Commenter “Geoffrey Britain” offered some quotes in a recent comment that were so excellent I thought I’d highlight them here:
There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” – Daniel Webster
The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. – Robert A. Heinlein
“Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties:
1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.
2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests.
In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.” –Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, 1824
One of the most interesting things about the last quote—the one from Jefferson—is I would bet that the majority of Obama voters today, and almost certainly the majority of Americans, would say that he’s describing conservatives in definition #1 and liberals in definition #2. But a great many conservatives (myself included) and perhaps a few others would say that it’s quite the opposite.
One interesting achievement of the Democratic Party (and a success of one of their Big Lies) is to convince the public that conservatives are #1 and liberals #2. In this endeavor the Republican Party has been an accomplice, however. That was one of the extremely negative consequences of Romney’s “47%” statement, and of his persona in general as a Very Rich White Guy.
But it’s not just Romney. And that’s one of the reasons many conservatives today are almost as much at war with the Republican Party as they are with the Democratic Party.
Those who believe in smaller and more local government, and in limiting the power of the central government as much as possible, clearly fall under Jefferson’s description #2, and those people are mostly conservatives (although certain social conservatives—not all by any means—would like more central control over people’s sexual behavior, and in many cases liberals would like less central government spending on defense). Conservatives have traditionally trusted “the people” and had confidence in them in that way.
But the sentiment described in the part of the Jefferson quote under #2 that goes “although not the most wise depository of the public interests” has grown stronger on the part of conservatives since the election of 2012. “The people” can make some mighty poor decisions that go against their own long-term liberty, and that’s why the Founders put certain elements of government in place (federalism and separation of powers, to name two) in an attempt to protect against what they called an “overbearing majority.”
…[M]easures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority…By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community…
But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society…It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm…