Wednesday, May 26, 2004

What Happens When the "Good Guys" Leave Office?

Frank McGahon comments on a phenomenon in current Irish politics that is illustrative of a mode of thinking I've long found strange, especially coming from left-wingers - the notion that any powers appropriated by a government for itself will only end up being used by the "good guys", i.e, by members of one's own side. It never seems to occur to such people that the "good guys" might ever lose office, and that the powers they are so eager to see taken up by the government might end up being used to thwart the very causes in service of which they were taken up to start with.

"Do onto others as you would have them to you" is probably the wisest and most useful principle derived from Christianity. It is incumbent on those who propose any action to ensure that it would still be considered fair if applied to them. Daniel Dennett describes the response to such a sanction as "Thanks, I needed that". Anyone who is happy to grant powers to the sitting government ought to be happy for the retention of those powers by the opposition. In Ireland, those who relish Michael McDowell's increasingly authoritarian bent should remember that any power extended to his office may be wielded by a successor who may not have the benefit of a classic liberal background, such as (God forbid!) Martin Ferriss.

We've seen this sort of thing on both sides of the politicial fence - for instance, with Thatcher's emasculation of local government in the United Kingdom, or with Tony Blair's ongoing efforts to remove even the feeble constraints on prime ministerial power that still remain. In the case of the United States, I admit to struggling to contain my mirth whenever I hear liberals moaning about the supposed abuses of federal power being carried out George W. Bush; "what are you complaining about", I'm tempted to say, "isn't government interference in education precisely what you wanted? Why are you then surprised to see just that occurring?" Those who legislate on the principle that the reins of government will always be in the hands of those they consider to be wise are setting themselves up for disaster, much in the same manner as those who forego all insurance in the certainty that they were born under a lucky star.