The bidding war for your vote is on. Federal political parties have prepared a host of special treats. This fall it will be up to us to decide which of the treats we prefer. More precisely, it will be up to middle class voters, as they, in particular, are being aggressively tempted and solicited with these delicious goodies. Moreover, they are being led to believe that their very existence is being threatened by the evil upper class, that they need a saviour, and that only a government of a precise political stripe, and with a particular brand of treat, can be their true Robin Hood. The throne is what they want, and in exchange, they are offering the candy of cheques and social programs.
“Candy” is not what politicians call it of course. “It is medicine”, they claim, and apparently it tastes great. The problem, however, is that while political parties simultaneously claim to be sole vendors of the cure for the middle class, they also claim that their opponent’s medicine is poison. So then, how are we to make sense of this? Which of these is in fact the cure? Which of these will prevent the middle class from disappearing? The truth, I’m afraid, is that while the sugar-coated “medicine” may taste good, and while it may even give a delightful little buzz, it is actually keeping us sick.
The role of the state
Since government is naturally incapable of producing anything, it has to forcefully take what it wants from those who can (i.e. the private sector). Consequently, the more government gives, the more it has to take. The more it takes, the bigger the burden it becomes on those who produce wealth. The bigger the state becomes, the more wealth is systematically extracted from society; and this is what ultimately hurts the middle and lower classes. Instead of being invested, the extracted wealth is poorly redistributed and converted into unproductive jobs, poorly delivered services, waste, and the natural corruption that comes with government force.
Instead of allowing ourselves to be wooed with goodies or driven by fear, we should consider holding an entirely different discussion. Canada (and Quebec in particular), I believe, is overdue for a discussion on the fundamental role of the state. What was the state meant to be? What has it become? What should it be today? This discussion, I believe, is the key to our breaking out of the political candy-wrapper.
For our own good?
Our political institutions were not built for the purpose of debating who gets to plunder whom and how the spoils should be divided up. The democratic process does not exist for the purpose of providing moral cover to that which is otherwise immoral. Indeed, it was never intended for the state to raise us, educate us, and care for us from the cradle to the grave; nor was it intended to undertake the work of charity on our behalf. The state was not meant to drain such huge portions of our wealth and intrude in every area of our lives under the pretence of it being for “our own good.”
Our institutions were built, rather, to protect and to guarantee the liberty we inherited. They were meant to allow us to reap the benefits of our successes and to learn from the consequences of our failures. They were meant to protect our ability to freely invest in ourselves, our families, our neighbours and in our communities, with the understanding that solely through such personal and intimate investments can one live the full human life; and that it is solely through such investments that we can build a society that is prosperous not only in material wealth but in wealth of character as well. As Thomas D’Arcy McGee said in the Legislative Assembly of Canada on February 9, 1865, while debating confederation, “here every man is the son of his own works.”
By increasingly delegating our individual, family, community, and charitable responsibilities to the state, we have neglected to directly invest in ourselves, thereby failing to renew the social capital we so desperately need. We now find ourselves morally impotent, nearly incapable of such investment, even if we would so wish, as large portions of our time and wealth are spent trying to satisfy the hunger of the beastly state. We also find ourselves increasingly divided, as many have come to confuse privileges for rights, and credit for wealth.
The state should not be viewed as an instrument of power with which we can access sugar-coated drugs, and with which we can impose on others our vision of a perfectly planned society. This leads to poverty, dependence, and oppression, not wealth, autonomy, and freedom; and the ability to cast a ballot every four or five years to shift power from one person to another does little to improve the situation.
As heirs of liberty our primary concern should not be so much with the one seated on the throne, or the candy offered for the throne. As heirs of liberty, rather, our concern should be, above all, with the power vested in the throne.
Kevin Richard is a freelance Québec journalist and Discourse Online contributor. This article was first published in The Record, an English language daily newspaper based in Sherbrooke, Québec.