At Big Government's site, Paul A. Rahe has an article looking at Restoring Constitutional Government and it is a telling article in what it says on that need, and what it does not say. It is a thread tying piece or a 'dot connecting' piece, save that it is not pointing at the dots but the necessary connections between them and then examining how and why they fit together. The basic analysis of where we are, as a Nation, is sound: founded on principles of federalism plus one of checks and balances (not only within the federal government but between the federal government, States and the people), there is a necessity for a republican form of government, that is multi-branch form of government with divided powers, to be held to account to those it governs. As Mr. Rahe puts it:
The challenge was straightforward. Polities situated on extended territories sit at a great distance from the vast majority of the people whom they rule. This is consistent with despotism; and if the distance is not too great, it is consistent with legitimate monarchy and the rule of law as well. But for republics it poses a problem. Governments at a distance from the people they rule tend to be invisible; and when human beings are invisible, they tend rightly to suppose that they can get away with a lot. Moreover, large polities tend to face emergencies more often than small polities, and emergencies require from rulers vigor, alacrity, and resoluteness of the sort most easily provided by a man who can act alone. The challenge facing the American Framers was to devise a constitutional structure capable of producing a government fit for meeting emergencies but unlikely to become, as James Madison once delicately put it, “self-directed.”
That requirement for a republic has fallen apart, in ancient times, with distance and disassociation between those who govern and those who are governed by them. This was a worry at the time of the Framing of the Constitution, and was brought up not only on the Anti-Federalist but the Federalist side as well. When that happens you get despotism and tyranny via a powerful central government system. In dividing powers, limiting powers and putting checks and balances on powers, the US Constitution was so drafted as to keep that National government to a very few tasks to the benefit of all the States and the people.
Jerry Pournelle has summed this up in a very different way that our Nation is approached linguistically.
The old way: 'The United States of America are...'
And the modern way: 'The United States of America is...'
The first recognizes that we are States come together to form a Nation, and thus while we are united we are not unitary. The second is the unitary approach of a single object, in which there is no recognition of the sub-divisions of the Nation. When you move from the plural to the singular you are then moving from the familiar and diverse to the distant and singular. It is a subtle form of address from the backwoods of TN in the early 20th century, but telling in that even until that point the former, diverse outlook view, was the one that held. Yet that difference between address and how you mentally approach this Nation has a vast gulf between it, and when you want the entire Nation to do something, to follow something, and have no exception to it, you are looking at the singular unit as the diverse pluralistic system does not allow for such easy binning of a Nation to do things.
That change in linguistic approach and the mental attitude behind it changed with the coming of the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th century, which fundamentally altered how we approached our Nation and its government, plus our role in it. The Progressive Amendments to the Constitution changed the power structure and accountability structure in two major ways.
First is the direct taxation of income at different rates, not at a set amount. Attempts to do this prior to Amendment XVI in 1909 were struck down by the Supreme Court as an over-reach of federal power and something specifically prohibited by the Constitution. This single provision added to the Constitution gave the federal government the power to tax you directly based on income, and then government could decide how to favor or disfavor sections of the population via the tax code, which could not have been done previously.
Second is the direct election of Senators by the people in Amendment XVII in 1912. Prior to that time Senators were appointed by the States and acted as representatives of State governments in the federal structure. Thus their power on treaties and confirming individuals to appointed offices allowed the States to have a direct say into the way this Nation approached other Nations so that no State would be left without a say in those matters. Once put into place the check and balance against federal power from the States was diminished and the federal government now merely needed assent of representatives and Senators directly elected who did not have ties to State governments. This effectively put National power into the hands of political parties, to which they were both quite agreeable to take.
