How to Tell if Someone is a Statist

Tim Dunkin Everybody knows that there is a great divide in the American political system. However, many in this nation are incorrect in their understanding of what constitutes this divide. If asked, many would try to point to race or class, even though these would not generally be satisfactory answers to the question. Others would point to the division between the major political parties. Yet others, perhaps a little more accurately, would draw lines between the conventional Left/Right, liberal/conservative dichotomy that dominates the thinking of most observers. However, even this division is not completely accurate, because there are many who would profess themselves to be “conservatives” who nevertheless hold to many big-government, liberty-unfriendly positions on various issues. I would submit that the more accurate division in the American body politic is between those who I term “liberty lovers” (which is not synonymous with “libertarian,” by the way) and statists.

Many people would recoil from understanding themselves using the term “statist.” This term conjures up images of Stalin, Hitler, or Big Brother from Orwell’s 1984. Granted, those are extreme versions of statism, each of which approached the convergence point of pure totalitarianism, regardless of the label (communism, fascism, IngSoc) they went under. But the impulses to statism don’t have to be so drastic – at least at the start. Statism, even if in an incipient form, can be seen among those who simply want the government to act as a “benevolent” protector from the trials of adult life in a chancy world. It can be found among those who want the government to step beyond its legitimate role of protecting us from each other into the realm of protecting us from ourselves. All around us, we see people in our country whose impulses are not to simply let other people be so long as they’re not hurting someone else, but who feel the need to regulate and to expropriate for the good of themselves or of some other group for which they claim to be “protectors.”

What are the warning signs that someone we’re dealing with, perhaps even (or especially) someone running for political office, is a statist in their fundamental outlook on life?

First, there is the fact that such a person will likely display the type of personality that always has to try to nanny other people “for their own good.” Have you ever dealt with someone who always had to comment, typically negatively, about every aspect of your personal life, your habits, your hobbies, and who was constantly trying to “improve” you by incessantly bothering you about these things? Chances are that person is a budding statist. It’s one thing for someone to simply give you some friendly advice about something they see, but then leave it at that. The statist-in-waiting takes it to a whole different level. If given a position of power over others, such a person almost assuredly would use that power to force others to conform to their wishes, “for their own good.” They may ban your trans-fats or your salty foods or your Big Gulp sodas. They may fine others for smoking in their own homes, or take away their kids for spanking them. The point is that this type of person is not willing to live and let live. They’re not willing to allow others to make their own choices. They can’t leave it at reasoning with others to change their minds, but are ready and willing to use whatever force they can muster to make you conform to their will, however petty and small the issue may be.

Unfortunately many, many people like this are able to get into power at all levels of government – under both Party labels. And when they do, they then display further tendencies for which we have to be on guard.

For instance, if you have an elected official, or someone wanting to be, whose fundamental worldview is one whereby they will appeal to the desire for “security” over and against the desire for “liberty,” this is someone who does not belong anywhere near a magistracy. Guns are bad and people use them to commit crimes and they can have scary-looking accessories that make them look like “military-style machine guns” – so we have to ban them in the interests of safety – regardless of the loss of liberty involved, or how this would suddenly place all of the possession of deadly force into the hands of government and away from the people. These types are always telling us that individual freedom of action needs to be taken away so that everyone can live a more insulated life of security. “It’s for the children” is often their watchword. Every political goal they have carries with it the implicit or explicit reduction of free action and replacing it with government restriction designed to “make you safe.”

Relatedly, these statists are the types who, whenever something bad happens, feel compelled to legislate some new regulation or prohibition to prevent it from happening again, instead of simply just asking people to exercise a little more common sense in what they do. If a few children were to be killed because they ran out into streets and were hit by oncoming traffic that didn’t see them until the last minute, the response of this type of person would not be to warn parents to keep a closer eye on their kids and teach them to stay away from busy roads with lots of traffic. Instead, the statist wants to mandate that all newly-manufactured automobiles made or sold in the United States by 2015 be outfitted with an $8,000 built-in radar system that will warn the driver of obstructions in the road and will automatically engage the brakes to come to a full stop. Instead of expecting the individual to exercise more personal responsibility for himself and his family, the statist wants to slap a diaper on everybody and make everything more expensive, complicated, and inaccessible to the average person.

When given an option between taking a free market solution to a perceived problem or creating a government “solution” to it, the statist will opt for the government option, nearly every time. Health care is too expensive? We’ll get the government even more involved, mandate that everyone buy health insurance they already can’t afford, and throw a bunch of taxes in to pay for it, while we’re at it. For the statist, it never even crosses their mind that government distortion of the marketplace is itself creating the problem that needs to be “fixed,” and that simply implementing separation of hospital and state would take care of the issue. The statist mentality applies across all the issues – whenever it amounts to a choice between more government involvement or less, they’ll take “more” and tell you that you’ll like it.

Statists are usually aghast at the idea of individual self-reliance. That’s a scary concept to them, because it carries with it the correlative concept of “personal responsibility.” In this big, scary world, many people don’t want to have to sink or swim on their own. They want someone else to pay for their floaties. The statist is all too willing to feed into that mindset since its “unfair” that some people might be more successful or might make better decisions than others, and reap the benefits of that.

Lastly, the statist, true to form, believes that the wants and “needs” of the government should overrule individual desires, individual religious convictions, or the ability to speak freely and the like. For the statist, if criticism of Islam makes some people uncomfortable, then the first amendment needs to go out the window. If Sandra Fluke wants somebody else to pay for her $3,000 a year contraception needs, then everybody has to pay for contraception – even religious groups that have a conviction of conscience against it. If the 47% thinks it’s unfair that Mitt Romney got to keep some of his money after taxes instead of giving it to the government so it could be forwarded on to them, then Romney and other mean, greedy rich people like him need to be soaked even further – after all, it’s not really “his” money, it’s just money that the state “allows” him to have, but which really belongs to the politicians who know better how to use it.

I’m sure there are many more examples and characteristics of statists that I could give, but will not for the sake of space and time. These, however, should provide a general overview of things that liberty-lovers need to watch out for in others (regardless of Party), especially those who desire to fill on office in our government. We must ask ourselves, “What is it that drives this person? What are their foundation motives? What is the tenor and tendency of how they act, vote, and what they advocate?” Even some so-called “conservatives” are often all too willing to go along with statist notions, provided it is the state acting to advance part of their agenda, instead of the other guy’s. If we love liberty, we will be vigilant.