government; and a government dedicated to destroying capitalism

and installing themselves as socialist rulers by overwhelming the system.





Add it up and you've got the perfect Marxist scheme -- all devised by

my Columbia University college classmate Barack Obama using the

Cloward and Piven Plan.


Comment: #8
Posted by: Shirley deLong
Thu Jun 24, 2010 1:51 PM
I usually look foward to reading your columns in our local paper. I am extremely puzzled, however, as to why you insist on referring to our great nation as a 'democracy' ? You, of all people, shouild know that ours is a Constitutional Republic - a nation of laws - not mobocracy! Remember the Pledge of Allegiance - "and to the REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS" Please don't further this dangerous myth.
R.N.Grantham - Jackson, MS
Comment: #9
Posted by: R. N. Grantham
Mon Jun 28, 2010 8:21 AM
Did President Obama "take" the $20 bln from BP without due process? I think not. Did he somehow manage to convince BP it is for their good to do so? I think so. So where is the evidence that President Obama did anything in voilation of the Constitution - unless a President is not supposed to provide moral leadership using the "bully pulpit".
As to the "Degeneration of Democracy", hey, Hitler took over Germany under a constitutional process!! Let's not forget that.
Again on gold standard, did the Constitution stipulate that the US currency must be on gold standard? If so how come the Supreme Court that FDR failed to pack did not ruled it unconstitutional? By the way, the Constitution did not specify an IRS to collect income tax either. Nor does it declare that nonprofits like the Hoover Institute should recieve tax exempt status.
The Dengeneration of Democracy, unfortunately, comes not from Mr. Obama but from nonsense columnist spewing nonsense such those words in this column.
Should the US apologize to BP and give them $20B instead? It got nothing to do with the Constitution or "the end justifies the means" but taking responsibility - a recurrent GOP theme - for one's action.
Comment: #10
Posted by: SK
Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:01 PM
I suggest Mr. Sowell brush up on his federal environmental law and the powers expressly written into law for these types of environmental disasters. These laws (as most laws) were not created in an arbirtrary or capricious manner but through an extensive legislative process in the Congress. Under most U.S. environmental statutes, the President and/or the U.S. Government (USG) is well within its legal authority to set aside funds based on an assessment of the risk and damage (environmental, health, financial) caused by an environmental disaster such as the BP spill. BP is considered a liable and viable party to this pollution and is thus responsible for all costs associated with it. The polluter pays, is a central tenet of federal (and state) environmental laws. Check: the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the "Superfund" Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). These are some the federal environmental laws and they not subject to political or historical revisionism (except by Congress). Believe me (I speak from experience), the BP spill response and cleanup costs will quickly exceed the $20 billion that has been put into trust by the USG to compensate those damaged by the disaster. The USG's constitutional and legal authority under federal statutes to set aside these funds in response to an environmental disaster, is not an issue.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Scott@Enviro
Sat Jul 17, 2010 12:22 PM
Whenever articles like this appear, there are always a few steps missing , and then a labeling diatribe . In this case, no explanation in this article is given to rule in or out the fact that part of the legal system is often compensation to avoid years go lawsuits. So it is still within the nation of laws when compensation is given to those harmed by obvious environmental cotastophy.
For one, to circumvent years of lawsuits, it is known, that money is offered by a guilty party ( who admits it to avoid years of litigation ) . This is done by hospitals , to harmed patients to avoid litigation.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Sam
Sat Jul 17, 2010 2:41 PM
Obama like Hitler and Lenin? I'll copy this article and I'll have my High School students read it to make them roar with laughter. With your definitions of socialism - state socialism and national socialism seem to be the same for you - the current middle-right German Merkel government is communist or Germany is still ruled by the nazis. I guess Guantananmo is Obama's Auschwitz, right?
Comment: #13
Posted by: Chrisinom
Sun Jul 18, 2010 3:53 AM
Although it is unclear what the reference to Hitler should add to Sowells arguments, it is well off-base.

The Germans voting for Hitler had direct experience with both alternatives, Weimar Capitalism with depression and devaluation and Communism and were not only well informed but "paying much attention to politics", much more than the "useful idiots" voting for US wars for Israel.

And the "powers that ultimately brought a rain of destruction down on the German people and on others"
were not the "dictatorial powers" of Hitler, but those of East Coast capitalism masquerading as 'democracy'.

These same powers are still at work, of course, now bringing their "rain of destruction" to the US, Mr. Sowell.
Comment: #14
Posted by: Sylvie
Sun Jul 18, 2010 1:02 PM
Although it is unclear what the reference to Hitler should add to Sowells arguments, it is well off-base.

The Germans voting for Hitler had direct experience with both alternatives, Weimar Capitalism with depression and devaluation and Communism and were not only well informed but "paying much attention to politics", much more than the "useful idiots" voting for US wars for Israel.

And the "powers that ultimately brought a rain of destruction down on the German people and on others"
were not the "dictatorial powers" of Hitler, but those of East Coast capitalism masquerading as 'democracy'.

These same powers are still at work, of course, now bringing their "rain of destruction" to the US, Mr. Sowell.
Comment: #15
Posted by: Sylvie
Sun Jul 18, 2010 1:05 PM
Mr. Sowell is obviously another form of demogogue -- "Radical leaders prey on the fearful & naïve -- the buy line of the Billboard rightly taken down this past weekend is exactly what Sowell intends to do to the "idiots" that he so frequently mentioned in his article -- to even mention Hitler and Nazi's as a comparison to Obama and his policies is specious at best, and outright dangerous. Sowell is completely irresponsible in even mentioning this comparison -- Hitler was about hate, anger and racial purity, just like the skinheads we have in this country as well as an abundance of politicians who are preying on the fears of an ill informed populace -- I wonder if we'd be in this position if our school age kids actually were taught history? Once again, watch out when the ill informed prey on the well educated, because when that happens, and it is happening, we are all in a lot of trouble -- For a black man, Sowell should be ashamed of himself!!!!!
Comment: #16
Posted by: Joel Plotch
Mon Jul 19, 2010 9:35 AM
LOVE you Thomas Sowell! Your my inspiraction the - Posted by: Prateek Sanjay does not understand that we are not a DEMOCRACY! we are a republic.Democracy does not work period-"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.
There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." — John Adams

Comment: #17
Posted by: Robert trevino
Fri Jun 1, 2012 10:31 AM
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