In his 1956 essay The Road to Totalitarianism, economist Henry Hazlitt points out three tendencies that mark the pathway to tyranny.

  1. The pressure for a constant increase in governmental intervention, in governmental spending, and in governmental power.
  2. Increasing centralization and concentration of power in the hands of the president at the expense of the two coordinate branches of the government.
  3. A tendency toward greater and greater concentration of power in the central government.

We can clearly see all three tendencies at work in the United States.

A simple glimpse at the current budget deficit and the ever increasing intrusiveness of federal agencies into our everyday lives testifies to the first road-post. If perusing your IRS forms doesn’t do the trick, just try to get on an airplane. That  will vividly remind you just how much the feds intervene in our lives

The other two tendencies flow out of the first.

Presidential “war powers” and the proliferation of “executive orders” reveal just how far we’ve walked far down the pathway to concentrating power in the hands of the POTUS.

Hazlitt points out that the increasing power of government necessitates centralization. The feds simply can’t abide by competition. As a result, we see more and more power in the hands of a single individual – the president. And we see the destruction of the constitutional division over authority between the federal government and the states.

This tendency is most easily recognizable here in the United States, because we have ostensibly a federal form of government and can readily see the growth of power in Washington at the expense of the states.

The concentration of power and the centralization of power, I may point out here, are merely two names for the same thing. This second tendency is a necessary consequence of the first. If the central government is to control more and more of our economic life, it cannot permit this to be done by the individual states. The pressure for uniformity, and the pressure for centralization of power, are two aspects of the same pressure.

It is not difficult to see why this is so. Obviously, if government is to intervene in business, there cannot be 48 different kinds of conflicting interventions. Obviously, if government is to impose an over-all “economic plan,” it cannot impose 48 different and conflicting plans. Planning from the center is possible only with centralization of governmental power. And so deep is the belief in the benevolence and necessity of uniform regulation and central planning that the federal government assumes more and more of the powers previously exercised by the states, or powers never exercised by any state; and the Supreme Court keeps steadily stretching the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution to authorize powers and federal interventions never dreamed of by the Founding Fathers. At the same time recent Supreme Court decisions treat the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution practically as if it did not exist.

It is up to the people of the states to make sure that the feds know the Tenth Amendment exists. We must reassert the power and authority the constitutional delegation of power leaves to the states and the people. That means most of it. If we fail in this endeavor, we may well find ourselves living in a totalitarian state in the not too distant future.

Mike Maharrey

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