By Philip Vander Elst.
The article below is an amended version of one originally posted on the IEA blog on 10 July 2009.
Is there a strong connection between statism and supranationalism? At a time of rising taxation, increased State control over the banking system, and ever closer European integration, it is a question that ought to concern anyone who cares about the survival of freedom in the 21st century.
The first and most obvious link between the two is that supranationalism, by definition, involves the extension of State power to a new and higher level above formerly independent self-governing nations. The prime example of this, of course, is the European Union, whose governing institutions – principally, the European Commission – originate about two-thirds of the laws now rubber-stamped each year by the Westminster Parliament.
Less apparent but more interesting, however, is the similarity between the assumptions and ideological reflexes of the supporters of big government, and the attitudes of contemporary supranationalists
Both groups, for instance, share a common distrust of voluntary co-operation and an instinctive unwillingness to rely on it for the achievement of economic and social objectives. Statists prefer the action of government to that of civil society when confronting particular problems. Similarly, supranationalists prefer the centralised decision-making of a European or global government system to voluntary agreements between self-governing countries. Not surprisingly, given these attitudes, both groups tend to be deeply hostile to economic liberalism, and ever anxious to limit the scope of markets.
Underlying the authoritarian mindset of statists and supranationalists is an implicit assumption that State officials and supranational bureaucracies are wiser, more knowledgeable and better motivated than ordinary citizens, the business community, or national governments and institutions. But what evidence is there for this assumption? The sacrifice, on the altar of European monetary union, of mass youth unemployment in Italy, Greece and Spain?
In reality, of course, the moral and mental conceit of so many intellectuals is closely related to the fact that they are precisely the class of people who are most likely to seek and find employment in government bureaucracies at all levels. As agents of State power and supranational institutions, intellectuals feel a natural sense of superiority over the common herd of humanity and tend to think that their educational qualifications, and their lofty ideas about how the world ought to be run, give them the right to direct and control the activities of others.
The expansion of governmental power, both within the nation-state and above it, not only attracts the support of intellectuals because it offers them secure jobs and opportunities for engaging in social engineering. It is also psychologically appealing because it increases their ability to build a reputation for altruism and enlightenment by ‘doing good’ with other people’s money.
Finally and most dangerous of all, statists and supranationalists share a common tendency to use economic and other crises (for which they are often largely responsible) to stoke up fear, thus building support for new restrictions on liberty. After a century like the 20th, in which, according to Professor R.J. Rummel, 170 million people were killed in internal repression by tyrannical governments, and millions more economically ruined by socialist planners and State officials, that is a tendency that must be fiercely resisted.
Philip Vander Elst is a freelance writer and lecturer. His many publications include Power Against People: a Christian critique of the State (IEA, 2008), The Principles of British Foreign Policy (Bruges Group, 2008), and Vindicated by History: Statism’s 19th century critics (Cobden Centre, 2012).