A government. . . for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools.
—JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
Kakistocracy is a word so seldom used that one might assume the designated condition never existed. Its definition is included in only a few of the larger dictionaries: “A government by the worst men.” One of them adds: “. . . opposed to aristocracy.” And that calls to mind Jefferson’s view: “There is a natural aristocracy among men; the grounds of this are virtues and talents.”
I like Lowell’s definition of kakistocracy. What it boils down to is a government by the worst of men, for the benefit of rogues, paid for by simpletons! Is our once-upon-a-time Republic falling into this nonsense? My purpose is to highlight our kakistocratic tendencies and to offer a few thoughts as to how they can be halted and reversed.
A communist society, to my way of thinking, qualifies as a kakistocracy. Its coercive theme, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” strikingly parallels a form of government in which knavery exploits ignorance. This observation requires a bit of explanation.
Regardless of the descriptive term—communism, socialism, the welfare state, or the planned economy—the redistributionist philosophy in practice presupposes the existence of three classifications of individuals, the typical specimens being: (1) the person with ability, that is, the one from whom honestly earned property is taken, (2) the person with “need,” that is, the one to whom someone else’s property is given, and (3) the person in command of the instruments of coercion, that is, the authoritarian.
The first typical specimen: Those whose property is coercively taken evince neither knavery nor foolishness unless they are “taken in” and thus become a party to coercive statism. Those who are “taken in” appear to be on the increase; behold the well-to-do and business “leaders” who petition government for countless special privileges. In these instances, we witness our “best educated” citizens exhibiting both knavery and foolishness.
An important aside as related to the above and the two following categories: Let us never refer to any individual as a knave or fool. This is inferiority showing through in ourselves. Everyone errs, more or less. Hang labels only on notions which appear to be knavish or foolish.
The second typical specimen: Perhaps it is foolishness more than knavery that prompts the innocents to accept something for nothing. As they permit government to assume the responsibility for their security and welfare, they relieve themselves of self-responsibility, the removal of which depersonalizes the individual and thus destroys him. Coercion is destructive, never creative!
The third typical specimen: The coercionist who forcibly takes from some and gives to others. Such a dictocrat exemplifies both knavery and foolishness. That he sees some benefit to himself in this action is self-evident for, if he saw no benefit, he would not act in this manner. Nor need the benefit he foolishly sees be entirely material; he can be and often is motivated by the thirst for power or popular acclaim or a mixed-up sense of social justice. To feather one’s own nest, that is, to gain self-satisfaction at the expense of others, regardless of the motivation, is knavery, pure and simple.
Foolishness shows forth in the coercionist in that he unintelligently interprets his own interest. He fails to see that he cannot develop, emerge, improve himself while he is riding herd over others. The coercionist who has you on your back, holding you down, is just as permanently fastened on top of you as you are under him. In that sense, the slave owner is enslaved, as is the slave.
It is not necessary to outline in detail how far down the Marxist road we Americans have descended. A reading of the ten points of the Communist Manifesto should convince anyone that we are headed into a kakistocracy.1
To my way of thinking, nothing better symbolizes—highlights—this degeneracy than state lottery tickets. When governments go so far beyond their legitimate role that gambling is resorted to as a means of financing, demagoguery approaches its worst stage—kakistocracy, no less!
New Hampshire was the first to authorize a state lottery some 15 years ago. Since then, a dozen other states have done likewise and it is reported that another dozen are more than likely to follow suit. Equally disconcerting is the number of churches that resort to gambling to finance “good causes.” They call it “Bingo.”
One of the most pernicious notions men hold is that, “The end justifies the means.” For example, Father Joseph, a devout Capuchin monk and chief adviser to Cardinal Richelieu, believed that the political ascendancy of France was the way to bring God to humanity. His belief was put into practice. Result? Millions of people in Central Europe were slaughtered.2
Now to some reflections on gambling. If individuals wish to risk their savings or bread-and-butter money betting with each other as in crap shooting, poker, or any other games of chance, that’s their own business—so long as it’s peaceful, involving no one else without his consent. Each winner or loser is fully entitled to the consequences of his choice. Bear in mind that this is back-and-forth gambling: one’s loss is another’s gain. No other—church or government—is siphoning off any fraction of the amount gambled.