Legislatively things were going on which would also begin to centralize power into the federal government. Following the Hague Convention of 1912, which many evangelical organizations had called for in 1909 to go after the opium trade, came the Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. Prior to this time all medical laws were State and local run: there had been prohibitions on opium in many cities, just as many cities and States banned the sale of alcohol. That pluralistic method was one that was in-tune with the Constitution as this was not the domain of the federal system. The Hague and Shanghai treaties would give the first basis to attempt to gain a federal overview of the narcotics trade to prevent the harm it was doing to society. Prior to that the federal government had put in place labeling laws so that what went into a product had to be on its label, so you could know what it was you were buying. There is not much data for the short period of time between that and the Narcotics Tax Act, but what little of it that there is indicated a change in the purchasing habits of citizens away from narcotics laced drinks and medicines. Unfortunately for many that had suffered war wounds that remained painful (ex. US Civil War, Spanish-American War, Indian Wars) this meant the slow drying up of medications that had the negative effect of addiction and the positive effect of lessening the pain: to those who had already sacrificed we now made them suffer. By the time of 1914 the Nation was getting the first taste of what the change from 'are' to 'is' would be like, and federal regulations would be crafted to skirt Constitutional requirements so as to get to desired effects: the stamps necessary to purchase marijuana, as an example, were never printed and yet you required one to have marijuana and to register that you had it, a classic 'catch-22' in which you were penalized for having a good without a stamp and could not get the stamp and asking for the stamp with the good landed you in jail because you didn't have the stamp. While provisions of these early laws were struck down, enough were left to point to the ways the federal government could control substances at a National scale without any say from the State governments involved... as they were no longer involved by that point. No matter how 'moral' the law is meant to be, it is enacted in one of the most lethal ways to concentrate power and authority into the hands of the few, not keep it dispersed amongst the many.
The next major legislative change came with Public Law 62-5 in 1911. This law sets a definite size of the House of Representatives in Congress by the fiat chosen number to be the size of the House in 1911. Prior to that, and the only way mentioned by the Constitution to get representatives was by floating proportion. The proportion could change but required an Act of Congress to do so. Floating proportion allowed for the number of representatives to increase as population increased and for a very short period of time the speed of communications was not keeping up with population growth (that would be the last few years this would be true) and it was felt a set-size Congress with States getting seats by their size would be representative enough for all concerned. This further cemented power in the hands of the political parties as it allowed for the formulation of 'safe districts' via 'gerrymandering' which would see certain sub-regions of the government never get truly contested elections between parties save for major demographic changes... changes which the parties would then adjust their districts for via the Statehouses so as to retain a stranglehold on the concept of 'safe seats'. This changed the way the citizenry elected representatives, and while we see modern elections in which it is rare that 30% of the incumbents are turned out of office during any election cycle, prior to this legislation it was rare when 30% were returned to office. Additionally the turn-out for the non-Presidential election years has dropped steadily, consistently since the early 1960's and it is now difficult to get half of those eligible to vote to actually vote, and it is normally far below that percentage and has been for decades.
Get how that 'concentration of power' stuff works, now?
This is, at its heart, divide and conquer politics applied to a limited government, federal system of republican governance. It has been a multi-pronged, decades long offensive against divided, limited government that is decentralized and leaves power in the hands of individuals. The heart of Progressivism is that in a 'modern' State it is the largest government that is best fit to rule and, to that end, the input of the citizenry reduces the effectiveness of the bureaucracy and enforcement of its rules and edicts. Complaints against the older, limited government form of State was that it wasn't active enough, intrusive enough and even had problems getting a quorum together in the Senate, meaning the government's functions often went unfunded for months. The government, in order to be effective, needed a way to ensure that representative democracy was 'streamlined' so that the 'modern' State could be 'more efficient' and manage National affairs from its level.
This notion derives from the conceptual framework of the socialist end-state ideal of the State in which the workers become enlightened, throw off the capitalist class and create a dictatorship of the proletariat. That form seen in the First International was the 'hands off' form of socialism as it utilized a viewpoint that as capitalism spread it required a more informed working class to operate and that would serve as the seeds of its own destruction. That would take time, decades or even centuries, but was an assured outcome. The Second International moved to a position of being able to nudge or otherwise 'help' capitalism to come to its end, faster, and to blunt the worst abuses of it. Both of these international congresses of socialists agreed that this would take place in industrialized Nations, first, and then spread from them. It is in this era between the Second and Third (or Communist) congresses that Progressivism takes off: before WWI and the rise of Communism in Russia. Progressivism takes part in these 'futurist' and 'modern' views of the State which was born in the mid-19th century as part of an end times views that were showing up in religion, as well. In many ways socialism is a religious movement with beliefs that man is both good and perfectible, and that such perfection will only come with enlightenment at the end of the capitalist system. Further Progressivism puts forward that the State can take a pro-active role in fostering that end and enforce moral views of the already 'enlightened'. Mind you the number of splinter groups, factions, off-shoots and such that are spawned by the 'enlightened' tend to demonstrate that the only central theme they can agree on is power for the 'enlightened' to bring 'enlightenment' to the masses.
