Beyond how it works and how it touches our lives, how little we know really about the nature of government. You may identify its parts and when you have accounted for all the parts you have the whole. But if you say the parts are in the whole and the whole is in the parts, and stop there, you stop just where something else begins.
The whole is more than the sum of its parts, even as what we call society is more than the sum of its members. That which is more is what Rousseau called the General Will, acting by a process that cannot be understood as a simple counting of hands.
So it is with government. The whole, beyond being the sum of its parts, is a thing in itself, organic and self-creative, with a kind of power derived from the center of its own being. Almost the only philosopher who has applied this thought to government was J. C. Smuts.
In his work, Holism and Evolution, he said: "What is not generally recognized is that the conception of wholes covers a much wider field than that of life . . . and that beyond the ordinary domain of biology it applies in a sense to human associations like the state.' In the human being, regarded as a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, there is a central control that becomes conscious and mysteriously produces what we call personality. This same thing happens again in a composite whole, which is the group, and then in the course of human associations "this central control becomes individual in the state."
The founders of the American government knew history. As far back as they could see all governments both good and bad, no matter in what form they appeared, had certain features in common, such as a natural appetite for power, a passion to act upon peoples' lives, a will to live, resources of self-perpetuation and longings for grandeur—with always the one sequel, that they abused their power and fell and were succeeded by government that did it all over again, as if by some kind of inner compulsion.
The founders of the American government did not attempt to formulate this law of inner compulsion.
What they did was to create a government that could not obey such a law if one existed.
First of all, this was to be a government without the attribute of ultimate sovereignty, so that always in the final case the people would possess the sovereign power. Then a written Constitution to be the supreme law of the land, and under the Constitution a government of three separate and coequal powers, namely, Congress as the legislative power, the President as the executive power, and the Supreme Courts as the judicial power, each of these three powers so delicately balanced that any one could check the other two. The President could veto an act of Congress, but by a two thirds vote Congress could override his veto, and then, in either case, whether the President had signed the law or Congress had passed it over his veto, the Supreme Court could say whether or not it was a constitutional law, and if it said "no" the law was dead. In the background all the time was the sovereign power of the people, who if they were so minded could change the Constitution.
Whether or not there was an unformulated law of being that had obliged all governments before to destroy themselves by first exaggerating and then abusing their powers, there was one feature the founding fathers apparently did not see clearly, for if they had they almost certainly would have done more about it. It was a very obvious fact. No government can acquire power and put it forth by law and edict. It must have the means. A tyrant may issue laws and edicts, but if he lacks the means to enforce them they have no fury. In the ancient case, means might be the direct command of labor, food, and materials. So the pyramids were built. In the modern case, means will be money.
That is why every government in the secret recesses of its nature favors inflation. Inflation provides the means. Under pretense of making money cheap for the people, the government creates money for itself. When it goes into debt for what it calls the public welfare it first fills its own purse and then, as it spends the money, it extends its authority over the lives and liberties of the people. It suborns them. Their consent is bought. It is bought with the proceeds of inflation.
Senator Dirksen tells how Cordell Hull, then Secretary of State, expounded to him the New Deal's doctrine of corrupting the people for their own good. "My boy," Hull said, "this follows a bent of human philosophy. At first people will demur at the idea of subsidies and accept them very reluctantly, and then after awhile they will accept them in good grace, and later they will demand them."
The root evils of inflation are political, not monetary; but, since the monetary effects take place immediately and touch people in sensitive places, whereas the greater evils work slowly, this important truth is obscured. Certainly what happens to the integrities of government and to the morals of the people is much more important than anything that can happen to the dollar.
Moreover, the monetary effects are erasable. The purchasing power of your money falls. The value of the money you have saved may be halved. The creditor class may be terribly hurt. The vast wealth represented by pieces of engraved paper in safety-deposit boxes may crumble away. And yet none of this need be calamitous provided, first, it happens slowly over a period of years, so that the many compensating factors have time to act, and provided, secondly, that the dynamic principles by which wealth renews itself are jealously preserved.
So long as the effects are monetary only, periodical inflation is intoxicating. It is the oxygen of booms, and everybody loves a boom, even while at the same time knowing better and that the reckoning will come.
All the primer sermons against inflation leave out the compensations. Profits rise, and, although they may be illusory, one would sooner have illusory profits than none. Speculative opportunities appear. Much more than we like to admit, one man's loss may be another's gain. As the value of money falls the price of assets will rise. The value of a dollar hidden in the cellar will decrease. But the value of the house over the cellar will increase. If you both own the house and have dollars hidden in the cellar you may come out about even; if you own only the house with no dollars hidden in the cellar you may beat the inflation. There have been times, as in the seventies and eighties of our history, when material wealth has increased with prices falling. Nevertheless, under these conditions people are despondent and there is no feeling of prosperity.
These sayings are heretical. The use of them is to make a distinction between the kind of inflation that spells economic folly for which people themselves are to blame and, on the other hand, the kind of inflation that serves government as an instrument of policy and is intended to produce revolutionary social change.
When in the conquest of power and for political ends a government deliberately engineers inflation, all the monetary evils occur as before, and then to these you add such consequences as: first, that as the government expands explosively the people will lose control of it; secondly, as the people receive millions of checks from the automatic printing machines in the United States
Treasury they learn to become dependent on government for aid and comfort; thirdly, people are first enticed by the benefits and then obliged by authority to exchange freedom for status; and finally, the revelry of public money, which for a while seems to cost nobody anything, brings to pass a state of moral obliquity throughout society.
The monetary debacle is relatively unimportant. The moral debacle is cancerous and possibly incurable.
EX-AMERICA: PART FOUR