Corruption is pervasive inside many governments. The majority of Latin American nations, if their officials and lesser functionaries were to be denied the “privilege” of bribery, probably couldn’t function at all. Hernando de Soto could tell you all about it. Indeed, such practices are hardly confined to the Western Hemisphere.
Yet Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and so forth are never described as failed states. Clearly, the term doesn’t apply to corrupt regimes simply because they’re corrupt. What, then, is the distinguishing characteristic?
Is it a failure to enforce the law? But most nations have many, many laws that go unenforced. The United States of America is one such. Enforcement power is always insufficient to enforce all the laws on the books, because governments enact laws without regard for that consideration. The firearms laws of the U.S. provide an exceptionally compelling case.
Is it some characteristic of the law itself – some quality that the laws of a failed state must possess (or lack) that’s not present in (or absent from) the laws of other nations? That’s too nebulous to explain why the term has been applied so sparely. The luxuriant proliferation of law in every nation on Earth would reveal the presence (or absence) of any proposed characteristic in at least some of the laws of each nation.
Here’s an interesting case: Was South Vietnam, just before its conquest by North Vietnam, a failed state? It lacked the will, the power, or both to defend itself against the invasion, which is an important aspect of sovereignty. But at what point would that begin to matter? A number of smaller nations are probably just as ill-prepared to defend themselves against their neighbors, even if those neighbors haven’t troubled them yet.
No, there’s something else involved…some other characteristic of a nation that qualifies it as a “failed state.” It’s about the nature of the state itself.
More precisely, whether and how fully it lives up to its declared intentions and principles. The supposed intention of our government, its raison d’être, is to safeguard the natural rights and ordered liberty of its citizens, to regulate interstate commerce, and to provide for their common defense. Or so the documents that defined its original structure and guiding philosophy say.
By that measure, it isn’t completely failed but is inarguably well along the road to ruin, and our Ruling Class seems determined to continue along to the dismal terminus. On the other hand, the distance we’ve strayed from the vision of those documents, well into a territory the writers of those documents would consider entirely alien, argues that ours is indeed a failed state. But as Francis notes, our government is stable and secure, and is in no realistic danger of collapsing or being toppled at present—which would seem to argue against its being a failed state. Francis later considers an additional metric:
The defining characteristic of a state is an organization that possesses the pre-immunized privilege of coercion over those within its scope. Note the qualifier pre-immunized. Many non-state organizations can and do use coercive methods to attain their objectives. However, they remain liable to pursuit and penalty under the law, whatever it might be, should the state decide to act against them. Only the agents of the state are granted immunity – i.e., the presumption of lawfulness – for specified uses of coercion.
A state which can operate under the presumption of immunity for its deeds is a functioning one. Regardless of the laws it promulgates and whether or not it chooses to enforce them, it has not failed. It maintains its defining difference from the other organizations within its jurisdiction. Inversely, a state whose agents and other subunits are routinely punished for their actions by non-state actors is at the very least in danger of failure.
The federal government of the U.S. is not a failed state by that criterion. At this time there is no force in existence that threatens the immunity of its agents from punishment. Ruby Ridge and Waco provide clear demonstrations, regardless of our opinion of what happened in those two incidents.
You can say that again, buddy. Our government has inarguably failed to live up to its original principles and objectives; it has far exceeded the clear and specific limitations placed on it by its founding documents, casting the lofty ideals of its origin aside while still publicly claiming to abide by them and revere them. Its claim to moral rectitude and its very right to govern as defined in the Declaration is forfeit, voided by its own illegitimate actions. Its claim to the consent of the governed is maintained only by the populace’s terror of the State’s ability to, as Francis says, “operate under the presumption of immunity for its deeds,” which is all but unquestioned at this point.
Does that make it a failed state? Or just a successful tyranny?
I’ve always maintained that every government has one de facto purpose, whether acknowledged openly or (more commonly) concealed or denied: to consolidate and expand its power over those it governs. From that admittedly cynical perspective, our government has been spectacularly and depressingly successful. The irony is that that success always leads to failure in the long run: government’s encroachment on its subjects, gradually evolving into tyranny and abuse, breeds the discontent among the ruled that will sooner or later lead to its abolishment by them.
