All governments, whether good or bad, whether just or tyrannical, maintain their status through a mixture of consensus and force. No government can maintain itself by resorting to only one of these elements. A government of a free country needs to protect its citizens against foreign and domestic enemies, which can only be done through force. A tyrannical government, on the other hand, must at least establish a consensus among those responsible for enforcing its despotism.
The necessity of resorting to force is not a problem to a tyrannical government, since it thrives on force. But it is a problem for a free country, because force and freedom are somewhat antithetical. They are antithetical not merely for the obvious Objectivist reasons; but also, and more tragically, for reasons stemming from various short-comings in human nature.
Machiavelli famously wrote that a leader “should imitate the fox and the lion, because a lion cannot defend himself from snares and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. Therefore, it is important to be a fox in order to understand the snares and a lion in order to terrify the wolves.” The lion is envisaged as the man of force and courage; the fox as the man of intelligence and chicanery. When one examines these two archetypes and their role in politics and history, one comes upon several disturbing discoveries. Consider Pareto’s take on the subject:
Suppose a certain country has a governing class, A, that assimilates the best elements, as regards intelligence, in the whole population. In that case the subject class, B, is largely stripped of such elements and can have little or no hope of ever overcoming the class A so long as it is a battle of wits. If intelligence were to be combined with force, the dominion of the A’s would be perpetual…”
In other words, if the A’s combined both intelligence and force, they would conform to Machiavelli’s ideal of imitating both the lion and the fox. But there is a problem with this strategy, as illuminated by Pareto:
But such a happy combination occurs only for a few individuals. In the majority of cases people who rely on their wits are or become less fitted to use violence, and vice versa. So concentration in class A of the individuals most adept at chicanery leads to a concentration in class B of the individuals most adept at violence; and if that process is long continued, the equilibrium [of society] tends to be come unstable, because the A’s are long in cunning but short in the courage to use force and in the force itself; whereas the B’s have the force and the courage to use it, but are short in the skill required for exploiting those advantages. But if they chance to find leaders who have the skill—and history shows that such leadership is usually supplied by dissatisfied A’s—they have all they need for driving the A’s from power. Of just that development history affords countless examples from remotest times all the way down to the present.
Pareto, in setting up his example, makes no moral judgments as to the worth or utility of ruling class A and subject class B. But what if the A’s are the supporters of freedom and the rule of law while the B’s are men of force and faith? In that case, we are in heap of trouble.
Unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon in modern history. Free institutions favor people with intelligence. Force, as Rand herself admits, is a “corollary” of faith; that is, men that are well fitted to violence tend to be drawn to faith. Hence, we find ourselves confronted with a dilemma. Governments that support the institutions of law favorable to free markets and “individual rights” tend to be governments dominated people who rely on their wits but are less adept at using force. Yet these very governments require force to protect the markets and the rights that they espouse. Where is this force to come from?
The only way out of this dilemma is for those who favor an open society with free markets to make a political alliance with those men of force and faith who come closest to sharing their values. Rand is wrong in assuming that all men of faith support dictatorship and tyranny. As is well known, early capitalism was dominated by devout Protestants, often of a strong Calvinist bent. One of the earliest defenders of free speech, John Milton, was a puritan. Cromwell’s puritanical protectorship, although hardly constituting an ideal of freedom and individual rights, nevertheless represented an improvement over what had preceded it, and helped pave the way for the Glorious Revolution in 1688. John Locke, the intellectual defender of this revolution, was a devout Christian. Christians played an essential role in the development of English Liberty and early capitalism.
The defenders of freedom therefore must form an alliance with those men of faith who are sympathetic to free markets and the open society. This is precisely what modern conservatism, in England and America, has attempted in the last half century. The modern conservative movement is an alliance between economic conservatives, nationalist “foreign policy” conservatives, and religious conservatives. As with any alliance, it is hardly perfect; but then perfection is the cynic’s standard. In the real world, as opposed to the fantasy world of ideologues, no battle can be won, no institution can be salvaged, no nation can remain free unless we are willing to ally ourselves with people we don’t entirely agree with. Through compromise one reaches a position that is better than would have prevailed otherwise.
As I have noted on a number of occasions on this blog, life involves tradeoffs. It is easy for us to imagine a world where no one believes in religion and most people are “rational” That is not the world we live in. We must take people as they are and try to make the best of it. Any other course is to lapse into utopianism and wishful thinking.