Here at issue is the siphoning-off type of gambling, be it church Bingo, race tracks, professional gambling houses, or state lottery tickets. In all of these, there is a percentage taken by the operators, the take having various labels: “kitty” or “house take” or “pinch.” If one engages in this sort of gambling long enough, assuming no more income from any source, the operator will siphon off all of one’s dollars. The “kitty” eventually gets all! This is a fact rarely grasped by those who play this game. Now and then they observe a whopper win that eggs them on.
For clarity’s sake, visualize a pool, the water being siphoned off, none poured in. Sooner or later, a dry pool! How avoid? Pour in new water! Analogous is to pour new income dollars—the old are gone—into the gambling pools.
What is the percentage siphoned off by the various types of “kitty” gambling? In roulette, assuming no cheating by the operator, it’s 6 per cent. I have observed the take as high as 80 per cent in adjustable slot machines, often called “one-armed bandits.” However, no one can give accurate percentages of the take in this kind of gambling; they’re in constant flux.
When churches promote Bingo to aid “good causes,” that’s their business, not mine. Why not oppose? There’s no coercion! Bingo to your heart’s content, if you so choose.
While we are not compelled to buy state lottery tickets, the funds siphoned off by this popular scheme are used to finance overextended governments, all overextensions being coercive—no exception. Offer me a barrel stuffed with lottery tickets for free and my response would be, “Thank you, no! I am opposed to, not in favor of, kakistocracy!”
Observe the lottery hawkers on the streets of Paris or Rio or Montevideo or cities in other countries where the free market, private ownership, limited government way of life is giving way to socialism. Who are the buyers? The wealthy? The middle class? Indeed not! Anyone sensible enough to have accumulated substantial savings isn’t likely to be taken in, to any serious extent, by the “kitty” or “house-take” type of gambling.
The buyers of lottery tickets are the poorest people—frantically trying to escape from their poverty by “hitting the jackpot.” And, why not? Many of their spiritual “priests” have advocated the practice, and their secular “priest”—government—has done likewise.
Poverty, of course, is a relative condition. Many people in the U.S.A. think of themselves as poor only because they compare themselves to those who are better off—the millions of affluent Americans. The fact is that our “poor” are extremely wealthy compared to most of the people who inhabit this earth. Anyway, they gamble. Again, why not? Our welfare state offers something for nothing, assuring them food, shelter, and clothing should they plead distress, and the cause of their distress matters not; it could be gambling or whatever!
Is there a cure for this devastating trend? You bet there is! Observe that I am willing to gamble on this. But the remedy is not to be found by merely spuming lottery tickets. The knaves have countless other ways of “financing” kakistocracy, inflation being one.
What then? The rebirth of a natural aristocracy—virtues and talents—is the answer. To repeat what I have written many times, the foolish and knavish notions in the minds of the millions are no more numerous today than in America’s heyday; they are only more obvious.
When a society is graced with a first-rate aristocracy—men of virtues and talents serving as exemplary models—foolish and knavish notions are held in abeyance. Why? People fear appearing as fools or knaves before those held in high esteem. Not many would steal if aware that Christ were viewing the act!
But note what’s going on. There are only a few with aristocratic potentialities. Today, most of them, be they business or labor “leaders,” clergymen, “educators,” or whoever, have slumped. True, they remain standard setters but their standards are shameful, founded on expediency, acclaim, special privilege, and the like, rather than on high principles and righteousness. Result? Foolish and knavish notions are no longer held in abeyance, for nothing is standing against them. They show forth in profusion as does fungus on a heap of muck!
Is the rebirth of an aristocracy likely? In my opinion, it is certain, for such is ordained in the Cosmic Plan. The only question: When? No one can answer, for no person knows what is going to happen in the next minute, fortunetellers, soothsayers, prognosticators to the contrary notwithstanding.
The one question that makes sense: When and to what extent will you or I strive for this required exemplarity—becoming an aristocrat? This, and this alone, is all any person can do toward ridding the world of kakistocracy.
And why not strive for this role? Seeking for righteousness, learning to understand and explain why freedom works its wonders is a joyous adventure. Besides, it’s what we’re here for. So why not enjoy ourselves by trying to outdo each other in lending a hand to the Cosmic Plan! Freedom of all people to act creatively as they please is the formula for Heaven on Earth. We are betting our lives on this!