Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hell and the petty bureaucrat

"Who can endure a doctrine which would allow only dentists to say whether our teeth were aching, only cobblers to say whether our shoes hurt us, and only governments to tell us whether we were being well governed?" -C. S. Lewis

This isn't the quote we were seeking. Yet it will have to do, and is a decent enough lead in to the subject we wish to address today. The quote we wanted, and we confess right off that this will be a horrible paraphrase of it, dealt with Lewis, speaking through his famous character Screwtape, on the power of bureaucracy. Lewis seems to fear not the Hitlers of the world, but the mousey little bureaucrats who actually run so much of it. He despises the small, well manicured, spectacled man in an office who will not allow another man, a fellow citizen, the right to chop down a tree on his own land to make boards to fix his own steps (or outbuilding or some such) without the proper permits and permissions.

Such folk can so easily be made to appear comic; indeed, Douglas Adams (if we may cross reference the views of a devout Christian with those of a rabid atheist) makes light of them rather well in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Unfortunately, such an interpretation isn't so useful as that of Mr. Lewis. The bureaucrat is far more dangerous than funny. And the government is brimming with them.

We have witnessed both attempts and triumphs by similar elected politicians (and all too often merely appointed civil servants) to force people to drink no more than 16 ounces of a soft drink at a time. We see leaders who don't want to find any trans fats in our food. We find officials who don't want us mowing our lawns or filling our cars with gas on ozone action days. And you don't even have to go to the newest suburbs to hear wails against urban sprawl. Yet what might these all have in common with Hitler?

Only the simple fact that they're all arguably tyrannical people committing arguably tyrannical actions.

Liberals cannot, or choose not, to see this. Overt and powerful evil, yes, they recognize quite readily. But who wouldn't? Hitler, Mao, Stalin; only a true fool could not see the threats they were. Yet our leftist friends do not see the petty tyrant. The truth is, they encourage him. Or her, lest the speakers of the v-word be insulted by a mere masculine reference made with no intention to offend.

To be sure, any one of these actions seen by itself doesn't seem so bad. Some of them indeed may not be bad. Any one by itself might even simply be a misplaced emphasis, may only be mere stupidity, or may even be honest good intention. It is all too easy to say of any individual person or instance, they mean well. Still, the question rarely asked is whether any of them ought to be the province or persons of government and the bureaucracy at all, and if so, which ones really.

What is also overlooked is that no matter what they mean, they may be a symptom of a greater disease. Every petty action by every petty official seen against the big picture demonstrates that small evils may lead to larger ones. Little Hitlers may one day become big Hitlers. It may well be, it likely as not is, that not a one of these people understand that their little sin against their fellow man can lead to far worse sins against him or the world.

Skin cancers by and large are the most curable of cancers. Yet if one ignores the blemish on their arm, thinking that it's nothing and could not possibly come to harm and thus pays it no mind, what will happen? Several years later doctors will be telling him that they can do nothing for him. But if he had done something about it when he first noticed it...

This is not to say that every bureaucrat or indeed every liberal thinker (in the modern American sense of the term anyway) is an evil person, or that every act of theirs must lead to tyranny. But it is meant to caution us that sometimes things do go in directions which we cannot immediately envision, that we are responsible not only for the direct effects of our actions but also for the sometimes unpredictable consequences of them, and that the road to Hell is indeed paved with the best of intentions.

None of that will matter when and if an American or Canadian or British Hitler rises to power. Yet the truly sad thing is, should that actually happen, no one will claim to have seen it coming. They will be all too correct.

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