Walter E. Williams bio photo

Walter E. Williams

Bradley Prize Winner 2017

Professor of Economics.
(703) 993-1148
D158 Buchanan Hall
Department of Economics
George Mason University

Related Sites:
The homepage of George Mason University.
Homepage of the Department of Economics at GMU.

“The shift from personal autonomy to dependence on government is perhaps the defining characteristic of modern American politics. In the span of barely one lifetime, a nation grounded in ideals of individual liberty has been transformed into one in which federal decisions control even such personal matters as what health care we buy – a nation now so bound up in detailed laws and regulation that no one can know what all the rules are, let alone comply with them.” That’s the opening statement in Boise State University Professor Charlotte Twight’s new boo, “Dependent on D.C.”

What accounts for this monumental change in American ethos? Twight says that Alexis de Tocqueville, observing America in the 1830s, explains it in his book “Democracy in America” in a section titled, “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear.”

De Tocqueville envisioned a “species of oppression” that would be “unlike anything that ever before existed in the world” – rule by “guardians” rather than tyrants. De Tocqueville saw Americans submitting to “an immense and tutelary power, which takes it upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate.” Every once in a while, de Tocqueville believed people would “shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again.”

With ample references, Twight demonstrates how Americans became a nation of sheep. First, there’s been a ruthless and successful attack on the rule of law. Rule of law means there’s governance by known general rules, equality before the law, certainty of the law, a permanent legal framework and independent judicial review of administrative decisions.

These specifications of the rule of law have been emasculated. No one can possibly know the thousands of pages of rules published by the IRS, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of pages of laws applicable to health care, banking, education, pensions, agriculture, ad infinitum. There’s arbitrary discretionary power exemplified by rules like requiring government permission to disconnect an automobile air bag, or members of Congress deciding to enact agricultural and dairy price-supports or sugar tariffs depending upon whether the agriculture, dairy or sugar lobby contributed to their political campaigns.

Twight points out that the U.S. Supreme Court, whose function is to protect the Constitution, has become a part of the mob to destroy it. For example, the Court has facilitated congressional use of the Constitution’s “commerce clause” to abuse liberty. The Court’s 1942 decision in Wickard vs. Filburn gave Congress the power to regulate anything. In that case, the Court remarkably held that the interstate commerce clause could be used to regulate an individual farmer’s wheat production for his family’s consumption. The reasoning was that since the farmer grew his own wheat, he affected interstate commerce; otherwise, he might have purchased wheat that had moved in interstate commerce.

“Dependent on D.C.” discusses how real or purported crises often provide carte blanche for the expansion of government authority, and that’s a thought especially relevant as Congress and the president use the war on terrorism as cover to seek more control over our lives.

Government control of education has created “despotism over the mind.” Twight cites one writer who said, “There can be no greater stretch of arbitrary power than is required to seize children from their parents, teach them whatever the authorities decree they shall be taught, and expropriate from the parents the funds to pay for the procedure.” Government education teaches acquiescence to its authority.

Twight closes by saying that to regain our liberties we must, like the signers of the Declaration of Independence, commit “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” to that effort.