Soon-ok and I have been watching some BBC history documentaries on Ireland, Scotland, and the earliest days of the British monarchy. Fascinating stuff, real eye openers…
…and a very interesting look at what it really means to have a small government.
Make no bones about it, in the aftermath of the fall of Roman colonial rule, the tiny part of Britain that had been civilized soon lapsed into the ugly despotism of warlord rule.
In the areas “beyond the pale” (to use a later term), things were just as bad: A near endless state of conflict, greed, and fear, with whoever could promote themselves as the local strong man pretty much running things as they saw fit.
Yeah, isn’t it romantic to watch movies and read books set in those bucolic, halcyon days when everyone lived a simple peasant life close to the land, close to nature?
vs The Real
Seriously, try The Seven Samurai on for size; don’t look at the swordplay, look at just how frightened and desperate the villagers are.
That’s your era of small government.
Make no doubt about it, medieval governments were tiny compared to what we have today.
No public schools.
No public roads.
No public works.
No public courts.
No public defenders.
No public health system.
No private property (unless you were the local warlord, then everything belonged to you, including the physical bodies of those in your domain).
Arbitrary and capricious taxation.
Arbitrary and capricious justice (if justice could be found at all).
A rigid and unyielding class structure.
That is what small government looks like. Small government is by the mighty, of the mighty, for the mighty.
It offers no protection for the weak, the common.
It’s fun to pretend that under such circumstances we would be the special ones, the ones who would get to decide what would / would not be done, but the brutal truth is that 99% of humanity would be among the peasant classes, eking out a subsistence living using literally back breaking physical labor, what meager possessions you have at the mercy of whatever band of ruffians happens to chance by (be they men-at-arms of the local knight or just a roving band of brigands), even your own physical body and those of your family mere playthings for their whims.
Every tea party small government enthusiast would change their tune once they and their families had been raped by the local landlord and his men.
The modern wonders we enjoy, the freedoms and privileges and rights we so easily take for granted, all these are made possible through big government.
Please, feel free to drag in the Soviet Union as a bugaboo of massive heavy handed totalitarianism.
At the worst of the Stalin era, it was still infinitely better for the vast majority of Russians than the rule of the most enlightened tsar.
Nazi Germany? Tea partier, please: Remember the Nazis came into power when the industrialists and the bankers sought to curb the labor unionist and communist movements in Germany; they were an effort to prevent the enlargement of governmental control over the rich and powerful.
Once the Nazis were given the keys of the kingdom, they behaved just like the feudal warlords.
And you want to hold up American pioneers as a classic example of rugged individualism, of small scale government succeeding?
Oh, the lies we tell ourselves…
The Americas were colonized by big European governments looking for more money. They arbitrarily granted huge land tracts to their wealthy elites (without consulting the people already living on those lands, of course), who then recruited mercenaries (Spain) or cleared out their poor houses (England) to do the actual colonizing.
They were all meant to be money making propositions from the git-go: Supplying gold and silver and slaves (Spain) or drugs and alcohol (England) to the motherland.
Freedom was absolutely the last thing the owners wanted the workers to be thinking about.
Those gallant founding fathers, the Pilgrims?
Losers in an English civil war.
Religious bigots afraid their children would be corrupted by secular influence.
They borrowed big hunks of cash from landed English gentry to set up colonies in America and were expected to start paying their absentee landlords back almost immediately.
They didn’t come to America looking for wealth (they could have found that abundantly in the far more liberal Netherlands) or freedom (ditto); they came looking for the opportunity to establish a theocracy that they could run with impunity and no interference from the crown.
The history of the Puritans in America is a history of incessant religious strife, draconian punishments for minor infractions, banishment and death for anyone seeking freedom of expression or conscience.
Look at the Salem witch trials: The quintessential example of small government. A moral hysteria produced a local lynch mob mentality that resulted in the deaths of dozens of people; the proceedings came to a screeching halt the moment the colonial governor became aware of it.
There’s your small government, folks:
Fnck your neighbor. Every man for himself and God against all.
 The Romans may have been heavy handed thugs who executed prophets and taxed the s4!t out of everyone, but they were heavy handed thugs who executed prophets and taxed the s4!t out of everyone while keeping the peace, promoting free trade, running the infrastructure, and providing open courts.
 And we’re going to leave out all the details about the plague that decimated the Native American population immediately prior to their landing, thus giving them already cleared land and fields they could simply walk in and take over instead of having to develop from scratch.
 In addition to those executed, some died in prison awaiting trial, and one poor wretch died after being found not guilty but denied release because the jailor demanded she pay for the expense of imprisoning her!
 Historian Rodney Stark has documented that the great witch hunts of Europe were the result of the breakdown of centralized authority during times of war; that in the absence of a larger stabilizing government or religious hierarchy, local authorities could be easily led astray or else intimidated by professional witch hunters with their own agendas. The moment the crown or the Vatican got involved the hunts stopped; Rome in particular had no desire to validate witchcraft, paganism, or Satanism by treating them seriously enough to be worthy of persecution.