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to them? Te mystery is not that politicians lie, butthat citizens believe. It is not a question o givingrulers one benet o the doubt, but o giving suchbenets day aer day, year aer year, ruler aer ruler.America is perhaps the rst nation ounded ondistrust o government. Checks and balances wereincluded in the Constitution because o the dangero vesting too much power in any one man or onebranch o government. Te Bill o Rights was erectedas a permanent leash on the political class.Te Founding Fathers issued warning aerwarning o the inherent danger o government power.John Adams wrote in 1772, “Tere is danger rom allmen. Te only maxim o a ree government ought tobe to trust no man living with power to endanger thepublic liberty.” Tomas Jeerson wrote in 1799, “Freegovernment is ounded in jealousy, not condence.... In questions o power, let no more be heard o condence in men, but bind him down rom mischie by the chains o the Constitution.”Many o the initial curbs on ederal power weremaintained or most o the rst century o this nation’shistory in part because Americans oen had a derisiveattitude toward government – especially the ederalgovernment.Wariness toward government was one o themost important bulwarks o American reedom.Representative government worked airly well at timespartly because people were skeptical o congressmen,presidents, and government ocials across theboard. However, beginning in the early 1900s andaccelerating in the New Deal, government was placedon a pedestal.Te notion that rulers are entitled to trust is
Te Foll of Blndl Tustng te Govenment
by James Bovard
emocracy breeds gullibility. Lord Bryceobserved in 1921, “State action became lessdistrusted the more the State itsel was seento be passing under popular control.” Te rise o democracy made it much easier or politicians toconvince people that government posed no threat,because they automatically controlled its actions. Teresult is that the brakes on government power becomeweakest at the exact time that politicians are mostdangerous.Blind trust becomes a substitute or inormedconsent. But mass trust in government compoundsthe political damage brought about by pervasiveignorance.
Te bias in avor o trusting government brings outdemocracy’s worst tendencies. Te normal deensesthat people would have against alien authority areundermined by a chorus o politicians and governmentofcials continually reminding people that governmentis themselves, and they cannot distrust the governmentwithout distrusting themselves.
Since it has not been possible to neuter politicalpower, citizens’ thinking on government has beenneutered instead. Fear o government is portrayedas a relic o less-civilized, unrened times. Tere is aconcerted eort to make distrusting the governmentintellectually unacceptable, a sign o bad taste orperhaps ill-breeding, i not downright ignoble.Te central mystery o modern political lie is:Why are people obliged to presume that politiciansand government are more trustworthy than they seem? Te question is not: Why do people distrustgovernment? Te question is: Why do people ollowand applaud politicians who they recognize are lyingthe most expensive entitlement program o themall. “Follow the leader” has oen been a recipe ornational suicide. Troughout history, people havetended to trust most governments more than rulersdeserved.Blind trust in government has resulted in ar morecarnage than distrust o government. Te more trust,the less resistance. It was people who believed and whoollowed orders who carried out the Nazi Holocaust,the Ukrainian terror-amine, the Khmer Rougeblood bath, and the war crimes that characterizeconicts around the globe. It is not just a question o acquiescence but o breeding a docile attitude towardpolitical events and government actions.
In the same way that power corrupts, blind trustcorrupts. o say that people should not blindly trust thegovernment is not to call or anarchy or or violence inthe streets or the torching o city halls across the land.It is not a choice between trusting the government andreusing to drive on the right side o the road. Instead,it is a call or people to cease deluding themselves aboutthose who seek to control them.
rust in a dishonest government is true escapism– an evasion o responsibility or one’s own lie andliberties. Deerence to lying rulers is sel-betrayal.
For an expanded version o this commentary, visit RCReader.com. James Bovard is the author o
(2006) and other books. His Web site is JimBovard.com.Tis commentary was originally published by theFuture o Freedom Foundation (FFF.org).