What is fascinating is that those paleo-socialists had a fundamental criticism with this approach: it doesn't work and actually makes things worse, and does not bring about the end-state desired by socialists.
Their reasoning is fundamental: capitalism must do its good works in the way of education, spreading jobs, and uplifting the working class from absolute poverty. Capitalism is not a purely negative force in this view, and that it has a logic to it based on the personal basis of capitalism which gives it flexibility and adaptability. Nation States are the exact opposite in being rigid, inflexible and unable to adapt to much of anything. When later socialists attempt to marry socialism to capitalism at the Nation State level what you do not get is a path to socialism but a path to the worst form of capitalism around, which is State Capitalism. With the power of the Nation State behind capitalism, all the good parts of the capitalist system are removed and the State then becomes tyrannical against the working class and forces it to submit to whatever it will pay for work and there are no incentives to improve the system for material goods or moral reasons. The pursuit of power becomes its own end-state, and when centralized in a government that has co-opted private capitalism, it is an un-enlightened end-state as those within it (no matter their intentions) succumb to the path of power to enforce everything. Instead of the State withering and dying in the new socialist end-state, it flourishes and crushes the working class to the ends of its ruling class.
By that internal reasoning of the old line socialists what we see, today, is the work to remove the restraints upon government to intervene in the Nation's economic affairs. 'Radicals' of the sort seeking to tear down the system to re-make it are not on a path of any sort of 'progress' in any venue. Their objective of removing economic liberty so as to enforce political doctrine means that individuals are not 'enlightened' but 'organized' to the ends of the State. And while man may be good, as individuals, the Nation State is seen as an embodiment of negative capacity as that is necessary for the survival of not only capitalism but all prior systems. The illogic of not having a Nation State and still having a centralized ruling organization is never addressed by socialists nor by the somewhat more distributed anarchosyndicalists who still see a need for a larger decision system. This is the sort of stuff that passes for 'enlightenment' amongst socialists, communists, progressives and liberals, when they can formulate their ideas into words.
By trying to use chaos to bring about political order such destructive progressivists and liberals miss what has happened previously in the form of human liberty to associate and create new social order that is not created from the top, but from the bottom. Such knowledge is already in the hands of the majority of the population and forms the basis for our understanding of distributed decision-making as seen in the works of Hayek in modern times and as far back Founding of the United States with Franklin, Washington and Monroe. This foundation of understanding is not modern and is rooted in the understanding that the Nation State is not an outgrowth of systems (capitalist, mercantalist, feudal, imperial, etc.) but of human relationships started at the lowest level between individuals. This concept is spoken of as the jus gentium or Law of Nations, which is unwritten but derives from Nature and our ability to think and feel for each other. As unwritten law it can be written but is non-binding, save for what Nature places upon you. Thus when we read about ancient cultures that have had little to no contact with each other (ex. Ancient Greece, Chinese Empires, Mayan Empire, Incan Empire) or that have formed separately from each other with little cultural continuity in time or space, we still find the basics of how humans act at this scale to come forward. If you read about diplomats or emissaries between States you instantly know that there is protocol between these States, recognition of boundaries (although those may be in dispute), recognition that the cultures are separate and have differing cultures, and that there is a system of exchanges that backs such stories in history.