Think now of how many of us blithely evade or disregard on a daily basis many of the tens of thousands of regulatory restrictions they’ve burdened us with. It’s estimated that the average American commits between three and five felonies a day, each and every day. How could such an absurd state of affairs help but breed anything but contempt for the hapless government that seeks such total control over its subjects…but is obviously powerless to enforce it? That contempt may start out as a source of mild bemusement, but can and likely will degenerate into something a lot more dangerous to the grasping government should it ever seriously attempt to bring its subjects more fully to heel.
Think, too, of the sorry degeneracy of the appalling swine who run the government; not just the politicians, but the inept bureaucrats who actually do run the damned thing. The politicians alone are enough to reveal how far we’ve fallen. When was the last time you heard any of these contemptible cretins referred to as a “statesman”? The very idea of comparing any of the villainous poltroons currently in Congress to, say, James Madison, James Monroe, or, for that matter, Peter Muhlenberg of the first Federal Congress is risible on its face. The kind of people drawn these days to “serve” in Congress couldn’t be trusted to walk your damned dog. You certainly wouldn’t dream of hiring them to babysit your daughter, even for five minutes.
The profligate treachery and self-serving arrogance of John McCain; the addled witlessness of Maxine Waters; the complete mendacity and dishonesty of Nancy Pelosi; the smug double-dealing of Harry Reid; the slimy disingenuousness of Mitch “Yertle” McTurtle—these aren’t exactly ringing endorsements of the caliber of people in charge of government in the modern era. Some of them—most, probably—might be vain and presumptuous enough to think they’d fare well in a comparison to the true statesmen of an earlier age. But that only adds “delusional” to the litany of their inadequacy.
The character traits of those attracted to national elective office effectively guarantee that they’ll be the very type of person we wouldn’t want there. An overblown sense of self-importance; a desire to lord it over others, and an unswerving belief in their competence to do so; a monstrously and unjustly inflated ego; a mania for attention and affirmation; a near-sociopathic lack of interest in the needs or desires of other people; dishonesty and shamelessness; short-sightedness and disinterest in long-term consequences; basic fiscal greed—these pathologies, crippling disqualifications in just about any other field, are now requirements for success as an American career politician.
As for the bureaucrats, anybody who has spent a nightmarish afternoon struggling to deal with just about any government agency for just about any reason knows that they might be even worse. Hide-bound obstinacy; dull-wittedness; inflexibility; inability to distinguish between the trivial and the significant, or to usefully prioritize them; a bone-deep affinity for obsequiousness to superiors and bullying everyone else; an absolute dearth of creativity or empathy, and a loathing of any departure from routine to indulge them, even to their own inconvenience—these are the watchwords of the career bureaucrat. There are exceptions, of course; I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have run across one or two of late myself. But surprise only underlines the rarity of that deviation from the usual round.
Really, one could argue that EVERY state is a failed one eventually; that’s the evident historical pattern, at any rate. The amusing thing to me is how completely that implacable reality demolishes the core conceit of the Progressivists who are the driving force behind the growth of the Almighty State: namely, the belief in the perfectibility of the human animal. Unhappily for them, the harder they try to manipulate and reshape us according to their idea of “perfection”—the more encompassing the scope of their meddlesome interference—the quicker the seeds of our eventual rejection of them will flower into open rebellion against them. One of the “flaws” of human nature that they will never be able to correct to their satisfaction is our obstreperous, seemingly inborn resistance to the very kind of manipulation they envision.
If Progressivists and other Almighty State devotees had sense enough to leave us mostly alone as the Founders intended, their control over those aspects of life they might be permitted to oversee would be prolonged, and more stable. In an irony of nearly galactic proportions, their megalomania guarantees the undoing of their ambition…precisely because there IS such a thing as “human nature,” and the aspects of it they most dislike don’t easily yield to Progressivist tinkering or “perfecting.”
But then, if they had that much sense, or any at all, they wouldn’t be Progressivists or statists in the first place, and would recognize the fundamental truth of Thoreau’s (or O’Sullivan’s) axiom: that government governs best which governs least. Governs longer, too.
And that’s the crowning irony: by discarding the Founder’s ideal of limited government, the proponents and architects of the hoggish Superstate ensure its own inevitable devolution into a failed one. Call it karma, if you like.