Aesop and Government

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 10-04-2020
Aesop was born a bit more than 600 years before Christ, in a village on the Black Sea in what was then called Thrace, now called Bulgaria. My suspicion is that most people don’t read Aesop these days, though they should; his stories teach valuable, fundamental points about life and how the world works. 
In any case, just the other day I was reading about the founding and funding of several politically active groups in the US, groups that have been identified as supporting both Antifa and BLM; and one of Aesop’s tales came to mind…
The main focus of the material I was reading was that many of the founders of these various movements, and much of their intellectual foundation, is socialist in origin. 
But, so what? The question we need to ask ourselves is not: Is Antifa dangerous? The real question we need to ask would seem to be: Is socialism dangerous?
There are a great many people in the world who believe that a central government should have a direct hand in ensuring everyone is properly fed, properly housed, has a decent job, has health care, is educated, clothed, and is a productive member of society. That’s what socialism is, isn’t it? 
Well, yes and no. That’s what socialism is trying to achieve. But there are a few problems with it. For one, that’s not all that socialism is. Secondly, to be able to do the above, the government needs a great deal of authority, that is, power. And third, there is the little issue about the nature of man.
In fact, in the end, the real problem with socialist governments isn’t really socialists, it’s government. The real question we need to answer is this: Is government dangerous? And if so, what can we do? Socialism - which is really another version of highly centralized government, fails because all governments fail. Not just the specific  system, but the people. Some just fail faster than others. 
That’s why democracies (and republics) are of such value. Every once in a while, folks need to be - and can be - turned out and sent home - because they’re people. Give a person a little power and soon they will want a little more - to help people. Invariably, they’re sincere. But they also come to believe that what they believe is good is - in fact - good. It happens at every level of government. The faceless bureaucrat who comes up with insane rules is so common it’s been a cliche in stories for centuries. Such figures can be found in Shakespeare, and in the new. Want to see a junior figure who wants to rise to the top? Corruption of power? Executive over-reach? Try Coriolanus. Or Macbeth.
What the Founding Fathers did was set up a system where the government had limited powers. And was answerable to the citizenry. And if the government wanted more power, they would have to change the rule book. That’s why it’s hard to amend the Constitution; not because what they made was perfect, but because what they made was limited. And that’s why judges must be chosen to respect the Constitution as written and not find new powers and authorities as the times dictate.
People who work within the system will become, over time, possessive of their power, even if it’s only a small amount. They not only won’t let go of it, they’ll look for opportunities to use it. Eventually, they’ll look for ways to interpret their power so that they can actually expand their breadth of control. Anyone who has run into an overly authoritative member of the Department of Motor Vehicles has experienced this.
Stated simply, power corrupts. And people who have some power invariably want more. “I’m different” they tell themselves, “I’ll use my power to solve problems, I’ll do good.”
The fact is that not only do most people who abuse power not set out to abuse power, they still believe, even as they abuse the power they have, that they’re doing good things. But that is the nature of government, of bureaucracies, of the Leviathan.
It also points out that we need a mechanism in our government to turn out bureaucrats after a certain number of years. In the military officers are not allowed to hold major commands for more than a few years. And no one remains at the same job for longer than 4 or occasionally 5 years. 
There are many in government, and many running for office right now, who want the federal government to do more, spend more, oversee more, control more. Call it socialist government or the new democratic government model or whatever you like. In the end it’s about Government.
Returning to Aesop, consider the Tale of the Farmer and the Snake. Briefly, a farmer finds a snake under a bush, following an early frost. He warms the snake up, it recovers, and then the snake bites the farmer, killing him. The moral of the story is that you can’t change a thing’s nature, no matter how kind you are.
The same applies to government. 
The story of the Founding Fathers isn’t that they were in love with democracy. They understood, 200 years before Churchill said it, that: “democracy is the worst form of government - except for all the rest.” Government is dangerous, even the best government is dangerous. And even the best people will, if left to their own devices, go bad. Leaving someone in Washington for 30, 40 or 50 years is a near certain guarantee that they’ll stop working for the nation and start working for their own version of the nation. That was why the Founding Fathers sought to limit government. And stripping away those limitations and restrictions that keep the federal government in check is as dangerous as warming the freezing snake.