When Marxists, socialists, progressivists, and statists put forward that the State is the pinnacle of human achievement and that it can look after all people within it on a personal basis, you are seeing a rejection of Natural Law and derived historical understanding about how humanity operates. States are not imposed from the top, downwards, but built from the bottom, upwards. It is not possible to tip the pyramid on its head and insist that the State pre-exists humans and creates humans to live within it and that is the upshot of uplifting to State to a pinnacle of superiority and believing that all power emanates from it, and not from the people within it. From that socialists of the oldest First International sort are correct in their criticism that later socialists/communists/progressivists/liberals are creating a system that is worse than private capitalism by making the State the ruling part of it, but they, in turn, are misguided by believing that the State can be dissolved at any point by not recognizing that human nature creates States and Nations as a natural part of human interaction. To their end, then, they must diminish human culture and ties so as to institute their end-state. Unfortunately the description of man ruled due to being in a condition of continual anomie towards his fellow man is not one of a utopia, but one that is best described as animal savagery. For every 'good' the State does 'for' you, takes up 'for' you, and puts you at a distance from your responsibilities, you are degraded in a step-wise process from a functioning person creating a society to an animal accepting hand-outs from a State until you finally get fed up with that and bite the hand that feeds you.
On the large scale I have already described how that has worked, to remove limits on government, take off the checks designed to hold it in place, and to make it powerful enough to dictate your economic choices by political fiat via the tax code. That is only the start of the process of getting the individual, that is you, to be dependent upon government.
Consider the proposition that you are asked to take money from your children and grandchildren to support yourself. You would consider that a desperate situation to be in, no? And you would ask your children and grandchildren for support, not just take it from them, right? It would not only be immoral to steal from them, but unethical as these are your children that you have cared for and loved, and wish to see have a happy life. Stealing from them, especially early in their working life, would hurt them immensely and make it nearly impossible for them to stay above water, financially, and would make them poorer, later in life, as they could use their earnings early in life to help create a better wealth stream for themselves later in life. The damage would be great not only in the present, but in the future as well.
The system of Social Security, run through the SSA, is just that, with some frills of a Ponzi Scheme added in, with a front man telling you there is a secure, interest earning 'lock box' that when you put your money into it, it is 'safe'. Unfortunately that 'lock box' has a false bottom in it, and when you see the front man taking the money from it and putting an IOU in it for your cash plus interest, you realize that the front man has told you a lie. Like any good Ponzi Scheme he is fleecing a large number of people so that when a few do need their money he can just re-cycle current funds over to the people with IOUs. When you see that the number of people that he can fleece is going to be dropping below what those who are demanding payment want, however, you begin to suspect that your IOU is worthless. Particularly galling is to see one's children paying into that scheme when you know it cannot, possibly, pay for your IOUs and that theirs are worthless scraps of paper as the scheme will soon implode. Maybe you will be lucky and be dead by then, right?
There is no way to 'fix' this system as demographics and population size to output needs invalidates it, as it does all Ponzi Schemes. Changing the 'pay out' date by pushing back your retirement by some years is not a 'fix' but an attempt for you to take money from your children and others in society to pay off the promised IOU. In attempting to 'get yours' you will just shift the shaft from yourself to your children, when you know that the system is broken. It is immoral and unethical to do that when you have the power within you to change the system and not accept the 'payouts' and to then ignore the system, entirely, and treat it as a form of tax used to curry favor amongst a segment of the population: because that is what Social Security is. It is a tax used to give money to an older generation that should have been saving to meet their own future needs and taking that money from the younger working generation that desperately needs it. Since your thievery is via government, that allows you to wash your hands of the taint of being a thief. And yet your agreement to the system makes you part of it, does it not?
That creates long term suffering in the way of debt that we pass on to our children when it is our responsibility to pay off our debts and not to burden our children with it. In not enforcing our responsibilities upon ourselves, in not demanding that taxation for favoritism stop because we might be beneficiaries of it (if we are 'lucky'), we agree to create our own suffering. And as government has no need to be thrifty, nor can it 'invest' its funds, it loses money between what you 'pay in' and what you 'get', along with bureaucratic overhead which also eats into the 'benefits'. It costs money for other people to look after you, and when government does it they do it 'good enough for government work'.
We suffer as a society so government can be 'nice' to us individuals.
So long as you like being treated by a government functionary as a supplicant, that is, for that is what you have become.
Yet that is not the role of government, is it?
To turn you into a third-hand thief and supplicant, is that what your goal is in life, especially late in life?
That is the road to savagery not civilization, isn't it?
So what is the way out of this?
The way out is the path of Restoration for you, and I have described that in another piece.
It is the path of personal Honor.
That is a hard way to live, yes, but the alternative is too horrific to contemplate.