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All of us in free societies seem to know that if a king holds all power, particularly if this power is administered directly rather than through delegated governors in regional provinces, he can and often will be, completely tyrannical with full immunity. What more of us need to acknowledge is that any form of government firmly centralized, can and will impose a violent despotism against both individuals and substantial portions of the population. Such a system of governance, by its inherent nature, must make at the very least, tax slaves of all of us!
Many have argued that establishing a national popular voting system for choosing a president will ensure that each person's vote will have equal weight and effect. While I cannot dispute this claim, I still vehemently oppose this concept because such a system is hostile to a federally structured government. In previous papers, we have discussed both the necessity of a federal system to safeguard our liberty, as well as the inherent propensity of national popular elections to speed up the never ending process of increased centralization which we labor under today. Although we have already given such topics extensive study, the nature and very essence of how our government is organized, centralized and distant versus decentralized and local, is of such great importance that further examination is clearly warranted.
Let us be reminded that we were intended to be the United States of America, and not the United People of America. Such a federal system was meant to be not merely the collective will of the People as a whole, but rather, a union of sovereign states. In a properly decentralized system, States directly elect presidents, while individuals only do so indirectly. This is done to protect the integrity of the States and foster the growth of localized government. Doing so also encourages a cohesive union of all the States because it discourages presidential candidates from focusing on just a few highly concentrated urban areas.
Since its inception, one could reasonably argue that the ensuing history of these United States has been one of a struggle between those trying to establish a decentralized society and those pushing for greater and greater levels of power and centralization. Centralists, as the word suggests, support increasing the power of a central government, while decentralists believe in localism, and tend to agree with Thomas Jefferson, when he said, "the government that governs best is that which governs least." In other words, decentralists want a central government to be as small as will possibly be compatible with societal peace.
The Declaration of Independence is an excellent example of decentralist thinking in that it clearly states that a community of people has the inherent right to rid itself of any government that has grown too strong and despotic. The United States Constitution, as originally written, was more of a mixture between centralized and decentralized government, while the Bill of Rights was included to pull power away from Washington, D.C. and put it back in the hands of the States and the People.
Experience and the entire history of the human struggle for freedom strongly suggest that a decentralized government is that which is most compatible with long-term liberty. This is why I implore you to find a deep attachment to the idea of federalism. Under this system of government, if it were ever to flourish in our country, the individual States would be the primary level of governance, while the Bill of Rights would serve as a legal boundary to protect both individuals and the States from overreaching impositions by the central government, no matter what the politicians use as justification.
There are a number of reasons in opposition to centralization and in favor of decentralized government:
In the first place, a localized system of government forces each region or jurisdiction to actually compete with each other for residents, and thus, for increased capital. Such a system naturally gives those governing a strong incentive to ensure a free society, or they will risk losing both residents and capital to an area with greater freedom. If tyrants still find a way to rule their areas, many people will find a way to leave. But, on the other hand, if that same tyrant was given the power to rule a broad area, or an entire nation, very few would be able to escape.
Going further with this, the second reason is that despotism on a local level reduces the resultant damages just as despotism on a wide scale amplifies them. For example, if Stalin had ruled only Moscow, Napoleon only Paris, and Mao had only ruled Beijing, the effects of their devastating rule would have had a much greater chance of being contained. This is a simple concept; that evil people find it much harder to violate the rights of people outside their sphere of jurisdiction.
Third, an increased number of governmental levels and jurisdictions help to prevent any one group from increasing its power. Each governing body naturally tries to keep its own power level, and will resist any usurpation of power by a central authority. This is what the founders were hoping for when they created the system with a "balance of powers." Although they were not as successful in the long-term as we would have hoped, we can still learn from, and improve upon, their ideals in order to help ensure the liberty of every person in the years to come. Our starting point must be a realization that no one body of governors can ever be trusted with complete control over our freedom.
Fourth, history has absolutely proven to us that government cannot be trusted. Throughout the world, voluminous examples exist where governments have been given increased power to do good one day, only to turn around and use that same power tyrannically just a short time later. Sometimes good people call for greater power in government to do good things, while others use seemingly honorable motives as an unmitigated cover-up for personal aggrandizement and increased power alone. Therefore, what we must continually guard against is increased power in the central government. Once that power is gained, it is used by despots to put a legal authorization on control to the detriment of us all!
The enemy of our freedom is not the person who is liberal or conservative. Our enemy is not from any particular party, social stratus, or geographic location. Our enemy is, and will always be, the statist, who is the proponent of force and concentrated power. Centralized government is the oppressor, and we the People, are its slaves.
Our goal should be to adhere to rights which are universally accepted, but enforced on a local level only. These two canons quite often fight against one another. But, if we relinquish either, we risk losing liberty completely, as both are equally important and must remain in a proper stasis. A regional or local government that violates rights is evil, while a central government that uses rights to rule universally is just as evil.
The endless process of centralization in America has become a seemingly invincible force that, if not stopped in the near future, will eventually turn our great country into an absolute tyranny. Once central government starts growing, no matter what the reason may be, it will, just like all parasites, do anything possible to continue its growth.
We are at a dangerous point in our history. We will either completely lose our liberty to the cravings of a few, or we will resist and turn the tide in favor of our own freedom. Our best strategy is to be a constant reminder that one cannot be for liberty without also being intensely opposed to centralization.
"The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position."
- George Washington
In the spirit of liberty and prosperity,
This essay is the 32nd edition of the series, The Populist Papers. Written anonymously to promote discussion of the principles alone, these essays attempt to both explain the complexities of government, and determine the proper place of a federal government based on the inherent rights of all people. Feedback is welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org